Corporate Social Responsibility is not a new concept in India, however, the Ministry of Corporate Affairs, Government of India has recently notified the Section 135 of the Companies Act, 2013 along with Companies (Corporate Social Responsibility Policy) Rules, 2014 "hereinafter CSR Rules" and other notifications related thereto which makes it mandatory (with effect from 1st April, 2014) for certain companies who fulfill the criteria as mentioned under Sub Section 1 of Section 135 to comply with the provisions relevant to Corporate Social Responsibility.
WHAT IS CSR?
The term "Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)" can be referred as corporate initiative to assess and take responsibility for the company's effects on the environment and impact on social welfare. The term generally applies to companies efforts that go beyond what may be required by regulators or environmental protection groups.
Corporate social responsibility may also be referred to as "corporate citizenship" and can involve incurring short-term costs that do not provide an immediate financial benefit to the company, but instead promote positive social and environmental change.
Moreover, while proposing the Corporate Social Responsibility Rules under Section 135 of the Companies Act, 2013, the Chairman of the CSR Committee mentioned the Guiding Principle as follows: "CSR is the process by which an organization thinks about and evolves its relationships with stakeholders for the common good, and demonstrates its commitment in this regard by adoption of appropriate business processes and strategies. Thus CSR is not charity or mere donations. CSR is a way of conducting business, by which corporate entities visibly contribute to the social good. Socially responsible companies do not limit themselves to using resources to engage in activities that increase only their profits. They use CSR to integrate economic, environmental and social objectives with the company's operations and growth."
WHAT CONSTITUTES CSR UNDER COMPANIES ACT, 2013?
Recently notified Companies (Corporate Social Responsibility Policy) Rules, 2014 has defined the term "Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)" as follows: "Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)" means and includes but is not limited to :
i. Projects or programs relating to activities specified in Schedule VII to the Act; or
ii. Projects or programs relating to activities undertaken by the board of directors of a company (Board) in pursuance of recommendations of the CSR Committee of the Board as per declared CSR Policy of the company subject to the condition that such policy will cover subjects enumerated in Schedule VII of the Act.
Meaning thereby, conducting all those activities which are either specified under Schedule VII to the Companies Act, 2013 or those which are recommended by the CSR Committee of the Board as per the CSR Policy and are undertaken by the Board of directors of the Company will be covered under the scope of activities of Corporate Social Responsibility.
ACTIVITIES COVERED UNDER SCHEDULE VII OF THE COMPANIES ACT 2013
Ministry of Corporate Affairs vide its Notification dated 27th February, 2014 (which shall come into force with effect from 1st April, 2014) has come up with the modified Schedule VII which covers wide range of activities which can be undertaken by the Companies as a part of their CSR initiatives.
The activities involve the following:
- Eradicating hunger, poverty and malnutrition, promoting preventive health care and sanitation and making available safe drinking water;
- Promoting education, including special education and employment enhancing vocation skills especially among children, women, elderly, and the differently abled and livelihood enhancement projects;
- Promoting gender equality, empowering women, setting up homes and hostels for women and orphans; setting up old age homes, day care centres and such other facilities for senior citizens and measures for reducing inequalities faced by socially and economically backward groups;
- Ensuring environmental sustainability, ecological balance, protection of flora and fauna, animal welfare, agroforestry, conservation of natural resources and maintaining quality of soil, air and water;
- Protection of national heritage, art and culture including restoration of buildings and sites of historical importance and works of art, setting up public libraries, promotion and development of traditional arts and handicrafts;
- Measures for the benefit of armed forces veterans, war widows and their dependents;
- Training to promote rural sports, nationally recognized sports, paralympic sports and Olympic sports;
- Contribution to the Prime Ministers' National Relief Fund or any other fund set up by the Central Government for socio-economic development and relief and welfare of the Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes, other backward classes, minorities and women;
- Contributions or funds provided to technology incubators located within academic institution which are approved by the Central Government;
- Rural development projects.
The above mentioned activities constitute the CSR activities and the companies which are covered under the provisions of Section 135 shall be required to carry out any one or more of the activities as specified above along with following its CSR Policy.
FOR WHOM APPLICABLE?
The companies on whom the provisions of the CSR shall be applicable are contained in Sub Section 1 of Section 135 of the Companies Act, 2013. As per the said section, the companies having Networth of INR 500 crore or more; or Turnover of INR 1000 crore or more; or Net Profit of INR 5 crore or more during any financial year shall be required to constitute a Corporate Social Responsibility Committee of the Board "hereinafter CSR Committee" with effect from 1st April, 2014.
The above provision requires every company having such prescribed Networth or Turnover or Net Profit or more shall be covered within the ambit of CSR provisions. The section has used the word "companies" which connotes a wider meaning and shall include the foreign companies having branch or project offices in India.