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Merits, Demerits of Bill to Mandate Spending of 25% CSR Funds for Upkeep of Monuments

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Hawa Mahal - Monuments in India
 
India is a country of varied heritage and culture. The rich history of the country is commemorated by many monuments spread across its expanse. The cultural and emotional value of these monuments and other cultural aspects is tremendous for Indians. This is why, its conservation, restoration and protection is the subject matter in the latest session of the parliament.

Bill to Amend the CSR Law to support Heritage conservation

A private member of the upper house of the parliament, MP Vinay Sahasrabuddhe proposed a bill in 2019, to amend the Companies Act and to include a mandate for the companies to spend 25% of their CSR funds towards upkeeping of monuments. The bill was proposed after considering the plight of Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), the National Monuments Authority (NMA) and other agencies which are tasked with maintaining the monuments but are always lacking resources.

Allocation of CSR funds for Heritage and Culture

According to the official data on National CSR Portal, in the financial year 2020-21, only about Rs. 65 Cr. were spent on heritage art and culture. This is less than one per cent of the total CSR spending in the given financial year. This is significantly lower than Rs. 931 Cr. spent in the previous financial year, which accounted for more than 3.5% of the total CSR expenditure in that year. The reduction could be attributed to more focus on healthcare because of the pandemic and reduced CSR spending overall, because of the economic backlash suffered by the companies caused by a series of lockdowns.

Arguments against the Amendment

As the winter session of the parliament began, Rajya Sabha has taken up this bill to amend the Company’s Act, for discussion. Congress MP Jairam Ramesh said while he broadly agreed with Mr. Sahasrabuddhe’s argument for increased investment in preservation of monuments, the aim of CSR was to benefit local communities. “This should be a guideline and not a blanket law,” he said.

Merits of such mandate

Heritage and cultural sites attract a lot of tourism from across the world. These tourists provide livelihood to so many people, while preserving the cultural integrity of the country. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the tourism sector has suffered a major blow. The travel bans have reduced the number of foreign tourists visiting India. The lockdowns reduced the domestic tourists visiting these sites. This affected livelihoods of several thousands of people across the country.
With more funds allocated to maintaining and revamping the heritage sites, not only can the corporates participate in returning the glory of these places, but also generate employment – both directly and indirectly – thus contributing to the social as well as economic development. While it is true that there is a dire need for attention and resources in sectors such as education and healthcare, it is important to understand that employment is a basic need for people to be financially independent. By focusing on this, the country can start to repair the damage caused by the pandemic and return to the citizenry the jobs they lost because of it.