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July 31, 2006 16:13 IST

In response to the government's plan to bring in legislation to introduce reservation in the private sector, the Confederation of Indian Industry and the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India released an action plan in Chennai on Saturday.

The action plan report titled 'Concrete Steps by Indian Industry on Affirmative Action for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes' "is not a pre-emptive step by the industry to stop the government from coming out with a legislation but an affirmative action from the industry," said the CII President, R Seshasayee and the CII Task Force Chief and Tata Sons Director, Dr Jamshed J Irani.

But both were clear that Indian industry is against any legislation that would compromise the "sanctity of its non-negotiable freedom of choice in employment."

"Legislation is not a solution. On the contrary, it is counter-productive."

"Indian industry has always been working to bring up the economically backward till now but we have understood we have to include the socially backward too. We discovered there was some disconnection. While we looked from the economic angle, politics was looking from the social angle. That is why we decided to look at both the economic and social backwardness," said the CII president.

Indian industry is "against reservation of any sort," he added.

The action plan report starts with the statement -- 'India's socially and economically underprivileged scheduled castes and scheduled tribes have not been able to realise their potential due to centuries-old social discrimination.'

Though Indian private sector employs only 2 per cent of the population, they "believe that competitiveness of enterprise and economy is not negotiable and must be achieved and maintained through knowledge and competence", and not through reservation.

Concrete Steps by CII-ASSOCHAM

Seshasayee and Irani conceded that the steps suggested in the report are 'not the complete suggestion' and the suggestions are purely 'voluntary and not forced' on any industry.

The report talks about affirmative action at the workplace, in entrepreneurship development, employability and education as areas to deal with.

Workplace: According to the report, industry will give greater representation to SCs and STs in its new recruitment at all levels. To achieve this, companies 'will strengthen their HR systems'. Companies will be encouraged to provide more executive positions through appointments and promotions of members of the SCs and STs.

"Merit will not in anyway be compromised," while doing so, said Irani.

Entrepreneurship development: As 93% of the workforce is engaged in agriculture, small and tiny businesses and the self-employed sectors, Indian industry, Irani said, would take concrete steps to create entrepreneurs from SCs and STs. "This is for more inclusive economic growth."

While larger companies are expected to create at least one such entrepreneur a year, they do not expect the same from smaller companies. "To begin with, we plan to create 100 entrepreneurs in the first year which will be scaled up in future," Seshasayee said.

Employability: As there exists a large gap between the requirement of skilled workers and their availability, to expand the pool of employable people from the SCs and STs and to lower the dropout rates among students from SCs and STs, the Indian industry would "help establish coaching programs in universities."

In the first year, 10 universities will be identified for programs to cover 10,000 students, which will go up to 50 universities and 50,000 students by 2009, Irani said.

Indian industry would partner with the government in modernising apprenticeship training scheme and inducting more from SCs and STs, the report promises. Industry plans to give at least 100 scholarships to the SC and ST students to study in the IITs and IIMs and other premier educational institutions.

Education: "In the long run, there is no alternative to high quality universal education to achieve the objective of building an inclusive and integrated society and the industry wants to supplement and complement the efforts of the government in providing education services," the report says.

Industry, Irani promised, would partner with NGOs to improve the level of primary education in government and municipal schools beginning with 104 districts which have a large population of SCs and STs.

CII and ASSOCHAM will formulate a code of conduct which would be adopted by their members from October. Setting up of individual councils to promote, coordinate and oversee industry action and appointment of an Ombudsman are suggested as 'concrete steps' but both Seshasaayee and Irani said that "nothing is forced and everything is voluntary." 

"We are sure whatever we do will further competitiveness and not erode it."

It remains to be seen whether the government considers the 'concrete steps' as an 'affirmative plan'. 


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