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The Maharashtra government had proposed to spend around `33,952 crore, or 2.21% of the state’s gross domestic product, on school education in fiscal 2014. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/ Mint
The Maharashtra government had proposed to spend around `33,952 crore, or 2.21% of the state’s gross domestic product, on school education in fiscal 2014. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/ Mint

Maharashtra urges companies to spend CSR money on schools

Move reinforces efforts to boost facilities in a state where 70% of schools are government-run

Mumbai: Maharashtra is trying to persuade companies to put money in the school system as part of their corporate social responsibility (CSR) spending, reinforcing the administration’s efforts to boost educational facilities in a state where 70% of schools are government-run.

The Maharashtra government proposed to spend around 33,952 crore, or 2.21% of the state’s gross domestic product, on school education in fiscal 2014, but as much as 80% of this money will be spent on paying the salaries and pensions of teaching and non-teaching staff.

This will leave only around 6,790 crore for building new schools and facilities like science laboratories and toilets and to carry out repairs on existing infrastructure in the 100,000 schools run by the state government through zilla parishads (district councils).

“Considering our limitations, we decided to use new CSR policy of the central government to our advantage and prepared a detailed booklet. The initial response from the industry is very positive," said state school education minister Rajendra Darda.

Maharashtra’s education department has circulated a booklet titled CSR in Education: 2013-14 among companies that meet the criteria, and industry lobbies such as the Indian Merchants’ Chamber (IMC), Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci).

“We have not kept any particular target in mind but considering that a majority of top Indian corporates are headquartered in Maharashtra, we hope to get a lion share of CSR spending," Darda said.

According to Bloomberg data, India has 433 listed companies that match the criteria and whose combined net profit in fiscal 2013 was 4.66 trillion. Maharashtra alone has 155 listed companies with a combined net profit of 1.83 trillion. These companies will be setting aside around 3,665 crore for CSR efforts.

Maharashtra chief secretary J.S. Saharia said: “We recently had a meeting with the CSR committee of IMC and soon plan to approach organizations such as CII and Ficci. Besides this, we will also be organizing meetings with industry associations in major cities of the state like Pune, Nashik, Aurangabad, and Nagpur."

Among other things, the booklet mentions that the state government will appoint a senior officer from the education department to coordinate CSR efforts by companies in school education. This officer will be responsible for publishing taluka-wise needs of government schools; companies can choose any school or group of schools they wish to back.

Ficci secretary-general A.D. Singh said, “If the government wants to channelize CSR funds in one particular area, they should make an appeal to the industry but there should not be any coercion to sponsor any particular activity. They (companies) should be free to choose any activity of their interest and which fits well into their corporate philosophy."

Companies should also be free to monitor, evaluate and change the scope of CSR programmes to get the targeted results out of their CSR spending, he added.

Arvind Pradhan, director general of IMC, said in an email response to questions that the lobby group was “positive" about the state government’s initiative.

“We are enthused by the steps which the state government is taking in making the best possible use of the funds raised by the CSR initiative especially since the state has over 70% government-run schools and hence this effort will reach maximum number of school-going children."

IMC wants more emphasis on basic infrastructure development, training of teachers, capacity building and aligning the subjects and teaching methods to contemporary needs, he added.

Companies are not new to spending on CSR activities in the education sector of Maharashtra.

ICICI Foundation, an arm of ICICI Bank Ltd, for instance, runs a programme to improve the quality of teachers in municipal schools in Mumbai by imparting pre-job training. RPG Group is implementing an initiative called Akshar, through which it is attempting to improve students’ understanding of the English language.

Engineering conglomerate Larsen and Toubro Ltd (L&T), through its L&T Public Charitable Trust, is working towards improving the quality of education in tribal areas of Maharashtra and also contributes towards improving the health of tribal students.

Usha Rane, a member of the leadership team at non-profit organization Pratham, which is engaged in improving the quality of primary education, said: “...I think the state should direct funds from corporates into improving quality of teachers, which will help to impart quality education to students in rural areas."

Otherwise, she said, “we will continue to have a situation where study after study reveals that students in the fourth standard are not able to do simple addition and subtraction."

The state government should also allow companies to monitor how funds donated by them are used and whether the money is really making a difference to education. “Otherwise, they will have a false sense of pride that they are doing something for society but with no tangible improvements to show," she added.

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