Blog: In God's own country, AllForKerala? No, corporate India is not doing enough

Star TV network were the first off the mark last week, urging help for flood ravaged Kerala. The television network put out an appeal by Malayalee actor Mohanlal asking countrymen to help those drowned in Kerala rains.

21 Aug 2018 | By PrintWeek India

Star TV also got Kamal Hasan to put out an appeal #AllForKerala. Both Mohanlal and Kamal Hasan wrote out personal donation cheques of Rs 25 lakh each to underline the sincerity of their appeals. To facilitate donations, especially of essential items, Star TV tied up with NGO Goonj. Star also apparently wrote out a cheque for Rs 2 crore for flood relief in Kerala. Additionally, all employees of Star are said to be donating a day’s salary, which Star will match, and send to the Chief Minister’s Distress Relief Fund in Kerala. Employees of Asianet, sister network of Star, have also pledged Rs 25 lakhs to flood relief in Kerala. Similarly, Sun TV network has donated Rs 1 crore to help Kerala.

 Unfortunately, the rest of corporate India seems to have shown far little concern for India’s southernmost state in distress.

India’s youngest billionaire Vijay Shekhar Sharma, the founder-owner of Paytm, was slammed and lampooned on social media when he made a laughable donation of Rs 10,000 towards the Kerala floods. He used even that tiny contribution for brand sell, “Just did my D 10,000 donation towards #KeralaFlood relief. Go ahead and open your Paytm app to donate now!” Sharma was massacred.

He had attached a copy of the receipt for his donation to his tweet perhaps to broadcast to all how big a heart he has! He quickly withdrew and deleted the tweet. Sharma, worth a reported USD 1.7 billion, is known for his stingy philanthropy and loud proclamations. He previously too made a mockery of himself when in December 2017 he donated a princely sum of Rs 501 to the Indian armed forces on Armed Forces Flag Day and shared screenshots of the transaction on Twitter.

Social media jeered him but Vijay Shekhar Sharma remains unaffected by past experiences and continues to keep his purse tightly zipped.

On SundayThe Times of India ran a full page ad soliciting support for flood ravaged Kerala.

State Bank of India was amongst the first corporates to step forward with a donation of Rs 2 crore. More importantly, India’s largest bank initiated some good ground level measures to alleviate the pain of the rain affected. SBI waived off fees and charges on services like loans for flood relief, duplicate passbooks, ATM cards, cheque-books and EMI delays, besides making attempts to restore the working of branches and ATMs in the flood-affected regions of the state. ICICI Bank also joined forces with SBI later in the week with a Rs 10 crore donation.

Anand Mahindra put out a tweet in support of Kerala and said his group would contribute to the flood relief efforts but no quantification of the donations, if any, is known so far. Anand said in his tweet, “We’re usually hesitant to donate to a Chief Minister’s fund. But here’s an opportunity for collective action in a time of national distress. The act of giving is important, not the amount. We can ask the CM’s fund to give an account of their expenditure. I plan to donate…”.

TVS Motor Company meanwhile announced a Rs 1 crore donation to the distress relief fund.

For a change, celebrities were more open-hearted in contributing to the disaster management efforts in Kerala. Surya wrote out a cheque for Rs 25 lakh. Actor Dhanush contributed Rs 15 lakh, while Vishal and Sivakarthikeyan gave Rs 10 lakh each. Telugu actor Vijay donated Rs 5 lakh, Southern actress Anupama Parameswaran donated Rs 1 lakh. Tamil actor Vijay Sethupathi donated Rs 25 lakh and actress Rohini donated Rs 2 lakh to the relief fund. Telugu actors Prabhas, Allu Arjun and Vijay Deverakonda also donated to the flood rescue efforts but exact amounts are not known. South superstar Rajinikanth too has announced that he will donate Rs 15 lakh whereas director Shankar has assured Rs 10 lakh for the Kerala flood victims. Malayalam actors Mammooty and Dulquer Salmaan contributed Rs 15 lakh and Rs 10 lakh respectively. Sanju Samson, the Rajasthan Royals player donated Rs. 15 lakhs to the noble cause. Bollywood celebrities Sonali Bendre, Abhishek Bachchan, Anushka Sharma and Bhumi Pednekar did take to Twitter to urge fans to contribute to flood relief but little is known about their digging into their own purses to fund donations.

The easiest excuse handed out by corporate India for inaction on the Kerala floods was that last week was full of holidays and many C-suite occupants were on extended vacation with families. Surely, they were also not reading newspaper headlines or watching television or even catching disaster updates on their mobiles. Despite the holidays, and the sad demise of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and the ensuing national mourning, Chief Ministers of various states offered help and money to Kerala. Neighbour Tamil Nadu (Rs 10 crore), Andhra Pradesh (Rs 10 crore), Puducherry (Rs 1 crore), Jharkhand (Rs 5 crore), Maharashtra (Rs 20 crore), Gujarat (Rs 10 crore), Punjab (Rs 10 crore), Telangana (Rs 25 crore), Bihar (Rs 10 crore), Himachal Pradesh (Rs 5 crore), Chattisgarh (Rs 3 crore), Madhya Pradesh (Rs 10 crore) and Karnataka (Rs 10 crore) wrote out cheques in favour of Kerala flood relief. The week full of holidays and state events somehow did not impact the government, as much as it affected corporate India. 

Why is corporate India so slow in reacting to emergency situations, especially disasters that affect and impact the very consumers who are the life lines of these companies? Where are all the ‘Give for Good' corporate CSR programmes and campaigns when millions of countrymen are fighting for their lives? Sure, the telecom networks have extended some benefits to their users. Nothing unusual, nothing substantial. Ola has announced that for every non-corporate ride that is booked, it will contribute Rs 5 to the CM’s Relief Fund. Google has activated a Person Finder tool for Kerala, which will allow users to track people who are missing. This page also allows one to add information about someone they have found, who have been displaced from their home and family. Facebook has activated its Safety Check feature for Kerala, which can be used to let friends and family know that they are safe. Grocery supplier, BigBasket, is allowing buyers to purchase an essential kit of Rs 146 that contains rice, sugar and dal and donate to Delhi-based NGO Goonj.

But perhaps the most meaningful and real effort is by Khalsa Aid India volunteers in Kerala who are coordinating with the Gurdwara Shri Guru Singh Sabha in Kochi to serve cooked hot meals to those affected by the floods. What I found even more touching was that the United Arab Emirates on Saturday formed a committee to come together in order to provide relief to the people of Kerala. President His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum took to Twitter to make the announcement and urged “everyone to contribute generously towards this initiative” acknowledging that Malayalees have been an intrinsic part of the success of the desert sovereign, and the Emiratees now need to reciprocate past loyalties through critical help at this tough juncture.

To be honest, corporate India is not really and whole-heartedly a part of #AllForKerala. Corporate entities and corporate head-honchos can do far far more in helping the flood affected in Kerala. When Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana some years ago, American Airlines flew 85,000 pounds of bottled water and nonperishable food items to New Orleans. Our airlines, despite their grim reported financial results in past months, can still emulate American Airlines. And do their bit to help. Abbott, the pharmaceutical company pledged to contribute USD 4 million to Katrina’s relief efforts. Abbott’s contributions also included cases of paediatric and adult nutritional products such as Similac infant formula, PediaSure and Pedialyte nutritional drinks and Ensure and ZonePerfect bars. Abbott is these days aggressively advertising in India and its share price has zoomed exponentially in recent months. Surely it can do for Kerala what it did during Hurricane Katrina. Other pharmaceutical companies can do the same. Anheuser-Busch shipped 12,600 cases of drinking water for the Red Cross to distribute to victims in affected areas of Louisiana. Surely, Nestle, Pepsi and Coke can do the same. By the way, the Coca-Cola company donated USD 5 million in cash and substantial amounts of water and other beverages to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for its relief efforts in Louisiana. Wonder why the same large-heartedness is not visible in India?

If you really mean to help, it is always easy to do so. In Houston, Papa Johns franchisee owner Keith Sullens used his location in Reliant Stadium, adjacent to the Astrodome where many of the hurricane affected were being brought, to provide more than 10,000 freshly baked pizzas. 

Corporate India needs to wake up. It needs to do its bit for the country, and countrymen in distress. And that too now. There is no point in being trillion dollar companies, if your heart is not in the right place.

(Sandeep Goyal writes on a wide variety of subjects. Wake-up calls, when necessary, are part of his writing.)

(Courtesy Campaign India)