Pradeep Bhargava, managing director of Cummins India and chairman
of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), western region, minces no words
when he says that corporate India has not done enough on affirmative action.
Speaking to Sangeeta Menon on the sidelinesof a Tata workshop, Mr Bhargava
says that Indian businesses must take ownership for ‘positive discrimination’,
especially in a time when the private sector has become the primary source of
How important is it for a group like the Tatas to adopt the cause of
It is important for every business group to do so, not because it’s
a nice thing to do but because it makes business sense. How can we leave 25
percent of our population out of the mainstream? How can we not recruit them?
How can we exclude the incredible potential that this diversity brings? We are
not doing anyone a favour by going this way; we are only doing ourselves a favour.
We need an environment that has equilibrium and inclusivity. We cannot outsource
this issue to the government; industry needs to take ownership of this.
The Tata group picks agendas which it genuinely believes in. From the CII perspective, I want the Tatas do more in this area because then we can ask others to emulate them.
Does Indian industry recognise the need for affirmative action?
Rather than wasting time discussing reservations, we must recognise
that this is a social and not a political issue. It’s an economic issue, an
industrial issue, an issue of development. Most industries do not discuss
the idea of positive discrimination with intensity. They will all say that
they are not against scheduled caste and tribe candidates and many have also
signed the CII code of conduct; but they won’t proactively do something about
affirmative action. They want the government to take responsibility.
We need to do a lot more; we need to adopt positive discrimination. We must
realise that although there is a quota system in the public sector, the government
itself is becoming less of an employer because new investment and employment
opportunities in the government is decreasing. Most economic and investment
growth, and hence employment growth, is now in the private sector. Consequently,
what the government can do is limited. This has to be the private sector’s
The CII-Symbiosis Finishing School was your brainchild. What success
has this initiative achieved in the five years since its launch?
The CII started the school in collaboration with Symbiosis College
in 2007, offering third-year students from engineering colleges in Pune 60
hours of training in skills that would help them in personality development,
enhance their soft skills and self-confidence. They already had the required
vocational skills; we just made them confident, smart individuals. These kids
had been denied opportunities and put on the back foot for so long that we
needed to help them believe that they could do it. The first batch at the
school had 30 students; since then more than 20 batches have been coached
at Symbiosis alone. This model is being replicated in other cities also.
In 2010, we started working with the ITIs, this time not just to support children from scheduled caste and tribe communities but all economically challenged kids. Industry came forward to offer a 30-hour training programme to enhance skills such as facing interviews, conversation, language, articulation and so on. We now have seven such ITIs in Pune.
We encourage companies to employ these youth, too. But once they have been through the coaching, they become such confident individuals that they are able to find placements on their own. We have also created video films of these courses, which we send across to areas our faculty cannot reach.
How do we deal with the challenge of the double discrimination of
gender as well as caste or tribe that women from marginalised communities
Both initiatives must happen concurrently. We need to encourage women to enter
the workplace and we must encourage women from the marginalised communities
to join the workforce. We must encourage gender diversity. A lot of women,
irrespective of socioeconomic background or caste, have been treated unfairly.
We must remove the gender bias first. We must create an environment that is
inclusive. It is not enough to just have the numbers.
What’s the road map for affirmative action in Indian industry?
My hope is that more companies will step forward like the Tatas, Cummins,
Godrej and Thermax, which are focused on the affirmative action agenda. At
Cummins, for example, we lay special emphasis on gender diversity. Since most
of the growth as well as employment opportunities today are in the services
sector, more companies from this sector must adopt the cause of affirmative
Are you optimistic about the future of affirmative action?
I am hoping we get our act together as an industry, before the government steps
in and makes affirmative action mandatory for the private sector. It’s in our
interest to do it voluntarily.