Susmita Sengupta, Mahanagar Gas Limited | ‘No research orientation in schools is a major constraint’

In an interview with CSR Times and CSR Tree, Susmita Sengupta, Technical Director of Mahanagar Gas Limited (MGL) opined that there is an urgent need to address the gap in quality of primary education in India as the current system does not promote grassroots learning.

MGl revised its CSR policy to align it with the companies Act 2013. What changes were fundamentally made?

MGL had created a strong foundation for its CSR before the mandate. No major changes in terms of vision/mission were required. The fundamental changes were mainly towards written financial commitment regarding social responsibility and reporting.

You have worked overseas for many years. Do you find any difference in the approach of Indian companies and companies based in the US, UK and Canada on sustain- ability and social responsibility?

In Indian companies I find that CSR lacks strategic intent and focus. It is mostly patchwork philanthropy which to me is neither sustainable nor does it provide tangible benefits. Creating value out of CSR is important. Having said that, we do have certain case studies, examples wherein Indian companies have also championed such initiatives.

Monitoring, reviewing and updating as circumstances change is MGl’s approach towards sustainability. What are the lessons you have learnt till date and how have you made improvement? 

MGL believes in “continuous improvement”. It was observed that a lot of CSR proposals presented had excessive overhead costs, often with no tangible beneficiaries or key personnel identified and hence, difficult to manage. MGL developed a project mode with minimum eligibility, check-list criteria, and mid-term review based on the criteria for sustainment of these work.

“In Indian companies I find that CSR lacks strategic intent and focus. It is mostly patchwork philanthropy which to me is neither sustainable nor does it provide tangible benefits. Creating value out of CSR is important.”

MGl’s CSR initiatives focus on education. By education do you also mean secondary and vocational education for the youth?

MGL’s CSR initiative focuses on three Es-education, environment and empowerment via skill development. Yes by education we also mean secondary and vocational education for the youth.

Through Sarva Sikhshya Abhiyan and the mid-day meal scheme, do you think primary education of all the children in the country is being duly taken care of? Is there scope for improvement?

There is a large scope of improvement. While the Sarva Shikshya Abhiyan and mid-day meal scheme ensures that children are in school, there is an urgent need to address the gap in quality of education. There has been hardly any innovation particularly in government schools in this context. The current system does not promote “grassroots learning” and is one of the primary reasons why students are not able to perform in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects. The lack of research orientation in schools is another major constraint.

What are your programmes on conservation of the environment?

MGL’s business itself centrifuges around environment in terms of environment- friendly fuel. Apart from the business operations, MGL has promoted sanitization of environment through massive TNR (sterilization drive) for stray animals which promotes health of an animal, reduces population growth, hence, will also reduce man-animal conflict. MGL has also facilitated installation of solar power project with an animal welfare organization. We are also facilitating sustainable social and institutional plantation.

The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan was launched with much fanfare and hope, but not much has been achieved so far. Why is it so and what more can be done?

While the initiative has addressed much of the hardware aspect; the software (awareness) part remains a concern.   I believe it is equally important, if not more, to sensitize families on the ill effects of open defecation and the need of using toilets. I feel it has to be scaled up significantly in a mission mode to achieve an open defecation free India.

Early this year, MGL in collaboration with eco-fuel had launched the CNG fuelled two-wheelers? How is the response as of now?

It is gaining momentum amongst younger generation.

How do you choose your implementing partners- any specific criteria and selection process?

MGL has an established procedure for selection of implementing partners. The prospective partner organisation is evaluated across three major parameters-organisational, financial and the proposed programme. Each has a defined qualifying score with some mandatory fields.

How much do you plan to spend on CSR this financial year and what are the projects you are going to stress on?

MGL plans to spend more than Rs.9 crore in this financial year. Major projects are aligned with MGL’s strategic focus on education, empowerment and environment.

Kindly elaborate about the project Unnati widely acclaimed….

Project MGL Unnati is an initiative designed to give opportunity to youths from underprivileged communities who have the talent but not the means to compete for engineering entrance examination. The project mentors 30 youths for a period of 11 months wherein they are coached by faculty (mostly IIT alumnus) for preparation for JEE and other competitive examination. The project has been hugely successful with more than 90 percent of our students getting placed in engineering institutes.

Do you see any difference in the attitude of people towards philanthropy and civic responsibility in India compared to developed nations? Where do you see India need to catch up?

One line that defines the problem is the mindset that “everybody’s responsibility is nobody’s responsibility”.

Though it has been years since introduction of CNG-fuelled vehicles in the country, the streets are still occupied by old and new diesel engines which are said to be enhancing pollution levels. How do you view it?

CNG is available to everyone in Mumbai. MGL is working continuously to increase its number of CNG stations. Until regulations are enforced against the polluting vehicles, their use on road will continue.