To reconcile differences between industry, political leadership on social initiatives

Our Bureau

Chennai, July 28

The report on affirmative action in Indian industry is not meant to pre-empt any legislation on job reservation for scheduled castes and tribes in the private sector. It is only a recognition that industry has a role, albeit a small one, in ensuring inclusive growth, according to industry representatives.

The report too was not any response to the Government's move for a legislation but to reconcile the differences between industry bodies and the political leadership on what each considered to be social initiatives. The industry has been working with economically backward for a large number of years, but then found the "connect" missing with what the political leadership expected. The political leadership talked of the socially backward.

This report would only help industry sharpen its focus, Mr R. Seshasayee, President, Confederation of Indian Industry, said at a press conference while discussing the proposed "Concrete steps by Indian industry on affirmative action for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes." The action plan has been jointly prepared by the CII and the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry, and was presented to the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh.

According to Mr Seshasayee, there were three corner stones to the report: one, although organised labour is just two per cent of the total work force in the country and no matter what the private sector did, it was not going to be possible to solve the problem of segregation and discrimination in society. That said, the industry recognised its role and would be a part of the solution rather than offer the complete solution; whatever is done has to further the competitiveness of Indian industry and not erode it; and, the entire effort has to be voluntary and cannot be forced by legislation, which would be counter-productive. Industry bodies too could not mandate a particular behaviour of their members but would use all persuasive skills possible to ensure that the members moved forward.

Dr J.J. Irani, past president of the CII who chaired the committee that went into the issue of affirmative action, said the Prime Minister was "quite complimentary" on the report and similar was the situation with the Social Justice Minister, Ms Meira Kumar, whom CII representatives met separately.

What would be industry's response if the Government went ahead with a legislation mandating reservation in the private sector? Dr Irani said that was a hypothetical question, which he would not be able to answer. "We see that possibility receding at the moment," was his response.

Mr Seshasayee added that "we believe we have put our best foot forward," and hence there was no Plan B if the Government enacted a legislation. "We are hopeful that the Government will see the merit of what we are doing." In another context, Dr Irani said that it was the industry's understanding that the legislation idea would be dropped if the industry behaved responsibly.

In the report, the industry bodies have set out four areas in which they would take concrete steps - at the work place, entrepreneurship development, employability and education. They have specified milestones for the first year, which include adopting a code of conduct, creating 100 entrepreneurs from SCs and STs, establishing coaching centres in 10 universities for 10,000 students, establishing 10 centres for coaching for entrance examinations to professional and technical courses to cover 5,000 students, creating 50 new scholarships in national institutes of excellence and disclosing progress on proposed concrete steps in annual reports.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated July 29, 2006)
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