The last two weeks have seen raging debates on nationalism, some of which included conversations about soldiers and the nation’s duty towards them. While the general public, media and political leaders continue the debate on how to honour the soldier, a telling point in how often we think about our veterans, war widows and their children perhaps comes from the fact that in FY15, this group was among those who received the lowest priority for expenditure under corporate social responsibility (CSR).

According to CSR rules, starting 1 April 2014, any company with profit of more than 5 crore or revenue of 1,000 crore needs to spend 2% of the average profit of previous three financial years on CSR activities. These activities are defined in the schedule VII of the CSR rules. Close to 80% of total CSR spending was focused on education/skill development, healthcare/sanitation and rural development.

Six of the 11 areas identified under schedule VII of the Companies Act, 2013, for CSR expenditure have attracted little to no interest in the first year of implementation of the law. Welfare of armed forces veterans was one of these.

The exact sum of money spent on armed forces veterans varies from survey to survey. Crisil Foundation, the non-profit arm of rating agency Crisil Ltd, analysed 3,855 BSE listed companies and found that 1,024 of them qualified to spend on CSR. The CRISIL report said, “...support for armed forces veterans and their families, along with sports, barely received attention."

An analysis of the top 85 NSE listed companies in September last year, by Bengaluru-based NextGen, a CSR management firm, showed that of the total CSR spend of close to 4993.14 crore, barely four companies spent 0.38 crore on armed forces veterans. Only Ashok Layland, Housing Development Finance Corp Ltd, Bank of Baroda and Bajaj Auto undertook CSR activities related to veterans. These included educating families, community services and healthcare for families.

Retired officials feel that this could be due to lack of awareness but CSR practitioners and advisors are of the view that companies believe that armed forces veterans do not need assistance from the private sector.

Dr K.K. Upadhyay, head of CSR at FICCI’s Aditya Birla CSR Centre for Excellence believes veterans are not on company agendas “possibly because when you undertake activities like education, health or sanitation, you are simultaneously able to cater to the needs of your constituency, i.e. the employees of your company or people located next to your manufacturing units. As a result, you get visibility. But with veterans, there is little or no direct connection of companies," he said.

Voicing similar sentiments, Adarsh Kataruka, director at SoulAce, a CSR consultancy, said, “Companies often work on issues, which are in public debate—be it women empowerment, skill development or sanitation. Veterans are not part of public debate too often." He added that in all its seven years of existence, his consultancy was yet to receive a single proposal from either a not-for-profit or a company which looks at working with veterans. The firm receives 30 to 35 proposals every month.

“Welfare for veterans on the face of it appears to be a soft cause and companies wonder why should they take it up when it has little strategic or geographical relevance—the two factors key to determining selection of CSR initiatives," pointed out Kataruka.

General (retired) Deepak Kapoor, the 23rd chief of army staff was formerly involved with the Tata Public Service Welfare Trust, which organizes the popular army ball every year. It is one of the handful of initiatives by the private sector geared to the welfare of veterans. General Kapoor explained that the lack of debate or interest around welfare of veterans is due to lack of awareness and misconception. “There is a general perception that armed forces veterans receive enough institutional and governmental support and therefore, private sector or anyone else need not bother. Besides, if an institution, company or an individual does want to do something, they don’t know how to go about it," he said.

In the last two years, various armed forces’ welfare associations have established CSR cells; however, they have not seen much interest from the corporate sector. Brig. Krishan Nandan VSM (retd) strongly feels that the lack of interest by the corporate world in veteran welfare is driven by lack of publicity. “Half the companies seek to undertake CSR activities for either tax savings or visibility. Giving to the armed forces will not provide either," he said.

There are some who don’t want to place the blame of this lack of interest on any one reason. “Armed forces need to learn the language of the industry. An organizational methodology to communicate between the two is needed, which can easily be facilitated by the use of technology," said Maj. Gen (retd.) Dhruv Katoch, formerly associated with army initiatives for the welfare of army jawans.

Most retired officers who have worked with armed forces’ veteran welfare departments feel that rehabilitation of retired jawans is the most urgent need of the hour. The army needs to keep its profile young and on an average, soldiers join the army between 17 to 19 years and retire between 30 to 35 years of age.

While it has been easier for officers and the technical personnel of the armed forces to get rehabilitation post-duty, jawans are the hardest hit.

According to Katoch, with minimal skill-based training, companies can enhance a jawan’s existing skills to suit the industry’s requirements, which would help a great deal to rehabilitate such personnel. Allocating some CSR funds towards providing scholarships to the children of martyred veterans is another way ahead.

Perhaps, with the newfound vigour for nationalism, more companies will come forward this year to support veterans, synonyms of national pride and sacrifice.

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