In age of clean-up, corporates do their bit with toilets

Written by Anand J | Bangalore | Updated: Mar 2 2014, 05:40am hrs
SanitationLast year August when the Confederation of Indian Industry organised a conference on corporate involvement. Reuters
Last year August when the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) organised a conference on corporate involvement in sanitation in New Delhi, the industry lobby was pleasantly surprised at a turnout of more than 60 companies. CII is biding its time to organise a similar conference this year on a much larger scale, and expects an even greater interest this year.

On ground, too, the idea has translated into action on a good scale. The Infosys Foundation, for instance, ran a project called Parishudh headed by Vasudevrao Deshpande. The project had plans of educating six lakh families about the need to have proper sanitation in more than 600 villages in north-east Karnataka, with volunteers from Infosys running the show. The IT major built more than 12,000 toilets in 400 villages, with almost half of the money coming from government scheme Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan.

Hyundai Motor India Foundation (HMIF), on the other hand, is trying to build model villages around its factory in Irrungattukkottai near Chennai. We follow a holistic approach, with sanitation as a priority, as this is fundamental for the health and hygiene of the villages, R Sethuraman, an HMIF trustee, tells FE.

Sushanta Sen, principal adviser at CII, and author of a report, Corporate Involvement in Sanitation released last year, comments on this increased awareness among corporates about sanitation. Earlier corporates focused on health and education, but now a lot of them are realising the need for a more holistic approach, for which sanitation is a key element.

Corporates believe this is just the beginning. We tried to build an ecosystem for sanitation by forming nirmal gram committees to look after the upkeep of toilets, to ensure water supply. We also developed a software application for NGOs to monitor these toilets, says Deshpande of Infosys Foundation. He adds that the need for scale can be addressed by developing a business case for building toilets under the rural sanitary marts programme of the rural development ministry.

Financial benefits may speed up such activities. Says Hyundais Sethuraman, We could have covered more villages with the same money if the taxes on construction costs were reduced. He adds that the government should reduce taxes for cement and other construction material meant for CSR activities.

However, as per a Deloitte Monitor report released last November, the sanitation issue is still acute in the country, with more than 60 crore people defecating in the open. More than 12 crore rural households in India do not have toilets, said the report, published on behalf of the Gates Foundation.

The government has recognised this issue and has approved funding of over Rs 20,000 crore in the Union budget, but less than 60% of these funds have been used, said the Deloitte report. To complicate issues further, data from the Census indicates that many of these government-funded toilets may be non-existent or not in use.

Under the new Companies Act, 2013, all profitable companies will have to spend every year at least 2% of the three-year average profit on CSR activities. CII hopes this will spur more investment in sanitation programmes. GMR Varalakshmi Foundation, Adani Foundation, Ambuja Cement Foundation (ACF) and Biocon Foundation are among the other major firms offering a helping hand in improving sanitation in the country, according to CII.

Bangalore-based Arghyam, a charitable trust funded by Rohini Nilekani, which runs the India water portal that provides data on water and sanitation, says most corporates have built toilets, but they need to be looked after better. This is part of the lifecycle of learning in developing infrastructure around the sanitation programmes. This needs to be based on setting up infrastructure and supply chain that needs to sustain the process longer. Rural sanitary marts are still not active and the business model around this has to be developed by corporates, rather than parking their CSR money in building toilets that are used as store rooms, says Mala Subramaniam, CEO, Arghyam. Corporates must fund seed entrepreneurs coming up with such business models, she adds.