Thursday, January 14, 2010

[ZESTCaste] Tatas lead India Inc in hiring SC/STs

Tatas lead India Inc in hiring SC/STs

J J Irani What social revolutionary Babasaheb Ambedkar and late prime
minister Vishwanath Pratap Singh could not see during their lifetime
may be quitely getting underway in corporate India with the largest
group, the Tatas, leading the way.

The Tatas were the first to bring many material things to India —
power, star hotels and steel, to name a few. The $71-billion group
with interests from tea-to-telecom is also now probably the first to
introduce a hiring policy that emphasises 'positive discrimination'
for its scores of enterprises located across the country from the
seashores to deserts to mountain tops.

"What we have said is if everything is equal in merit and so on,
please select somebody from the SC/ST communities. This is positive
discrimination towards Dalits while hiring," says JJ Irani, a director
at Tata Sons. "We now have a Tata (recruitment) policy where our group
chairman personally made the corrections in his own handwriting when
we presented it to him."

A Tata Sons spokesperson said the policy had been in place for some
time, and has been most successful in newer companies which were in
the process of building up their workforce.

"Tata group companies have been following a recruitment policy over
the past few years where they have been encouraged to step up hiring
from disadvantaged sections, particularly the Scheduled Caste and
Scheduled Tribe communities, without sacrificing merit — in the spirit
of positive discrimination. This policy has seen most traction in Tata
companies which are in the process of building or renewing their
workforce, including Trent, Tata Business Support Services, Tata
Teleservices, Tata Capital, Tata Consulting Engineers, Tata Power and
NDPL. In one or more of these companies, there have been significant
additions at the entry levels, both at the worker and the officer
levels, and some of these companies are also endeavouring to increase
numbers at intermediate levels," the spokesperson said.

Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are communities which feature in
a specific schedule of the Indian Constitution. This makes them
eligible for various privileges provided by the state, including
reservations in education and government jobs. Scheduled Castes are
also widely referred to as Dalits.

Indian corporates, which are ringing in thousands of crores of profits
year-after-year, are coming to grips with their obligation to give
back to a society where people are deprived of essentials such as
food, schools and medical attention.

About three years ago, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stressed the need
for affirmative action, a policy which traces its origin to attempts
in the US to increase representation of African-Americans in various
spheres of life.

Meira Kumar, the current speaker of the Lok Sabha and the social
justice minister in the first UPA government (2004-09), had suggested
a number of times that reservation of jobs, as practised in the
government, could be considered in the private sector too.

But industrialists of all hues, such as Wipro chairman Azim Premji and
Ashok Leyland's R Seshasayee, said mandatory reservations, without
considering merit, would cripple the corporate sector that was just
emerging from the clutches of the Licence Raj. Hence, the lobby group,
Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), constituted a panel under
Irani on Affirmative Action.

"Companies are being encouraged to provide for more executive
positions from the SC/ST groups," according to CII senior director
Indrani Kar. "Industry is stepping in to create capabilities through
scholarships, coaching programmes and funding entrepreneurs."

Social discrimination has been a vexing issue. A huge section of
society was once termed 'untouchables' — whom the father of the
nation, Mahatma Gandhi, called "Harijans", people of god, in an
attempt to erase the taboo. Many reformers such as Ambedkar from
Maharashtra and EV Ramasamy Naicker, also known as Periyar, from Tamil
Nadu, have fought for the rights of these deprived sections of


The onset of liberalisation after 1991 has meant that most of hiring
is now taking place in the private sector, leading to demands from
politicians and social activists for affirmative action and even

"We are making conscious efforts to widen the canvas of people we
employ and make certain we are not leaving specific groups of people
out," says Surinder Kapoor MD of Sona Steering, an auto parts maker.
"We are not just looking at it from an employability point of view,
but from a grassroot level in terms of training and education."

Some of the experiments in hiring people from specific castes have
also proven successful.

"Noel Tata, the MD of Trent, is convinced that once candidates from
Dalit and tribal communities are trained, their performance is far
better than others…they show more commitment and don't migrate easily.
Over 50% of the hiring in Trent is from the SC/ST communities," says
Dr Irani.

"I had told the PM that we have to build a reservoir of talent,
instead of just getting people employed," says Irani. "Our job is to
(increase the talent base) through employability, education and

Some companies have discreetly begun caste profiling of employees
through voluntary disclosures, after the union ministry of minority
affairs crafted a 'diversity index', which measure the diversity of

Companies such as those in the Godrej Group, Thermax, Crompton
Greaves, Sona Steering, HSBC, Mahindra & Mahindra, Crompton Greaves,
Cummins India, Godrej and Boyce, Bharti Airtel among several others
are actively pursuing the policy of affirmative action to create
better job opportunities for Dalits, tribals and OBCs. OBCs, or other
backward classes, refer to another set of communities, different from
the SC/STs, who also benefit from reservations in government jobs and
state-owned educational institutions.

"Godrej Industries and associated companies are committed to inclusive
policies that strive to provide equal opportunities for socially or
otherwise disadvantaged but meritorious individuals. Companies are
encouraged to create an enabling environment for such individuals."
Visty Banaji, executive director and president, (Group Corporate
Affairs), Godrej Industries, said. The Godrej companies have a
scorecard that includes inclusive hiring as a parameter of


Salman Khurshid, the minister in charge of corporate affairs, who is
also in charge of minority welfare says that companies must widen
their efforts to encompass all sections of Indian society. "CII has
been regularly updating on inclusive hiring details. But so far, the
only concrete outcome has been in the SC/ST area. Corporates need to
widen the scope of inclusion. Our ministry is looking at a proposal of
financing the training cost for those from underprivileged groups who
might be given employment," he added.

Inclusive hiring referred to by Mr Khurshid, would mean more
recruitment not only of Dalits and tribals, but also from the OBC and
Muslim communities, who many say are also underrepresented in
corporate India, particularly in the top echelons.

The government is also actively looking at bringing an equal
opportunity legislation "It is awaiting clearance by the law ministry
before Cabinet approval," Mr Khurshid told Neytri.

Business houses such as M&M and Godrej are also funding entrepreneurs
from deprived communities and are offering training facilities through
ITIs to workers to create employability.

"We are looking at ways of helping employability of individuals from
such groups and also educating children through the Mahindra Pride
School in Pune where after finishing school, the children are ensured
jobs at retail outlets such as Cafe Coffee Day, BPOs and KPOs," said
Rajeev Dube of M&M group.

Industry officials hasten to add that they are not sacrificing merit.
"For us, capabilities are important and we do not compromise on that,"
said Krish Shankar, HR head at Bharti Airtel. "In that sense, if the
candidate is meritorious, we hire them irrespective of his or her
background in terms of caste. We are trying to make a difference, but
not at the cost of capability."


Some say that these efforts merely scratch the surface. "Ninety-nine
percent of the corporate sector is still controlled by very small
strata of the very rich and influential, and they continue to promote
talent from a small group," says Surinder S Jodhka, professor of
sociology at Jawaharlal Nehru University and director of the Indian
Institute of Dalit Studies. "The rest still do not have access to
either capital or the opportunity to be a part of the growth

Social problems in vast swathes of the country such as Maoist
violence, kidnapping of corporate executives and agitations against
land acquisition are partly blamed on the centuries-old injustices.

"If the corporate sector does not become inclusive, it will face
resistance which will in the long run lead to civil wars," says social
activist Dr Kancha Illaiah, professor of the department of political
science, Osmania University, Hyderabad.

Industry is willing to do its bit to the society voluntarily, rather
than being pushed to do so through legislation. But many consider
industry actions may be too little to have any significant impact.
Some even say that the industry's attempts in affirmative action may
be a public relations exercise.

"The initiatives taken by them are just a showcase programme and part
of some corporate social responsibility (CSR) moves," says professor
Jodhka. "That is not talent development. The issue will soon become a
political issue. If some of the top industrial houses invest in good
colleges in the tribal areas, most certainly there will be good
candidates coming out of such places."

The government and society, may have to rely on what corporates
voluntarily do, as any legislation may be challenged.

"A legislation can be challenged by the corporate sector, which has an
obvious right to hire according to its requirements and policies,"
says Zia Mody, senior partner at law firm AZB & Partners. "There are
going to be very strong pulls and tugs, which may force the government
to look at some half-way discriminatory policy. What is the rationale
and the percentage of hiring is something that won't be easy and very
difficult to sustain."


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