Steel industries are considered backbone of any nation as they generate large employment and produce steel needed for nation development and defence. India is 2nd largest steel producer in the world by making 111.2 million ton in 2019 which may touch 300 million ton in 2030.
These steel units need heavy capital investment. Nearly 400,00,00,00,000 Rs is invested per million ton steel capacity. The addition of nearly 190 million ton in next decade would need capital outlay of nearly 760,000 crore Rs. The government norms require 2% budget allocation for CSR activities. This would provide Rs 15000 crore which is a major sum for CSR activities by any single sector and needs careful spending plan.
Steel plants are considered highly hazardous and polluting industry in the world. This has led a shift of such industry from more effluent western nations to relatively poor nations including India. These industries consume large quantity of water and energy as fossil fuels e.g. coal, oil and gas creating harmful solid waste, toxic liquid discharge and harmful gaseous emissions. The discharge of waste solid, toxic fluids and gases affect peoples health who work and live around plant. In-order to partially compensate the loss the CSR activities are undertaken by industries providing drinking water, basic health care, sanitation, roads, school education etc. to people living around the industry. The nature of CSR activities are proposed by people living around plant in public meeting organised by regional civil administration and is documented before commissioning of the plant. The priority of needed facility is also indicated in project proposal. The industry is expected to implement the CSR activities after the plant starts production. The industry provides the details of its CSR activities to the concerned local government agencies. Unfortunately the government machinery at local or central level is ill equipped to physically monitor or verify the activities undertaken by the industry and has no alternative but to accept the industry report as information. The weakness of the government agency is exploited by industry and the CSR spending is made partially as given in project proposal while the remaining CSR budget is spent in remote areas to benefit either political master or industry owner leaving genuine beneficiary high and dry. The author is in knowledge of some cases where such wrong has been done though it is difficult to provide details. The photographs of CSR activities provided by industry cannot be challenged in absence of its true location.
This could be improved by making mandatory to give google location on every photograph submitted by industry to government agency or CSR publication. The CSR activities undertaken by industry as per books are sometimes shown as inflated budget which is also difficult to audit.
There is another flaw in the system. The CSR activity omits a major group of beneficiary - the contract workers. Every industry these days have two types of ground workers: permanent and contractual. The permanent workers are listed as ‘employee’ and enjoy all benefits and welfare by company rules. The ‘contractual’ workers are neither company employee nor local resident. These ‘contractual’ workers do not fall under the cover of company laws or CSR. These ‘contractual’ workers are migrated persons brought by labour contractors from remote poverty stricken places. The number of such ‘contractual’ workers is large and often un-recorded by the industry. These ‘contractual’ workers live in make-shift houses and work in plant at places where a permanent employee refuses to work. In steel plant there are many jobs which has to be done manually in location which are very hot, very noisy, hazardous and surrounded by toxic gases. These workers are not provided proper protective gears like leather shoes, eye protectors, leather hand gloves, helmets, ear plugs etc. The most difficult places in steel plant are coke oven, blast furnace and steel making units. The ‘contractual’ workers working in such odd areas for lively-hood are exposed to health hazard without any medical facility. In case of fatality they are not entitled to social benefits given to permanent employees.
These ‘contractual’ workers have no voice and are not covered by company law, hence, deserve care as a social being under CSR. Presently the CSR activity does not cover such workers but rules could be amended to serve this large group of deprived people. Under CSR activity single room living accommodation (Contract Worker Hostel) could be constructed with water and sanitation facility near the plant with CSR funds. This accommodation may be provided on nominal rent to workers who come for short duration to earn wages. This living area may be provided a ‘baby care’ unit for women workers and basic primary health centre.
The author feels that with few minor modifications in CSR activities it could be made more effective tool in the service of the society.
R C Gupta
The writer is former Professor and Head, Dept of Metallurgical Engineering, IIT-BHU, Ex-Member EAC, Ministry of Environment and Forest, GOI, New Delhi and Ex-Member Pollution Control Board , Odisha, Bhubaneswar