Sanjeev Nayar offers some ideas on how Indians can help in improving the lives of those living in border areas and in the process help the Indian Army.
Most readers would know that the Indian Army runs schools, women empowerment and vocational training centres in Jammu and Kashmir. Whilst good work is being done, is it appropriate for the army to be so deeply involved in Sadbhavana (goodwill) whose funding comes from the defence budget. Can there be an alternate mechanism which allows the people of India to contribute and be involved in goodwill activities?
Sadbhavana was part of India's counter terrorism strategy in Jammu and Kashmir that started in 1995. It is very focused and worked out between commanders of formations in conjunction locals -- projects in accordance with what the locals want.
The existing framework has inherent shortcomings. One, the schools are not affiliated to CBSE hence students going outside the state suffer from an inferiority complex. Two, there is no mechanism for Indians to co-fund Sadbhavana because of which expense comes out of defence budget. Three, it requires women to visit the army run centres thus homemakers, who could otherwise knit and sew at home are excluded. Ditto for army hospitals who occasionally provide medical facilities in remote areas.
It can be argued that the army is not meant to provide such services. Valid point. The reality is governance in most hill states starting from Ladakh to Arunachal and Manipur leaves a lot to be desired. A disgruntled border population weakens the first line of defence.
This article suggests a broad framework for a Sadbhavana that involves specialists, India Inc and the people of India.
Scope of activities, legal framework and funding
A charitable trust named say 'Sadbhavana Trust' be registered. It is entrusted with undertaking goodwill activities in select border states say J&K, Himachal and Arunachal Pradesh, Uttaranchal and Manipur. These activities would be undertaken to increase the gross happiness index in border areas.
The activities encompass schools, vocational and women empowerment centres, medical and minor infrastructure facilities and employment to locals in far flung border areas. The last activity is important because state governments usually do not reach interior areas close to the border. As a result men migrate in search of employment, families follow and population falls. It becomes a god-sent opportunity for Chinese grazers to cross over and then claim the land as theirs.
The trust be headed by a chief executive officer (ex-army) who reports to someone senior enough in the army headquarters so Sadbhavana gets the importance it deserves. An overall vision and strategy would be prepared in consultation with the commanding officer of relevant regions. An outline of activities and budgets would be agreed upon.
Initially the defence budget would contribute such sums to the Sadbhavana Trust as are being spent currently. Simultaneously, an all out effort would be made to raise funds from India Inc and the aam aadmi.
For corporates to support this endeavour, contributions should be treated either as CSR (corporate social responsibility) spending under the Companies Act 2013 or eligible under section 80 G of the Income-Tax Act. According to CSR Rules, which came into effect on April 1, 2014, companies with a net worth of Rs 500 crore or more or turnover of Rs 1,000 crore or net profit of Rs 5 crore or more must spend atleast 2 per cent their average profits in the last three years on social development-related activities such as sanitation, education, health-care and poverty alleviation, among others, which are listed in Schedule VII of the Rules.
Note that CSR spending is not a tax deductible expenditure whilst 80-G donors get a deduction from gross total income of 50 per cent of the amount donated subject to certain conditions. Let the company decide which option to chose from.
Corporate contributions could be for specific causes like adopting a school or to corpus. Company has to mention its corporate identity and Permanent Account Numbers whilst making donation. Only Indian companies and limited liability partnerships can donate.
Donations by individuals would go to corpus and get a 50 per cent deduction as stated above. Individuals to give their AADHAR and PAN whilst making donations. Only Indian citizens who are resident Indians can donate. Donations in foreign currency shall not be accepted.
The trust website would have full details of its activities, schools available for sponsorship etc and a payment gateway which accepts donations by credit card, RTGS or net banking. Cheques would be accepted by designated branches of the State Bank of India since they have the widest pan-Indian network. Cash would not be accepted.
By registering a separate trust the army would have access to a huge pool of CSR funding i.e. now available. According to a media report, "Top 91 NSE firms spent Rs 6,033 crore in the second year since CSR Rules came into effect, up from Rs 4,760 crore in 2014-15".
A dedicated fund with a comprehensive website would enhance visibility, make process of support easy and transparent. This has the potential to attract huge funding that would enable the trust to enhance scope of activities and reduce funding from the defence budget.
If managed well this scheme could become a vehicle for nationalist energy to be channelised into something constructive.
How would activities work?
Let us take a few examples.
1. Schools: Identify schools that should be changed to CBSE, the others continue to be affiliated to J&K State Board of School Education. Identify an educational institution that has experience of running CBSE schools in tribal and hilly areas.
The way it could work is -- land provided by army, school constructed by army but funded by Sadbhvana Trust and management of school outsourced. The three parties would enter into a memorandum of understanding to manage the school. A school managing committee consisting of representatives from all parties would function as an advisory body for smooth functioning of the school. Annual budget would be pre-approved. All recurring and non-recurring expenditure is reimbursed by the trust and audited statements of expenditure provided. If this reimbursement of expense attracts service tax it would increase cost of educating the poor.
An example of this model is Vivekananda Kendra Vidyalayas who, run 36 schools in Arunachal Pradesh, are responsible for day to day management of two CBSE schools owned by North Eastern Electric Power Corporation Limitedin Yazali, Lower Subansiri district and Kimi in West Kameng district. All teaching and non-teaching staff are provided by VKV and as per CBSE norms.
This arrangement has multiple benefits. CBSE education is provided to children in backward locations by specialists. Army unit's involvement is reduced. Fall in contribution by defence budget. Scheme inculcates nationalistic spirit in average student. According to an army officer, "involvement of army means much lesser pilferage as compared to the state government."
Once this experiment succeeds more schools can follow this model.
2. Getting more women to knit at women empowerment centres
CHIRAG is a rural development organisation based in the Kumaon region of Uttaranchal. During a 2012 visit the author inquired how they managed to sell a range of woollen products from three outlets without a centralised knitting facility. Here is how they work.
The knitting is done by about five groups with each group consisting of about 20 ladies. Every group is managed by a supervisor. Ladies of a group stay in geographical proximity.
The supervisor trains, gives design inputs and raw wool and checks quality of output. The group meets once a week where new work is distributed, completed work reviewed, feedback given by marketing team and payment made. Each lady earns about Rs 1,000-1,500 per week.
Thus housewives get trained, knit at their convenience and enhance incomes. This way a larger number of women are involved.
3. Mobile Medical Camps
Ramakrishna Mission runs a school in Along Arunachal Pradesh. It also has a dispensary for its 2,000 plus students. After school closes the doctor takes a mobile van and visits a pre-determined village every evening. The schedule is such that a village is covered once every 14 days. Routine illness are dealt with and medicines provided free.
Am sure leading pharmaceutical companies would be happy to sponsor mobile medical vans.
The model for this can vary from region to region.
Organisation of Sadbhvana Trust
While a detailed organisation structure can be designed later here are some broad contours.
It should be a lean organisation with a culture i.e. a blend of the best that the army and the private sector offer. About 60-70 per cent of the team should consist of officer's wives, retired army officers the balance being from the private sector.
Marketing officers would be placed in major commercial cities to share details of projects and source corporate contributions. Most employees would be on contract, the idea being the trust should not be burdened with pension liabilities.
At a ground level it is not intended to duplicate efforts of commanding units. Idea is to take certain activities, scale them up, get corporate funding and create centres of excellence. The roles of existing units and trust need to be clearly laid down so accountability exists.
The new way of working can be implemented in a phased manner starting with Ladakh and Manipur. There might be issues regarding accounting etc. If the benefits are accepted solutions can be found.
Army Welfare Fund Battle Casualties
In response to a large number of requests to help families of soldiers who died in battle for e.g. Siachen avalanche in February, the defence ministry set up a 'Army Welfare Fund Battle Casualties'. The assistance from the fund is meant to be in addition to the existing schemes for relatives of soldiers who die in battle.
However, the existence of this fund and terms of donation are not widely known. The author got to know about the fund through a Whatsapp message.
Since there is a nationalist surge it makes sense to let the fund become part of an independent trust like Sadbhavana so there is one window for those who wish to donate.
How would this work?
The trust site would have a section titled 'Army Welfare Fund Battle Casualties'. For every jawan who made the supreme sacrifice the MOD would give ST jawan name, age when died, number of children. This information would be put up on the site. Every jawan whose name appears on site would be paid an additional amount of say Rs 3 lakh i.e. funded by the people of India. Donors can donate Rs 3 lakhs in full or in part. Restrictions on donating for India Inc and individuals as stated earlier would apply.
These are some ideas on how Indians can help in improving the lives of those living in border areas and show the army 'We Care'.
Sanjeev Nayyar is an independent columnist and chartered accountant. He tweets @sanjeev1927.