Interview with Niyati Sareen, GM-Corporate Responsibility,Hindustan Construction


INDIACSR News Network

MUMBAI: Niyati Sareen is General Manager – Corporate Responsibility with Hindustan Construction Company Ltd (HCC). She spearheads HCC’s sustainability practices in the areas of Water initiatives, Disaster Response and Relief, HIV/AIDS awareness, Community Development and Education. Niyati Sareen shares her thoughts on CSR, her view on CSR in India and CSR best practices of her company. Rusen Kumar talked with Niyati for INDIACSR interview series. Excerpts from an interview with INDIACSR.

Kindly brief us about HCC’s vision, mission and objectives as well as the company’s legacy. How much importance does the business attach to CSR in its operations?

HCC is a business group of global scale developing and building responsible infrastructure through next practices. HCC’s business spans the sectors of Engineering & Construction, Real Estate, Infrastructure, Urban development & Management.  At HCC, we have a long-standing commitment towards creating responsible infrastructure. Hence, the core concept of sustainability, namely holistic growth with responsibility towards people and the environment, has easily found a home within our company. As we continue to execute some of the largest and most challenging projects in the country, we also remain committed to our environmental and social responsibilities through a variety of projects focusing on water, sanitation and solid waste management, disaster relief work, education, health care and community development.

Please elaborate about HCC’s sustainability practices which were featured in the UN report.

Recently  at ‘Rio+20’, HCC’s initiatives towards water sustainability were featured amongst ten international case studies by the U.N. Global Compact and U.N. Environment Program in a report titled, ‘Business and Climate Change Adaptation: Toward Resilient Companies and Communities.’  The HCC case study highlights its efforts towards water neutrality and showcases its initiatives at two HCC projects-the Strategic Oil Storage Cavern project at Visakhapatnam and the Delhi-Faridabad Elevated Expressway. Back in March 2008, HCC was the first Indian company to endorse the United Nations’ Global Compact’s CEO Water Mandate, which mobilizes businesses globally towards making water sustainability a corporate priority. To address the pressing challenge of water scarcity due to climate change and other factors, HCC has set an overall goal of achieving water neutrality through location specific strategies. HCC takes a ‘4 R’ approach to water interventions (reduce, reuse, recycle, recharge) at its construction sites.

What do you think of the Indian government’s emphasis on CSR?

India has a tradition of corporate philanthropy and this has been implemented differently by different people. However, over time, the approach towards CSR has changed which is inclined towards economic, environmental as well as social considerations. Definitely, the National voluntary guidelines released by the Ministry of Corporate Affairs are a positive step towards inclusive sustainable practices across the business and this has created an enabling environment for CSR across the country. However, instead of emphasizing on a two percent mandatory spent, it should be voluntary, as it further raises the argument that if a business has incurred a loss, should they not conduct their business responsibly?

Being a CSR leader, according to you what are the recent trends in CSR in India?

CSR today is increasingly gaining in recognition and importance − both within the corporate world and also at the nation level.  The perspectives are changing and the businesses have themselves moved away from charitable initiatives to strategically embed CSR as part of their organizational structure. There is an ongoing dialogue and openness towards CSR between the government and the business world which will prove fruitful for implementing public-private-partnership model for CSR across the country.  Along with the Government, numerous other players are undertaking efforts to propagate CSR to ensure inclusive growth.

CSR has a positive impact on the overall development of an organization. Do you think CSR needs to be integrated into the heart of business policy and strategy?

Definitely, the more CSR conscious a company is, greater are its chances of sustenance. Therefore it’s important to understand that CSR cannot be a stand-alone activity, it has to be a core part of the business strategy; it is the governance of any business.

How will you define CSR in the competitive context?

CSR no more remains just a feel-good gesture, it will help bring about sustainable continuity, growth and ensure risk mitigation too for the businesses. The businesses have to take a holistic approach that starts internally as well as externally to ensure that the company is economically, environmentally and socially sustainable.

Being a part of the core management team of HCC, which are the projects that have been initiated under your auspices? What are the various on-going programs?

HCC has a long-standing commitment of creating responsible infrastructure, wherein the objective has been to pursue holistic growth with responsibility towards the people and the environment. The main focus areas of HCC’s CSR activities revolves around Water Management; Disaster Response; HIV/AIDS education and awareness; Education and Community Development

Every year, HCC produces a Sustainability Review containing a disclosure of the company’s performances on environmental, social and governance aspect for the financial year. This report confirms to the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)’s Sustainability guidelines.  For the third year in a row, our Sustainability Report has been accredited with the highest level check A+ grade by the Global Rating Initiative (GRI).

HCC recognizes the correlation of business sustainability with water resource. As part of the UN Water Mandate, we are committed to reduce the amount of water used across our construction project sites.  There have been a number of water interventions undertaken across all HCC projects sites wherein we have been able to optimize consumption and thus conserve precious freshwater, on the one hand and minimization of carbon footprint for resourcing and pumping the freshwater to our construction site on the other.  Cumulatively, across all HCC’s projects sites in this FY 2011-2012, we have saved approximately 285 million liters of fresh water.

We have long recognized the serious impact that HIV/AIDS can have amongst migrant workers. HCC has formulated the HIV/AIDS Workplace Policy and adopted a Workplace Intervention Programme (WPI) that focuses on prevention programmes and zero tolerance of stigma and discrimination at the workplace. Our lead partners are International Labour Organisation (ILO), the Avert Society (USAID Programme) and the Clinton Global Initiative.  Every year we reach out to more than 45,000 migrant workers amounting to around 143000 man hours.

HCC coordinates Disaster Resource Network (DRN) India, a national network of Disaster Resource Partnership (DRP) established by engineering and construction industry members of the World Economic Forum. Mr. Ajit Gulabchand, Chairman and Managing Director, HCC is the chairman of DRN India and sits on the Board of Directors of DRN Global.  The DRP enables the core strengths and existing capacities of the Infrastructure and Urban Development community to be mobilized during and after crises to reduce suffering and save lives.  HCC is a member of United Nation’s International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) and is on a working group of Disaster Risk Reduction Private Sector Partnership (DRR-PSP); Mr. Gulabchand is a advisory group member of Private Sector Advisory Group (PSAG).  Focus areas of this program are [1] capacity building trainings-First Responder Training and Engineering in Emergencies to respond to emergency situations [2] support of disaster relief operations.  HCC has supported many rescue and relief operations in the past ten years at National and International levels like Tsunami (2004), J&K Earthquakes (2005), Mumbai Floods (2005), Bangladesh Cyclone(2007),Leh Flash Floods (2010),Sikkim Earthquake (2011) etc.

Recognizing the importance of knowledge assets for building modern infrastructure, Mr. Gulabchand has taken the lead in investing in technical education and skills enhancement through training and technical institutions such as National Institute of Construction Management and Research (NICMAR) in Pune and Walchand college of Engineering in Sangli. Mr. Gulabchand has also endowed Christel House, to offer quality education to the underprivileged kids of the villages in and around Lavasa city.

HCC actively engages communities to help them in deciding the programme best suited for their benefits, thus enabling them to fully participate in a truly democratic way. Our approach is on the lines of public-private-partnership in accordance with the needs of the community, these areas are :

Facilitating educational facilities of the local schools in terms of improving the learning technicalities, computer coaching, educational conditions and coaching support, supporting the tools for sports and laboratories.

Creating sustainable improvements in livelihoods by providing basic infrastructure facilities, greenification, hygiene and sanitation, electricity & irrigation.

Strengthening the economic well being of communities residing in remote and rural areas of India through employment generation and self-employment.

The philanthropic programs are undertaken by the Gulabchand Foundation with a vision to care deeply about helping society and continually work towards improving the quality of life of the people by generating and utilizing self-existing resources including men, money and machinery to make a difference to the lives of others.  The Gulabchand Foundation is engaged in undertaking a number of cause related activities, Cochlear Implant surgery for children, supporting burns patients, health facilities, educational scholarship/sponsorships, programs for mentally challenged children. These initiatives are especially beneficial to the underprivileged section of our society.

How do you rate Indian business v/s global businesses on the CSR scale?

It is pivotal to understand that we are an emerging economy and already many business and government have taken a step towards inclusive growth, however it is too early to decide on where we stand on a CSR scale as compare to other developed countries.

What are your recommendations to combat challenges in the global market?

Businesses increasingly operate in a global environment. The CSR standard varies from country to country. We need to understand that CSR activities cannot be discretionary expenditure or a target for cost cutting activities. CSR must be linked strategically to core business functions to reap the full benefits. CSR is a mechanism through which business can mitigate their business risk. At HCC our CSR practices and processes are Global and we are recognized as world leaders in the areas that we operate e.g. Water: we were the first Asian signatory to the UN CEO Water mandate and work alongside and lead too with global companies like Nestle, Coke, Pepsi etc

Are there any motivational stories at HCC which you would like to share?

Rain water harvesting, for example, has been in practice in India and elsewhere from time immemorial. However, the concept of harnessing this technique to harvest rainwater collected through specifically designed storm water drains alongside an infrastructure project like the Badarpur Elevated Express Highway, on the Faridabad Delhi-Haryana border is unique and exemplary. This innovative application of rainwater harvesting technique has the potential to recognize the significance of ground water recharge of rainwater from paved surfaces and gives an idea to offset the impact of ever increasing paved surfaces being built in the process of infrastructure development, in general, and Roads, highways, and Elevated Highways, in particular.

Water Conservation and Reuse, in the case of Vizag Cavern Project (VCP), installation of sedimentation tank(s) for solids removal at construction site was one of the regulatory compliance to be adhered; however, producing water from a specifically designed effluent treatment plant for process consumption was unique in nature.  Having been convinced about this innovative way, the client has now included the installation of recycling plant as part of the tender/bid, and we are now continuing in even better way in terms of conserving the precious water at our subsequent ongoing cavern project in Andhra Pradesh (Padur Cavern Project).

Adoption of Desalination Plant at our DGNP site in Mumbai is yet another innovative initiative under the aegis of the UN Water Mandate.  In this case, we are sourcing water from Arabian sea, treating the same through the desalination plant and using the treated water for our process consumption besides adhering to other ways of recycle and reuse at our construction site.  By doing this, we are able to minimize the impact of our construction activity on the available fresh water resources leading to the contribution in the sustenance of the fresh water resource. In addition, this also ensures that our construction activity will not be hampered because of short / no supply from the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai during the summer.

Relief and Rescue: Leh Flash FloodsIn August 2010, a catastrophic cloud burst and flash floods ravaged Leh, in Jammu and Kashmir, leaving behind a trail of death and huge destruction. HCC, which has two large engineering project sites in the Ladakh and Kargil regions, deployed trained engineers for relief and restoration work in the affected villages close to the project sites. A total of 380 staff members, led by ‘Engineering in Emergencies’ trained engineers, clocked 1,36,800 man-hours for the relief work. The support activities included rescue operations, cleaning of villages, schools and monasteries, restoration of roads and bridges, provision of drinking water and sanitation facilities, distribution of relief materials and medicines, and health check-ups for the villagers.

Among the various restoration activities carried out by HCC were the rebuilding of the Druk White Lotus School in Shey, cleaning of the Rizhong Monastery at Uleytokpo, building a drinking water canal at Khaling, and repairing a bridge at Hemischoo. The disaster also ravaged  The Druk White Lotus School in which the Bollywood  movie ‘3 Idiots’ was filmed. This school is being run by the London-based Drupka trust. The school is located at Shey, about 15 km from the project site on the Leh-Manali highway. Heavy earth moving equipment such as JCB and tippers along with a team of more than 75 people including a trained disaster relief engineer, were deployed to clear mud and sludge left behind by cloudburst.  This team completed the clean-up within the short period of a week. Actor Amir Khan, who visited the school, publicly expressed his appreciation of HCC’s work which had helped the school and its students to quickly resume their normal activities. A team of 15 workers went to Khaling village near HCC’s Nimoo-Bazgo site to reroute a water trench (‘nala’) for drinking water. Another team of HCC EE trained engineers built toilets and water supply system along with OXFAM. In addition to the relief work, our team from Chutak Hydroelectric Project, Kargil sent relief material and a rescue team for the rehabilitation work at Leh, This included 500 packets of food material, 500 blankets and a rescue team of 25 people (supervisor, cook and laborers).

Project ‘Sahyog’ a PPP project with Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, Times Foundation and HCC to complement the Government’s efforts to increase the demand among the urban slums for accessing affordable health care services provided by the BMC health department.  The program’s objective was to sensitize workers to mother and child health and prevention of parent-to-child HIV transmission (PPTCT). 500 frontline workers were trained through customized module and communication material who subsequently reached out to 5 lakh population of the ‘L’ and ‘M’ wards of Mumbai. The program resulted in an increase in the uptake for the health services increased from 40% to 91% for deliveries in the hospitals and 100% voluntarily access allied services of PPTCT and seeking of information on breast feeding and services available for pediatric HIV/AIDS.

Community Development: Corporate Partnership Kihim, Maharashtra

Over the past three years, HCC has partnered with the Kihim Gram Panchayat to promote effective Solid Waste Management, among other environmental and developmental issues.  Last year, in response to the lack of garbage collection facility in the village, we handed over a scientific garbage collection van to the village Sarpanch. The van was purchased on the basis of a public private partnership between HCC and the village Gram Panchayat. A beach cleaning drive organized by HCC at Kihim in October 2010 became a major community activity. The main objective of this program was to clean the beach through community participation and engage students and the youth. HCC has also donated computers to local schools with the aim of educating the students on various aspects of health and environment through the medium of information technology.

Project ‘Chill Zone’ for mentally challenged children in partnership with Municipal Corporation of Grater Mumbai.  The project’s aim was to complement the Government’s efforts to make these special children independent and self reliant. This was carried out through education and training which in turn will ensure that the special children are integrated into the main stream of society just like their peers. During one year of the project’s tenure, the program benefited 800 special children from the lower income strata. The chill zones were established in 18 special schools with equipment. The program helped the children to develop their skills such as Motor, Independence, Psycho-Social, Communication, Cognitive, and along with these skills, they also learnt pre-vocational skills. The above skills are imparted in addition to the regular education, so that the child attains overall development.

Protection of Heritage by HCC at Assam Road Project Site: The Assam Road Project is being executed by HCC in Northeastern India under the aegis of the National Highways Development Project (NHDP). Very poor connectivity to the outside world has been identified as a major cause for the lack of development in this region. As the lone contractor in the area until recently, HCC has played a pivotal role in providing connectivity to this remote region, resulting in new employment opportunities for the local communities and tourism activity. Through structured intervention, we have been successful in winning the faith and building up the confidence of the residents of Dima Hasao district. Some of our initiatives include sponsorship and material help in the local community festivals and construction of approach roads for easier transportation for the local people. We have also sponsored a ‘National Integration Mela’ at Haflong and initiated the restoration and protection of ‘Stone House’, a local heritage structure originally built in the 16th century. In addition, we have sponsored the construction of a temple and developed a football field for the village youth.

[ Niyati Sareen is General Manager – Corporate Responsibility with Hindustan Construction Company Ltd. She spearheads HCC’s sustainability practices in the areas of Water initiatives, Disaster Response and Relief, HIV/AIDS awareness, Community Development and Education. In harmony with HCC’s long standing commitment to create ‘Responsible Infrastructure’, Ms. Sareen coordinates all activities related to the HCC Group’s initiatives towards preservation of the Environment, the United Nations’ Global Compact, the CEO Water Mandate, Disaster Resource Network, The Energy and Resources Institute – Business Council on Sustainable Development (TERI-BCSD), Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)  and the World Economic Forum. Ms. Sareen is a member of the GRI working group for the Construction and Real Estate Sector Supplement (CRESS) and the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Humanitarian Assistance. Ms. Sareen began her career with Gammon India in 1990.  Since 1993, she has been with HCC in various capacities including Marketing and Business Development and Client Relationship in New Delhi and South India. She has also worked on a Company wide corporate branding initiative aimed at raising HCC’s profile amongst key constituents, positioning it as a world-class company en-route to expanding business horizons. Since 2007, she has been responsible for Corporate Responsibility across the HCC Group. Ms Sareen holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Civil Engineering and combines varied interests in reading, traveling, and cuisine.]

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