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Connecting with Community – A Corporate Strategy

[box type=”shadow” ]Roma-BalwaniSustainable development is fundamental to many a business house in India today. With a prime focus on EHS and the inclusion of community development in corporate policy, gives a social license to corporates to operate even in remote areas. For Vedanta Group, comprising companies dealing with natural resources, community development has been an essential element of its business strategy. “CSR was part of Vedanta much before it became a mandate in the country,“ says Roma Balwani, President, Group Sustainability & CSR, in an interview with Mohana M.[/box]


What are the factors that ensure sustainability in all of Vedanta’s sanitation initiatives and projects?

 To ensure the sustainability of a project, and to overcome the biggest challenge of inculcating a sense of ownership, our programmes have ensured that the owners of individual household toilets are involved either through monetary contribution or in the actual construction of the project. The structures are constructed with a durability of about five years, and through our awareness campaigns, we are educating the community on how diseases are prevented through hygienic practices.

At the global level we have introduced the WASH pledge. We joined other industry leaders in signing the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBSCD) pledge for access to safe Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) in the workplace.

In the urban context, these facilities are available but since the assets we operate in are in remote areas, we have to be much particular about providing safe water and sanitation first to our employees and then it percolates down to the community. It is then we devise CSR projects to take care of the community health and provide them with clean drinking water and good sanitation facility.

In order to provide the facilities, we make partners, either international or local, to build the infrastructure. Across India, we have positively impacted over 1,300 school toilets in FY 2015, and constructed about 15,000 household toilets in about the last three years. These projects are in various stages of implementation. As they are in a PPP model and a token amount spent by the beneficiary, there is ownership.

Apart from the areas where Vedanta’s operations exist, what other kinds of initiatives have been undertaken that contribute to sustainable sanitation?

At Hindustan Zinc Limited in Rajasthan on October 2 last year, we undertook community development programmes in about 200 villages. When we commenced, about 60% of village population were not aware of the importance of hygienic sanitation facilities. The villagers who lived in brick & mortar houses too did not have household toilets. The area faced wide spread diseases; women were affected the most.

The Sanitation campaign aimed at eradicating the practice of open defecation. We set out constructing 30,000 individual toilets for Below Poverty Line families under the ‘Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan’ campaign.

Based on a tripartite agreement with Hindustan Zinc, Rajasthan Government and the NGO, Financial Inclusion Improves Sanitation and Health (FINISH) Society as the implementation partner, we have so far constructed 10,000 individual household toilets in Bhilwara, Chittorgarh and Udaipur districts of Rajasthan. This initiative will make 80 rural and tribal villages in Rajasthan ‘Open Defecation Free’.

Under the ‘Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan’, cost of construction of each toilet is `8,500 where `4,600 per toilet is being paid by government, `3000 by Hindustan Zinc and `900 by the beneficiary. Here again to inculcate a sense of ownership, the villager can make a non-monetary contribution by individually digging the pit or contribute manpower to the construction.

We also educate the communities on the concept importance and usage of proper sanitation facilities through different methods. There are many more environment and safety benefits besides hygiene and sanitation.

Due to minimized risk of contamination of drinking water sources, there is a marked improvement in the health of the villagers, leading to increased manpower productivity.

Once the villages are 100% open defecation free, they will be recognized as “Nirmal Grams”. Hindustan Zinc will declare it by blowing a balloon. Hindustan Zinc ensures sustaining the quality of the construction, and plays the role of the catalyst, eventually they will phase out their involvement while warranting community ownership.

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