Corporate 'gau rakshaks': How India Inc is milking the CSR cow
It's a national 'moo-vement', really.
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With cow as the national “moo-vement” in the country, India Inc is in the farm race to capitalise on the bovine in all possible ways.
The “moo-vement” is full of opportunities for businesses in the country - from cow farms to cow sanctuaries, cow milk to cow dung, “cow apparel and accessories” may no wonder be the new business idea for start-ups.
Businesses dependent on cattle such as dairy companies, FMCGs and others have been investing in cattle development as a business strategy. But the new trend of increasing investments in the “cow moo-vement” by India Inc. under Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is grabbing many eyeballs.
India is the first country in the world to legislate CSR in the Companies Act, 2013, mandating firms with net worth of Rs 500 crore, turnover of Rs 1,000 crore or net profit of Rs 5 crore need to spend at least two per cent of average net profit for the preceding three financial years on CSR activities.
The government has also prescribed activities that qualify as CSR, including eradicating hunger, poverty, promoting education and skills, gender equality, ensuring environment sustainability, protection of national heritage and protection of armed forces veterans, rural sports, setting up technology institutions and also contribution to the Prime Minister's Relief Fund.
However, companies are finding interesting ways to use this money for aligning with the national agenda of “gau seva”. As reported by Economic Times, many companies in the country are investing in cow protection and upkeep under CSR. The list includes Delvis Healthcare, Tata Power, Fullerton India Credit Co., Alembic Pharmaceuticals and many more.
Although animal welfare is one of the prescribed CSR activities as per Schedule VII of Section 135 of the Companies Act, 2013, the latest shooting trend of corporate investments on cow protection tells the story of the changing landscape of CSR from a business management practice to a political tool of “milking the CSR cow”.
The corporate “gau rakshaks” carry out widespread activities for the protection of cows, including construction and maintenance of gaushalas, organising cattle camps and veterinary service camps, constructing drinking waterlines for cattle troughs, overhead tanks for cattle, weighbridges and fodder storage yards, providing food and building the capacity of farmers for improved practices for cow care.
The state governments are also not behind in "gau seva" and are launching interesting programmes for cow protection. Recently, the Uttar Pradesh government launched "Cow Protection Ambulance Service" in Lucknow, Gorakhpur, Varanasi, Mathura and Allahabad. The UP government has also launched a “gau seva toll-free number” enabling people to help cows in need. Few years back, a business house in Madhya Pradesh had also deployed ambulances for cows.
In the rural economic context of India, cows have always been a source of alternate livelihood for farmers. While their crops take longer time to bring them returns and block their money, milk and cow dung-selling helps them maintain their liquidity. Sumer Singh, a small farmer of Bharuch district of Gujarat, has three cows and two goats. He says, “Cow is our mother and Modiji is working hard to protect cows. But it is difficult to feed them once they stop giving milk. We need support to feed old and unproductive cows.”
Another farmer, Manohar Lal of a village near Agra, reiterated the statement of Prime Minister Narendra Modi when asked about cow protection. He quoted Modi addressing the problem of cow vigilantism last year, where he made a distinction between cow welfare and vigilantism, saying, "It makes me angry that people are running shops in the name of cow protection. Most of them are anti-social elements hiding behind the mask of cow protection.”
Modi asked the state governments to prepare a dossier on such people as 80 per cent of them will be found to be involved in anti-social activities which cannot be approved. Modi also said that “If these gau rakshaks are true protectors, they should realise that most cows die because of plastic, not slaughter. They should stop cows from eating plastic."
Many other marginalised farmers like Sumer Singh and Manohar Lal have high hopes from the government and businesses to help them deal with the problem of cow-feeding once they become unproductive and cost the farmer’s pockets heavily.
Now, with the increasing trend of cow service in India Inc, only time will unfold how much do corporates cash on cows and how many gau rakshaks sustain in the business of doing good?