Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of our Nation, recognised the need to integrate the oppressed sections of society with the mainstream, and as a first step towards achieving this, he publicly acknowledged them as Harijans, people of God. Babasaheb Ambedkar, the architect of the Indian Constitution and champion of human rights, also strove to annihilate caste-based discrimination and to reconstruct Indian society on the basis of the equality of human beings. Other social reformers also fought for the rights of these marginalised people.
While these measures went a long way towards ensuring that members of the scheduled castes (SC) and scheduled tribes (ST) in India received the rights due to them as citizens, stronger measures were needed to ensure their integration into mainstream society.
The answer was affirmative action which would provide positive preferential treatment in allotment of jobs and access to higher education, as a means to accelerate the integration of the SCs and STs with mainstream society. The idea was that affirmative action, apart from protective legislation and the provision of developmental measures, had the potential to bring about this integration.
When Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called on Indian industry to undertake affirmative action for SC/ST communities in an address to the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) in April 2006, it responded with the setting up of a task force to examine the issue. The task force, headed by Dr JJ Irani, director, Tata Sons, submitted its report to the prime minister in July 2006, committing industry to a series of time-bound commitments of voluntary initiatives under the four Es: employment, employability, entrepreneurship and education. Simultaneously, it was made clear in repeated interactions with the political executive and with organisations representing the SC/ST communities that industry was unequivocally opposed to reservations.
The Tata group, with a legacy of commitment to the community, established the group forum for affirmative action in November 2006. The forum is headed by Dr Irani and comprises B Muthuraman, vice chairman, Tata Steel; Ravi Kant, vice chairman, Tata Motors; Praveen Kadle, managing director, Tata Capital, Satish Pradhan, chief, group human resources; Sunil Sinha, chief, group quality management services ; Ritu Anand, vice president and deputy global head, human resource, Tata Consultancy Services and Ajay Kumar, vice president, communications, Tata Industries.
In the last three years, several CII members, including various Tata companies, have initiated several efforts under the four Es. The government has been apprised of these initiatives and has expressed its satisfaction.
Currently, 56 Tata companies have initiated activity with reference to affirmative action within their Indian operations. Forty-seven of these companies have active agendas on the four Es.
The Group Corporate Centre endorsed the Group Affirmative Action Policy in April 2007, affirming a policy of positive discrimination where, everything else being equal, Tata companies were exhorted to employ more members of the SC/ST communities and engage more firms owned by SC/ST members as business associates.
Tata companies are exploring newer and more innovative ways to assimilate SC/ST communities into the mainstream and give them a helping hand. While much is being done, much more remains to be done and the Tata companies who are working in this field are quick to acknowledge this fact. However, 56 Tata companies have already shown that it is possible to bring about this change.
The initiatives undertaken by a few of these Tata companies are presented here.
Through affirmative action and the philosophy of inclusive growth, the company attempts to help the SCs and STs to benefit from economic opportunities, while respecting and promoting the social norms and cultural practices which are important to them.
The company’s efforts, directed towards the holistic development of the SC/ST communities, have included education and training, sustainable employment generation, providing entrepreneurial development opportunities and preserving the ethnic heritage of the tribes.
Tata Steel's Corporate Sustainability Services has been taking steps to facilitate sustainable development through its various operating social arms — the Tata Steel Rural Development Society, the Tribal Culture Society , the Tata Steel Family Initiatives Foundation and Urban Services.
The company has been enabling talented youth from marginalised communities to gain access to quality higher education. It has also been promoting adult literacy. Mr Paul says, "Tata Steel’s efforts to improve literacy rates in its areas of operation have been promising. The company stresses on ‘education for all’ with a specific focus on rural and urban slum children, the girl child and SC/ST youth."
Promotion of adult literacy and early childhood education for rural and urban children of the target communities has been the company’s focus area. Tata Steel regularly runs residential schools called Camp Schools for SC/ST school dropout girls. In the last five years, it has reached out to about 25,000 students through its various educational interventions.
Since 1974, Tata Steel has been providing financial assistance through scholarships to meritorious students belonging to the disadvantaged sections of society. The company disburses nearly Rs1.5 crore annually in the form of financial assistance to SC/ST students through the Jyoti Fellowship, Moodie Endowment, Millennium Scholarship and the VG Gopal Scholarship. In the last three years, the company has provided financial assistance to over 3,500 students.
Since 2001, the company has been providing coaching for trade apprenticeship. For the last three years, it has also helped members of the disadvantaged communities to prepare for competitive exams related to employment in banks, post office, railways etc. The employability programmes organised, in collaboration with CAP Foundation, for school dropouts and unemployed secondary school students at Joda, Kalinganagar and Chhattisgarh train students for work as customer relations executives, sales and service staff and bedside patient attendants or in the hospitality, automobile and accounting industries.
The company recognises that diversity in the workplace positively impacts business. It ensures equal employment opportunities and provides training to develop the socially disadvantaged. Approximately 20 per cent of the company’s workforce comprises members of the SC/ST communities. "The company encourages business entrepreneurs from socially disadvantaged communities through monitoring and inclusion in the supply chain on the basis of equal merit," says Mr Paul.
Tata Steel also encourages the spirit of entrepreneurship among the SC/ST communities. Entrepreneurship groups have been set up for trades like decorative candles, handmade paper, jute and stone artefacts. Tata Steel gives preference to SC/ST promoted enterprises. Over 800 self help groups (SHGs) are being facilitated in Jharkhand, Orissa and Chhattisgarh and over 218 SHGs have been linked with an enterprise so far. A total of Rs1 crore worth of annual business is offered to the Adivasi Association and Adivasi Welfare Society. About Rs15 lakh worth of annual business is offered to tribal groups through the outsourcing of housekeeping assignments, supply of stationery and canteen services.
The company also helps link artisans to government schemes and markets and promotes tribal crafts through the two-decades-old Gramshree Mela (the rural fair). Many artisans from the West Bokaro Unit have been linked with the Ambedkar Hastshilp Yojana from where they get skill upgradation training and information about market linkages.
These affirmative action projects are initiated, following a detailed need assessment survey in respective areas. The initiatives are also reported in the annual sustainability report. All the projects are monitored and reviewed regularly. Success stories are shared through case studies, and gaps, if any, are addressed appropriately.
Mr Paul adds, "Tata Steel truly believes that the socially disadvantaged need a level playing field to enable them to achieve their aspirations."
The company needs a constant supply of trained people to manage its growing number of stores. It is, therefore, in its own interest to take the initiative to find and train as many talented youngsters as possible to feed the supply line.
Looking at the problem of scarce human resources in a creative manner, the company has sought to align it with its affirmative action policy, thereby pioneering a vocational training initiative for retail. In doing so, it has not only ensured that it always has trained and talented people for its stores but also ensured the sustainability of the affirmative action initiative.
Sanjay Rastogi, head, corporate HR, Trent, who is the process owner for affirmative action, says, "The Saksham model is a joint association between Trent and a partner non-governmental organisation (NGO) /non-profit organisation (NPO). As part of this programme, we train and certify candidates from NGOs as the trainers for our programme. We provide a retail syllabus to the trainers to enable them to train the aspirants. This syllabus has been approved by the National Council for Vocational Training, labour and employment department of the government of India."
In addition, aspirants are sent to visit the stores to enable them to get a first-hand experience of the store. Peer learning, in which sales associates at the stores provide new aspirants an orientation into the retail business, is encouraged. Employees, who are part of the volunteering initiative, serve as guest lecturers.
Aspirants receive on-the-job training along with a stipend. They also benefit from a well-stocked library of books on retail by both national and international authors. To ensure continuous improvement, Trent has established a network for sharing best practices and concerns, developed audio-visual aids for enhanced learning, sought to enhance the level of the candidates’ communicative English and set up a dummy store to enhance classroom absorption. Successful candidates receive a joint certificate from Trent and the partner NGO/NPO.
Mr Rastogi says, "We are constantly monitoring and evaluating the output and outcome indicators of the initiative. It is our constant endeavour to keep raising the bar. Our aim is to exploit our core competency as a company within our sphere of influence with respect to the communities."
The way to do this is to embed affirmative action within the DNA of the company. Trent has established cross functional teams from corporate sustainability and the recruitment and operations departments to work together to promote the cause. These teams then disseminate the details of the initiative through formal and informal interactions with other departments in the company.
The company has also put in place a number of checks and balances to evaluate the success and impact of the initiative. A corporate sustainability officer, a one-point contact, oversees the initiative. The company has developed the comprehensive software for data management and analysis, which allows it to analyse the output of the initiative in detail. Continuous interaction with the partner organisations helps ensure that the processes are being thoroughly followed.
The effects of all that labour are visible. As part of the Saksham Initiative, 22 candidates from NGOs have so far been trained and certified as trainers, 320 aspirants have been certified and 280 aspirants have been provided with employment. In addition, employment opportunities are also provided to aspirants from NGOs that are outside the purview of the Saksham Initiative. This has brought about a substantial increase in the number of SC/ST personnel employed in the company from 246 in FY2008 (9.84 per cent of the total workforce) to 559 in FY2009 (14.63 per cent of the total workforce). In the near future, the company plans to enhance the employability skills and create employment for 250 aspirants, and provide entrepreneurial opportunities for two entrepreneurs.
Mr Rastogi says, "We truly believe that affirmative action is one of the best routes that lead to the promotion of equality and help in bridging the social gap. This is a cutting edge tool that can be used to co-create a win-win situation for society and business equally. It will take a long time and persistent efforts on our part before the pattern of discrimination is undone. However, these schemes are definitely a good beginning."
Trent is a company that thrives on account of its people power. It is only fitting then that it should take such urgent and dedicated steps to uplift its human resources.
The company has taken great pains to introduce special facilities to encourage and motivate these people who have, so far, been unable to take advantage of economic and social development on account of various reasons.
The institute, established by TRL as part of its corporate sustainability initiatives and as a golden jubilee gift to the community, aims to help the unemployed youth of the region to take up self employment or wage employment and to promote entrepreneurship. It was modeled on the Rural Self Employment Training Institute, approved by the Ministry of Rural Development, Government of India. The State Bank of India has joined hands with TRL to manage the institute from this year. The National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development and the district administration are also part of the advisory committee.
TRL’s efforts with SESDI have borne good fruit. The institute, which offers free residential training, has completed a year and has established its reputation in the eyes of stakeholders. It has already trained 301 youths in 18 batches in various trades. Around 80 per cent of the successful candidates have either found gainful employment or have opted to start their own enterprises. Besides imparting training, the institute also tracks the progress of the successful trainees for two years and mentors and guides them, when required.
The institute now plans to extend the scope of the training programmes to include agriculture and the agro-based industry. It also plans to take in girl students to train them in suitable vocational skills.
Besides this, a number of initiatives have been taken with regard to affirmative action. In the area of education, the company has introduced the TRL Scholarship for higher education. So far 13 SC/ST students have taken advantage of the scheme. Similarly, the merit-cum-means scholarship for junior classes has been availed by 21 students, while 56 students have been exempted from paying school fees.
In addition, the company offers infrastructure facilities, solar lamps and utensils to ashram schools for SC and ST students, and has constructed a hostel building for SC/ST women. Under the Ekalabya Talent Search Scheme, the company conducted a talent search across various rural schools in the vicinity of its premises and selected three poor but meritorious SC/ST students, who were studying in Class V, for admission into the residential BR High School. The cost of providing education from Class VI to X was borne by the company.
Having secured the foundation by offering inputs in the area of education, TRL strengthens those efforts by providing vocational training. Project Tejaswini has made 134 SC/ST women self-reliant by training them in sewing and embroidery
Tarapada Dash, vice president, HR and administration, who is the process owner of the affirmative action initiatives, says, "Our company believes in a policy of positive discrimination, with reference to the employment of graduate trainees, officer trainees and those from the industrial technical institutes. The eligibility criteria are relaxed to accommodate more SC/ST candidates."
The relaxation is with reference to the height of the candidate and the marks achieved. The company does not, however, compromise on the talent of candidates, their adverse circumstances and their desire to learn.
Twenty-one SC/ST candidates were recruited in 2009-10, taking their strength in the workforce to 18 per cent. The company also encourages entrepreneurs from SC/ST communities by mentoring them and including them in the supply chain on the basis of equal merit.
There are a number of steps that the company has taken to ensure that affirmative action becomes a part of its DNA. These steps include the establishment of SESDI, which has proved to be a highly valuable resource, and the conspicuous display of the affirmative action policy in the workplace. Mr Dash adds, "We also monitor the strength of the SC/ST population in the workforce and promote a policy of positive discrimination during the recruitment and selection process. We also report affirmative action initiatives in the company’s annual report."
The various initiatives practiced under affirmative action are closely monitored by the Community Development and Social Welfare Department and reviewed on a quarterly basis by the HR Council and the CSR core committee, both of which are headed by the managing director. The high priority that the company sets on affirmative action initiatives can be seen from the fact that as long as the proposals are deemed worthy of implementation, there is no constraint on the amount of money sanctioned.
The next course for the company to take would be to consolidate the efforts that have been initiated and to evolve ways to include far more beneficiaries from the SC/ST communities within the ambit of its influence.
North Delhi Power
The company’s focus within the sphere of education is to reduce the school dropout rate and encourage students hailing from the SC/ST communities to study further. It aims to create an annual pool of 150 students studying in 26 government schools at pre-board levels. Three such pools have been created since 2007.
NDPL provides scholarship worth Rs7 lakhs per annum to 10 deserving SC/ST students who are pursuing technical and professional courses at various reputed institutes. This is done through the Foundation for Academic Excellence and Access. This initiative is a part of a Tata group initiative which has sponsored a total of 100 students during 2008-09 and 2009-10.
Even as it does so much for the cause of education for the SC/ST communities, the company recognises that education alone cannot rescue a people from their circumstances. The helping hand must reach beyond the confines of the classroom. Even when SC/ST students get admissions to professional institutions, they are unable to complete the course for lack of funds. The company’s effort has been to support them with supplementary funds and give them access to skills so that they can become employable in the competitive job market.
One such student, Nongothung Ezung, has been selected for admission to the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade, Delhi this year. NDPL had offered him scholarship assistance towards specialised coaching for the MBA entrance exam at IMS coaching centre.
The company also took upon itself the responsibility of upgrading the Industrial Technical Institutes. It has created a Centre of Excellence – Electrical Trade at Dr CV Raman ITI in Delhi. The government of India has now invited NDPL to recreate the success story at the Dr HJ Bhabha Institute, also at Delhi.
NDPL has also trained 20 SC/ST students of Delhi University in life skills, basic computer skills and spoken English through a focused programme designed by the National Institute for Information Technology (NIIT). The beneficiaries of these initiatives have either been empowered to pursue higher studies or found jobs. In addition, 300 women from slum clusters, having an 80 per cent SC/ST population, were trained in stitching, typing and shorthand, arts and crafts etc. A tie-up with Navjyoti Foundation, an NGO, has ensured that such women can be empowered regularly. Some of the women trained through this programme have even set up their own shops. Of the trade apprentices trained in NDPL so far, 33 per cent came from SC communities and 9 per cent from ST communities.
The company ensures that SC/ST candidates are hired at entry levels by transparently lowering qualifying marks, without diluting merit. SC/ST candidates are also preferred for promotions. The careers portal on the company website stresses that "other things being equal, preference shall be given to SC/ST candidates."
While it is necessary to ensure employment, NDPL knows well that the economic growth of the SC/ST communities depends on its capacity for entrepreneurship. With this view, NDPL has used its competence in electric network management to train 34 ‘neighbourhood electricians’ at its Centre for Excellence in Power Distribution. The certificate from NDPL gives these electricians an edge over their rivals.
Quality and cost being equal, NDPL prefers SC/ST entrepreneurs for inclusion in its supply chain. Also, 25 unemployed SC/ST youth have been sponsored in community development centres, along with NIIT. The youth, who reside in slums within NDPL’s licensed areas, are trained in communication skills and personality development, with a view to encouraging self-employment.
The attitude of positive discrimination has made a tremendous difference. Sushil Srivastava, general manager, HR, NDPL, says, "NDPL believes that the inclusive growth of the SC/ST communities through positive discrimination to create a level playing field in the workplace will positively impact its business."
One heartening feature of NDPL’s affirmative action initiatives is that they are supported by a separate budget, which is approved by the Board every year. The budget for 2010-11 is Rs18.5 lakh.
The affirmative action strategy is driven through the HR department, and a cross functional team mentored by the head of administration and HR, and headed by the GM of HR. This framework ensures regular monitoring as part of strategic initiatives in the HR Balance Scorecard. Sunil Wadhwa, CEO and ED, NDPL, personally drives the initiatives on affirmative action to ensure maximum benefits to every individual covered. He is a member of CII’s Affirmative Action Council, which is chaired by JJ Irani.
The programmes are developed following discussions with NGOs and representative forums and leaders of the communities to make sure that they reach the socially and economically disadvantaged members of SC/ST communities.
Mr Srivastava says, "NDPL’s affirmative action initiatives rest on the pillars of social and economic inclusion and equal opportunity." The company’s ultimate aim is to bring about an improvement in the overall socio-economic status of the SC/ST communities and help them to participate effectively in the economic progress of the country.
Tata Consultancy Services
TCS has also sponsored 20 students, including both undergraduates and postgraduates, in the 8th batch of the CII Finishing school programme, Pune. The focus was on building communication and presentation skills, in association with the English Language Teaching Institute of Symbiosis.
Currently TCS has sponsored 20 children towards education fees and living expenses at the Manuski hostel, Pune, for a period of 10 months. The children are from Dalit backgrounds, mostly from rural Maharashtra. In order to improve their health and help them enhance their learning and education, TCS has offered to provide water purifiers and give them access to the Internet.
The Rural Income Generation Enhancement programme is being implemented in Satara, Maharashtra; Kovilpatti, Tamil Nadu, and Bhawanipatna, Orissa. In Satara, 40 persons are being trained. At Kovilpatti, 166 persons will be trained and 43 of these will be employed in the TCS BPO. In Bhawanipatna, 60 persons will be trained. The training in both these places will begin in June.
In Korlai, Maharashtra, the company has put in place a programme focused on enhancing the earning capacity of rural SC/ST youth by teaching them a foreign language. Four computers have been installed for improving computer literacy in the area. The youngsters will be taught Portuguese and English and given soft skills training.
An empowerment programme is being planned in partnership with the Foundation for Ecological Sustainability, a non-government organisation which works with tribal youth in rural areas. The programme will focus on adopting a tribal village and empowering the youth there.
All these initiatives clearly bear witness to TCS’s commitment to empowering the SC and ST communities.