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CSR generic THMB Make CSR mandatory, says philanthropist Sitaram Jindal

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Madhusree Chatterjee | 04 Jun, 2012

The idea of legislation for corporate houses to make charity mandatory might sound pushy, but veteran industry warhorse Sitaram Jindal, who set up his charitable trust as early as in 1969, foresees the need of one immediately to push Indian industry into more vigorous philanthropy in the social sector.

"The domestic corporate sector can work wonders for the social sector in the country, but they need to be pushed by the government through legislation," Jindal, who heads the Sitaram Jindal Foundation, told IANS in an interview.

The suggestion - which is at the heart of a debate over the need for compulsory corporate social responsibility (CSR) - makes sense in the hype around Microsoft founder Bill Gates, whose charity foundation is making deeper inroads in India.

The Gates media blitz has virtually edged homegrown corporates to a corner as their corporate social initiatives are rarely spoken about in the media.

"I have written to the prime minister several times but no follow-up action has been taken despite a meeting of corporate organisations a few years ago. The government must take it seriously and make CSR mandatory...," Jindal said.

Philanthropy is not a corporate compulsion now, the octogenarian said when asked about the relevance of a legal mechanism. "Hence the corporate houses will not listen to advice unless it is in our interest. Only a law can force charity on them."

Jindal is modest about his philanthropic efforts: "I don't claim to be a pioneer and I don't want to beat my drums. I work in my own small way... I am driven by the feeling that I am duty-bound to discharge my social responsibility to society that has given me so much," he said.

The industry magnate, whose family owns stakes in minerals, steel and power, spends his time in charity, promoting natural healthcare, organic food, rural welfare, education and providing platforms to committed social development workers.

Jindal, along with industry captains like the Birla, Tata, Goenka, Jain and Godrej groups, forms the backbone of the country's corporate philanthropy.

He describes corporate philanthropy as a tradition that is in tandem with the Indian ethos of altruism.

"Our country must get help from the rich. We business people are businessmen by nature and we can spend money where we can get returns... But business people are never satisfied with what they have," Jindal observed, quoting 16th century Roman stoic philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca.

"Seneca had said the most grievous kind of destitution is to want in the midst of wealth... I have huge wealth and I still want money by hook or by crook. I never think of sharing it," he said.

The country has nearly 350 million people who are living below the poverty line after 65 years of independence. "Who can eradicate this poverty?"

"If the business people and industrialists spend three percent of their income, they can do wonders for the government," he said.

"The government must make it mandatory for business houses to adopt at least one to 100 villages depending on their size and profitability. The country has 500,000 villages and more than 500,000 industries in profit...," said the philanthropist, a native of Hisar in Haryana.

Jindal has adopted 117 villages in Karnataka - where most of his projects are located - through his foundation.

In 2011, the Sitaram Jindal Foundation introduced an annual award and honoured 27 social workers with a total prize money Rs.7.30 crore. It hopes to expand the scope of the prize.

"I am supporting the Anna Hazare movement. Corruption has become a cancerous disease and requires surgery followed by chemotherapy...," Jindal said.

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