However, I began pondering over the whole thing. The first thing I had told the executive search agency was that many corporates nowadays have social inclusion groups or social responsibility wings which basically engage in some social development work with a miniscule percentage of their resources. The IL&FS since it was engaged in the development of infrastructure had obviously come up against many thorny social and environmental issues. The question was whether they were serious about including the costs of mitigating or preventing these social and environmental problems because in many cases they were prohibitive and would entail giving up the project altogether. The job description in this case was that the incumbent would have to conduct social and environmental impact studies of the projects being serviced by the company and then on the basis of these convince the concerned project heads to include the mitigation measures in their project design. This is obviously a tall order and one does not know how sincere the company is about this because I could not get to quiz them on this.
Nevertheless, this whole episode shows how much the corporate sector is concerned with the increasing tide of protests from people to be affected by development projects and from people who are suffering from the pollution or displacement from earlier projects. A discussion of the economic scenario in this country by various international and national economists in a business fortnightly that I read recently has the common theme of the difficulty of land acquisition and related environmental problems. There is also a grouse that so much money is being doled out in the form of social and employment schemes to the poor which could have been more profitably invested in building infrastructure. There is, thus, a clear realisation in the corporate world that social and environmental costs of their business operations and profit making can no longer be cavalierly externalised as before and they need to take on more and more of these costs whether they like it or not.
So even if social activism has not really been able to bring about a more people friendly dispensation it has certainly made the corporate sector sit up and take notice. Especially after the recent rejection by the Ministry of Environment and Forests of the Vedanta Plc's bid to mine the bauxite in the Niyamgiri Hills of Orissa which are the habitat of the Dongria Kondhs who are a primitive tribal group. This came about because of a tremendous social activist campaign spanning from the local organisation of the tribals to international organisations like Survival International.
Social activism is very much alive and we can still hope for a better world!