A CSR more capacious

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By Usha Rai

The private sector also needs to adopt a corporate disability policy for inclusion of the differently abled in the workforce.

There are an estimated 3,000 NGOs or civil society organisations working with people with various disabilities in the country. There is, however, no clarity on the number of differently abled — estimates vary from 2.19 per cent of the population (Census 2001) to World Bank and WHO figures of 10 per cent of the population in developing countries. This is a huge human resource whose potential needs to be tapped. With a broad spectrum of disabilities, this is also a sector that needs a lot of monetary and moral support to make them equal partners in development.

However, the new Companies Act seems to have left out disabilities from the mandatory 2 per cent CSR spending of corporation whose net worth is over Rs 500 crore, or those making a profit of over Rs 5 crore a year. It could, however, merely be a listing omission, because marginalised groups have been included.

The National Trust for Disabilities is lobbying for the inclusion of disabilities as a separate category. Though the government has been steadily increasing its budget for disabilities, since it is a state subject, the responsibility of caring for this segment lies with the states. The brunt of caring, nurturing and promoting those with disabilities lies with civil society. Since disability is not a standalone issue but a multi-sectoral, cross-cutting one, hopefully it will be possible to access CSR even before its inclusion as a separate entity.

As Poonam Natrajan, who heads the National Trust, points out, people with disabilities need the same resources as non-disabled people, in terms of schooling, livelihood or residential facilities. They need reasonable accommodation and specific supports. They also need a barrier-free environment. Above all, they need a ramping up of attitudes. People need to include disabled people in all institutions. The accommodations and specific supports may cost a bit, but they are reasonable amounts. So, supporting people with disabilities is more about attitude than money.

One problem is that most NGOs work for specific disabilities. This leads to a kind of a specialisation, perhaps even a ghettoisation. Of late, organisations for disabled persons that work across disabilities have been coming up. However, even here, intellectual and development disabilities, as well as other neurological disabilities and mental illnesses, get left out.

The bigger problem is getting CSR support for the challenged in rural areas, where a sizeable population lives, often cutoff from schooling, health and other facilities available in urban centres. In these areas, they have little to no access to government programmes. Most of the funding comes from foreign donors, unless there is a company adjacent to a rural area. Most work in rural areas focuses on education, water and sanitation. It is important that such programmes be inclusive, responsive and sensitive to the needs of persons with disabilities.

Corporations involved with disabilities per se include ITC, Infosys, Mphasis, Ashok Leyland, Lemon Tree Hotels, Engineers India Limited, ONGC, SAIL, Ascendas and Wipro. CII and FICCI also have included disability in CSR. The Amar Jyoti Charitable Trust in Delhi, which has been running an integrated school for the able and challenged since 1981, gets sporadic support for various events.

Getting jobs for the differently abled has been a major challenge despite the 3 per cent reservation mandated by the 1995 Persons with Disabilities Act in identified government jobs. The reservation is never fulfilled. Recently, the Supreme Court ruled that the 3 per cent reservation has to be earmarked across Group A, B, C and D posts in entities established by or owned and controlled by Central, state governments and local authorities. In three months, vacancies have to be computed and posts for disabled identified.

As far as the private sector is concerned, the act suggested incentives to ensure that persons with disabilities comprised at least 5 per cent of the workforce. Subsequently, the Centre announced an incentive policy, but it is not clear how many corporations took up the government’s offer. However, recently, the minister for social justice and empowerment, Kumari Selja, wrote to the minister of corporate affairs, Sachin Pilot, to ask the private sector to adopt a corporate disability policy for the inclusion of the differently abled in their workforce. It’s heartening to hear of several differently abled people getting jobs due to their excellence and hard work. Employing such people cannot be claimed as CSR. Companies such as Infosys, Mphasis, Vinyas Innovative Technologies Pvt Ltd and IBM are equal opportunity employers and have employed many people with disabilities. The list is growing, but not fast enough.

(The writer, a veteran journalist formerly with ‘The Indian Express’, writes on development issues)

(Article First Published in INDIAN EXPRESS, 15 October 2013)

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