CSR spending: Making the roads safer

As the UN Global Road Safety week starts today, we look at how auto makers use their CSR funds for the same


A workshop on road safety organized as part of Toyota’s safety education programme.
A workshop on road safety organized as part of Toyota’s safety education programme.

When the Mumbai-Pune Expressway was thrown open to traffic in 2000, it was a showpiece of transport infrastructure. India’s first high-speed expressway, the access-controlled concrete six-lane highway cut travel time between Maharashtra’s twin cities by two hours and lifted traffic off the old Mumbai-Pune highway as motorists moved en masse to the new expressway.

However, in less than a decade-and-a-half, the 94.5km expressway has become one of the most accident-prone stretches in the country, with the Maharashtra police recording about 214 accidents between 2012 and 2013.

The Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM) says auto makers have been adding more than 15 million vehicles to Indian roads every year for the last four years, with the industry contributing 7% to the country’s economy last year. However, it’s also true a tenth of all global road deaths occur India. One road death occurs every 3.7 minutes on Indian roads, according to data from the ministry of road transport and highways.

According to Save LIFE Foundation, a non-profit that works to improve road safety and emergency care, in 2013 alone, almost 140,000 people were killed and nearly 500,000 seriously injured or permanently disabled in road accidents.

Auto makers have taken note, with a substantial part of their charity spending directed at improving road safety.

Companies such as Maruti Suzuki Ltd, Mahindra and Mahindra Ltd and Tata Motors Ltd, had an approximate combined budget of Rs.112 allocated for corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities for 2104-15, of which 18% (Rs.21 crore) was set aside for road safety initiatives.

Ahead of the UN Global Road Safety week during 4-10 May, German luxury car maker Mercedes-Benz has started a Safe Roads programme in India. “We want to kickstart an era of road safety awareness in the country and want to support a new culture of road safety,” said Jochen Feese, head of accident research, sensor functions and pedestrian protection, Mercedes-Benz Cars. He believes that more than 70% of the fatalities can be reduced in 10 years through education and enforcement of safety rules.

Meanwhile, safety has found a patron on the Mumbai-Pune expressway. Mahindra and Mahindra Ltd has initiated an attempt to achieve zero fatality on the expressway by 2017, before repeating the model in other stretches. India’s fourth-largest auto-maker by sales has recognized road safety as one of its priority areas in its CSR policy for 2014-15.

“We were earlier addressing road safety on a need basis, but it is an area we want to focus more on as the impact we can have is considerable,” said Rajeshwar Tripathi, chief people officer, automotive & farm equipment sectors, M&M, who also heads the company’s CSR division. Out of its Rs.43 crore CSR budget, M&M is spending about Rs.4 crore on road safety, along with Save LIFE.

“For two years, the Save LIFE Foundation studied the core issues surrounding road safety in India, as well as best practices in driving and road safety strategies globally. Based on that, we have adapted techniques for local road conditions and also develop effective training solutions for Indian drivers,” said Piyush Tewari, founder and CEO of Save LIFE.

As per the memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed in March, the programme will install speed-reducing measures in accident hotspots and set up an emergency response network. About 5,000 long-haul drivers will get training and there will be awareness campaigns as well.

India’s largest car makers Maruti Suzuki spends about 30% of its CSR funds on road safety. It is focused on training drivers on safe driving at its 300 driving schools and six driver training institutes set up jointly with the governments of Delhi, Haryana, Gujarat and Uttarakhand.

The company helps develop course content and build infrastructure such as driving tracks, classrooms and simulators for drivers of all types of vehicles.

Maruti is expanding the number of driving schools and adding three more training institutes, said Ranjit Singh, general manager, CSR and Sustainability, Maruti Suzuki.

Many companies work with school children. Toyota carried out such programmes during 2006-13. “We believe children can be ambassadors of change,” said Shekar Viswanathan, vice chairman and wholetime director, Toyota Kirloskar Motor Pvt. Ltd. However, the company later realised that the programme did not have lasting impact on children, and is now looking to rework the strategy.

Toyota is also engaged with 2,000 airport cab drivers in Bengaluru, training them on imparting first aid.

The company plans to roll out the programme, which was created after consulting with the transport and police department of Karnataka, in Delhi in August.

However, there are doubts over the impact of these programmes. “CSR has become an act of tokenism. Driver training is the pillar of road safety and companies should be training as many drivers as they are producing vehicles, but what they are doing is a drop in the ocean. Safety can’t be achieved with a few initiatives here and there,” said S.P. Singh, senior fellow, Indian Foundation of Transport Research and Training, a Delhi-based think tank. “Companies need to have a deep-rooted involvement with the government at the policy level for having significant impact.”

Companies are also spending to meet the skill shortage in the automotive industry.

According to Rituparna Chakraborty, co-founder and senior vice president, TeamLease Services, a human resources consultancy, the jobs in the automotive industry aren’t aspirational, and the skills that are readily available aren’t relevant. “The country needs a large scale skill development programme,” Chakraborty said.

Meanwhile, the industrial training institutes (ITIs) are in a sorry state, opening up a gap between the industry’s needs and the skills that are being taught. Leading auto makers have partnered with state governments to train ITI students and teachers, provide equipment and suggest course content. However, the companies find limited scope here since the ITIs are driven by the state technical education departments.

Tata Motors works with 137 ITIs, where almost 9,345 students are trained every year, hiring 10% of them. The company, which spends 35% of its CSR budget on skill training launched another initiative called Lean and Earn last year, where the company has partnered with 17 of its dealers to train school dropouts with assured placement.

“We are training 534 students year, and in three years, we hope to expand it to 5,000 students. In an ITI ecosystem, only 10th pass students are let into the system, but through our programme we are reaching to those, who would have otherwise not got a regular means of employment, ” said Vinod Kulkrani, deputy general manager, CSR for Tata Motors.

Through the Hyundai Motor India Foundation, Hyundai Motor Co. India’s second largest auto company by sales, is working on a ‘dream village’ programme in Kancheepuram, Tamil Nadu, where it has a factory. With an investment of Rs.1 crore out of its Rs.5 crore CSR budget for 2014-2015, the company has tied up with seven NGOs to impart skills in poultry farming, driving training and computer literacy among others, and is involved in developing village infrastructure.

“The auto sector has had more meaningful community development initiatives as they tend to look at the community more closely since they are located there. The problems of the people in those communities affect them as well; so they tend to be more effective in their measures,” feels Adwait Joshi, senior manager for CSR at Samhita Social ventures, a CSR consultation firm.

Apollo Tyres engages deeply with truck drivers, spending 45% of its CSR funds in HIV interventions, setting up clinics and running awareness programmes. Last year, the company spokesperson says, these clinics treated more than 3,800 patients for sexually transmitted infections.

Firms can make their mark in two ways, says Animesh Purohit, programme officer for truckers at the government-run National AIDS Control Organisation. One is to make sure there is a deep understanding of how the virus spreads and the symptoms of the disease and the second thing is to expose truckers to qualified doctors in their routes of travel. “Most of these people go to quacks. If they are exposed to doctors, it can result in timely intervention,” says Purohit.

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