Hinduja Foundation: Creating Rich, Vibrant and Sustainable Communities in Rural India  

0
40

Paul Abraham

The Hinduja Foundation was set up over 50 years ago to align with a deeply held belief of the Founder of the Group, Parmanand Deepchand Hinduja; a belief that privilege comes with the responsibility to give back to the very communities that make our businesses and profits possible. Today, the Foundation is a multifaceted entity with certain key areas of interest. These include water stewardship, health, education, rural development and socio-cultural initiatives in the areas of art, culture and heritage. The Foundation also acts as a focal point to facilitate and drive a common agenda across the many Hinduja Group companies that dot the economic landscape in India and across the world. We not only support group entities and work proactively with them; we also collaborate with institutions and partners to achieve scale and depth with our interventions.

Water – Our Champion Cause

Water is a crucial resource in a country like ours where more than half the population inhabits regions considered ‘water-stressed’. Responding to this urgent need, we have adopted water stewardship as a flagship theme that is also recognised by all Hinduja Group companies. All these activities are being done under the umbrella brand name, Jal Jeevan. Our transformation starts from within: first, we ensure our own offices, factories and facilities are water-neutral or water-positive, i.e. that they are generating as much or more water than they consume. Then we venture ‘outside the fence’ by investing in multi-village integrated watershed programmes, water ATMs for areas of acute stress, water harvesting initiatives and the restoration of defunct or degraded water bodies like lakes and ponds. We also work with river basins and spring sheds to ensure the sustainable health of these crucial sources.

In facilities owned by our group companies, we work towards the four ‘R’s of water wisdom: reduce, reuse, recycle and rejuvenate. The impact of our interventions is reflected in facilities that are now water-neutral or even water-positive. A great exemplar here is Ashok Leyland, the only auto industry company in the world to achieve water-positivity at all its manufacturing facilities. Water-positivity interventions have helped us achieve a reduction in total expenses spent to procure water, maintenance and strengthening of their licenses to operate, and reduction of water-related risks like operational disruptions.

Out among the larger communities where we operate, and with our stakeholders, we have made an impact in a variety of ways. We have improved the availability and accessibility to pure drinking water by installing 77 RO plants of capacities ranging from 500 to 4,000 litres per day in areas that suffer from both scarcity and poor quality of water. We have designed these systems to extract minimal amounts of water and enable the recharging of groundwater tables. In regions where surface water is available, we have installed Gravity Water Filters. These are in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Andhra Pradesh. We have created an infrastructure for watershed and spring shed management and rooftop rainwater harvesting in Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Odisha, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka. We are rejuvenating wetlands, village ponds, lakes and reservoirs, drains, step-wells and even rivers in Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Kerala, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Delhi and Karnataka.

Some examples to illustrate the scale of the Jal Jeevan programme’s achievements so far: we have recharged enough groundwater to fill 3.8 million water tankers, dispensed safe drinking water to the tune of 31 million jerry cans, revived land for agriculture equivalent to 100,000 football fields and increased water holding capacity equal to 2,500 Olympic-sized swimming pools. We are pleased to report positive impacts on water tables and the perenniality of wells, rivers and watersheds. Protecting and cleaning ponds and lakes have enriched the bio-atmosphere of dense Indian metropolises like Chennai. The impacts of the above interventions are socio-economic too and reflect positively on the communities’ incomes/livelihoods, employment opportunities, asset building, health, education and standard of living. Our projects also make bio-physical and environmental impacts by boosting soil and water conservation and soil fertility, curbing soil and water erosion in cropped areas, and effecting changes in cropping patterns, intensities and production.

Water – A Challenge in Mission Mode

The Ministry of Jal Shakti, Department of Water Resources, RD & GR is the ideal coordinating point in the rolling out of a national agenda on water. However, as with problems of this magnitude, we have multiple actionable and many stakeholders who need to be roped in to ensure sustainable solutions.

Restoration of an Urban Lake: Let us take a case study of a lake recently restored outside a large metropolis in the south of India. After obtaining PWD permission, the conducting of extensive garbage removal and desilting, establishing of foreshore bunds, strengthening of offshore bunds, creating of percolation trenches and recharge structures, fencing of the lake and planting of native saplings, was all done in about three months of continuous work onsite.

By January 2019, a State Government body had taken over a portion of the lake and built a ground-plus-one structure, which is expected to function as an office and parking space.

Some of the learnings from this project are:

  1. Garbage and sewage disposal into water bodies: Existing provisions in the Town and Country Planning Acts that allow the disposal of sewage into a water body in the absence of drainage systems must be repealed. Individual soak pits should be encouraged if a central drainage system cannot be installed.
  1. Encroachment by private and government organisations: Encroachment leads to flooding, health hazards and toxicity of underground sources. The boundaries and contours of water bodies must be redefined and validated through a synchronised survey and government order. It is also important to redefine the zone of influence. Case law is established on encroachment of water bodies, but in the absence of records detailing boundaries, legal action cannot be enforced.
  1. Maintenance and protection of water bodies after restoration: An empowered body drawn from community/village structures must be made the custodian to create vigilance, and also to conduct audits that ensure boundaries, upkeep and quality of water bodies. They might even provide regular data on pH values, etc. to a central database via apps that are easy to download and use.

Restoring Himalayan Springs in Uttarakhand

As part of our Jal Jeevan programme, Ashok Leyland has initiated a project to contribute towards water security in Uttarakhand. Together with implementation partners Central Himalayan Rural Action Group (CHIRAG), the project aims to restore and rejuvenate 239 springs, besides building roof-top water harvesting structures in 39 villages and providing safe drinking water to 44 schools. The programme also intends to improve access to water by installing three Solar Lifting Systems, which will benefit 75 households in Bhimtal and Okhalkanda of Nainital district.

The biggest achievements have been in the areas of community mobilisation and teaching local citizens scientific methods to restore the springs themselves — this has bolstered their earning capacity as well as being able to use the water for domestic as well as agricultural use. Women especially benefit from programmes like these because they carry the family’s load when it comes to water.

The programme is working on the following areas to achieve its goals:

  1. Creating awareness
  2. Strengthening the database of information on groundwater in the Himalayas.
  3. Transferring know-how and training local communities and institutions. The programme has aided in the formation of Water User Committees (WUC) in 97 villages to manage spring-sheds.
  4. Rejuvenating Springs
  5. Improving water quality and provisions for safe drinking water. The goal is to decrease water-borne disease through quality monitoring and the setting up of spring shed management protocols.
  6. Planting 85,000 plants in spring catchment areas

Flagged off in 2018 with a projected timeline of three years, the programme has already started showing results. The biggest achievements have been in the areas of community mobilisation and teaching local citizens scientific methods to restore the springs themselves — this has bolstered their earning capacity as well as being able to use the water for domestic as well as agricultural use. Women especially benefit from programmes like these because they carry the family’s load when it comes to water. Due to their daily labour of bearing heavy pots of water up and down mountainous terrain, many would suffer from health issues necessitating emergency hysterectomies before the age of 30. To help them, a lift water scheme is in the pipeline in villages located far away from springs.

Our learnings so far on Springshed Management:

  • It is vital to develop new protocols for Springshed Management based on information and data, as well as traditional knowledge systems.
  • To understand the upstream and downstream issues of hilly regions, especially concerning sanitation and water conflict, a systematic approach is required. It is important to conduct a geological survey in the spring shed area of the sources.
  • Soil and water conservation structures (contour trenches, percolation pits, recharge ponds, deep recharge pits, etc.) must be constructed in the spring shed areas. For this, the GP of the catchment area needs to be aligned to help villages in the discharge area.
  • Settlements situated near water sources must make sure that their septic/soak pits are not built over recharge areas. This contaminates the springs.
  • Rooftop harvesting structures and tanks are a must for all settlements near water sources. Each home should have a provision to collect rainwater in tanks so that all households have water for their daily use and any surplus can be used to recharge groundwater through soak pits. 

Wetland Restoration, Chennai: Thalambur

Before
After

Healthy wetlands buffer us from the worst of natural disasters, like the Chennai floods of 2015. Wetlands like the one at Thalambur hold, store, percolate and recharge water. They also allow the free flow of rainwater. A major goal of the project, located along the East Coastal belt of the megapolis, was eco-conservation. In just 12 months, this lake has responded beautifully to our efforts. As part of the restoration effort, invasive plant species were removed and native varieties of grasses, shrubs and trees were planted in addition to cleaning of the lake bed, building bunds and deepening of the water body. Today, its capacity to hold water has been maximised and storage has gone up by 5.6 million cubic feet!  A live lab has also been designed and constructed for the neighbourhood schools to study, observe and learn about water. Besides restoring the lake, Jal Jeevan also worked to foster responsible use, management and study of water resources by local communities, including residents’ groups and school children in the neighbourhood. After all, it takes a village to save a lake.

Health

We have multiple mobile medical unit initiatives and a flagship healthcare programme at Palghar district in Maharashtra. Our initiatives are always grounded in rigorous need assessment surveys of the communities we serve and in a spirit of partnership with the public sector, which we seek to strengthen and complement. 

Apart from state-of-the-art healthcare institutions like the PD Hinduja National Hospital & Medical Research Centre in Mumbai, we invest in primary care and specialised therapy areas where we find the public health system needs augmentation. We have multiple mobile medical unit initiatives and a flagship healthcare programme at Palghar district in Maharashtra. Our initiatives are always grounded in rigorous need assessment surveys of the communities we serve and in a spirit of partnership with the public sector, which we seek to strengthen and complement.

We have focused on building insights into areas that are under-served by research, like multi-drug resistant TB and Type 1 Diabetes. In these cases, our interventions are designed in partnership with leading clinicians and researchers and are guided by the abiding values of our Founder to provide treatment support to the most disenfranchised among us. Our multi-centric registry in Type 1 Diabetes is a case in point. We have partnered with some of the leading endocrinologists in Mumbai, Pune and Chennai to support a cohort of patients living with T1D to receive treatment and undergo investigations. In addition, we are collecting data across the three centres to help us better understand the epidemiological and clinical progression of the disease. This will eventually support better treatment protocols for clinicians across the country and globe. All our interventions and commitments are designed to be long term and underpinned by research that builds insights and protocols most urgently required by India’s health systems.

Education

We work with partners to directly implement the following programmes: Road to School, Road to Livelihood and Saksham. These are broad-based programmes that reach thousands of schools mainly through primary-level interventions that build learning and lifestyle skills. They are supported by a healthy sport and nutrition support mechanism, and they offer guidance to the child’s community and ecosystem.

While we offer higher learning and professional qualifications at the KPB Hinduja College of Commerce in Mumbai, we are equally committed to improving primary learning outcomes both in urban government schools and at the rural level. We work with partners to directly implement the following programmes: Road to School, Road to Livelihood and Saksham. These are broad-based programmes that reach thousands of schools mainly through primary-level interventions that build learning and lifestyle skills. They are supported by a healthy sport and nutrition support mechanism, and they offer guidance to the child’s community and ecosystem. In Maharashtra’s Jawhar Taluka, we run Saksham, which has an in-school programme that is currently supporting 3,875 students from 14 schools over a period of six years; an after-school programme that covers 1542 children from 14 villages and 69 hamlets; and professional development and mentoring programmes that work with over 100 educators from 14 schools. The Foundation’s Gyan Shakti programme based in Worli, Mumbai, works with 11 schools, 783 students and 43 teachers in six languages to develop digital literacy and aide professional development. Apart from this, we also give out scholarships directly and through partners to over 1,300 students in need. 

Road to School (RTS) is supported by many of our Group companies in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Odisha. So far, 825 schools and 70,000 children have been reached through RTS, which seeks to provide holistic development opportunities for all children. While the programme currently focuses on underprivileged first-generation learners from remote rural schools in Krishnagiri, Tiruvallur, Namakkal, Sangakiri and Salem districts in Tamil Nadu, Kalburgi district in Karnataka and Khorda district of Odisha, the plan is to reach one lakh, under-served students, in India by 2021. Road To School’s interventions include remedial as well as enhanced learning programmes for slow learners and gifted students. To make sure the model is sustainable, RTS works on an exit plan so communities can take ownership of their children’s education. We have also experimented with new instruments like Development Bonds to try and address the requirements of all the stakeholders who take risks and ensure outcomes in the field – this intervention works on early learning literacy and supports 100,000 students and 7,000 teachers in seven districts of Haryana. We believe in contributing to building capacities, whether in the world of finance or technical skills.

Like our sustainable rural development project in the tribal belt of Jawhar of Palghar district in Maharashtra. We have begun an ambitious journey here that encompasses multiple villages and unfolds over the years. At present, we are working in 18 villages, 69 hamlets, covering around 5000 families with a 25,000-plus population.

Beyond these, there exist long-term projects that call for 360-degree intervention and expertise across the board. Like our sustainable rural development project in the tribal belt of Jawhar of Palghar district in Maharashtra. We have begun an ambitious journey here that encompasses multiple villages and unfolds over the years. At present, we are working in 18 villages, 69 hamlets, covering around 5000 families with a 25,000-plus population.

The major occupation in Jawhar is agriculture; however, the situation is challenging because of factors like small landholdings, poor soil quality, traditional agriculture practices, single crop patterns and rain-fed subsistence agriculture. This has resulted in poor yield and inadequate income. It was against this stark reality that our Jawhar project was designed.

One of the main goals of this project is to enhance income generation by creating livelihood opportunities and improving the standard of living of the local tribal communities. This has been achieved by introducing practices like composting and providing additional support for the cultivation of paddy, millets, vegetables and rabi crops. Alongside this, we have encouraged floriculture. Though small in scale, it plays an important role in this region as most tribal families have small landholdings. The initial investment is marginal and the returns start showing within a few months. This ensures families have some cash trickling in for their everyday needs. Farmers are given technical inputs through demonstrations conducted on their plots. We are further incentivised to market their products as a collective.

Another successful intervention in Jawhar has been the Wadi programme. It combines horticulture and forestry plantation and is named after the colloquial term for orchards. Wadi programmes are typically carried out on one-acre plots and they bring in sustainable income from the sale of fruits, crops and timber, ensuring food security for the whole family. Wadis are generally planted on degraded wasteland or slopes so these lands can turn productive with the addition of biomass and development of water resources. This makes the programme a win-win from every perspective.

Our success in Jawhar has encouraged us to expand the scope and size of our sustainable rural development programme. Through interventions in agricultural practices, health, education and water availability, we not only address the immediate needs of rural and tribal communities but also work to create sustainable local structures that can manage such programmes in the future.

Finally, we believe that an appreciation of art and culture is as critical to the success of a nation as a healthy, productive citizenry. We own a substantive collection of historical artefacts, most notably a world-class selection of ancient Indian numismatics. Also known as the Lance Dane bequest, this treasure trove is being brought to the public domain through publications, exhibitions and regular workshops. The core of the bequest by Lance Dane is a large collection of coins from ancient India, paintings, bronzes and stone sculptures, terracotta, wood carvings, erotica, textiles, beads etc – signifying the crafts, literature, science, religion and customs of bygone ages of India. The Hinduja Foundation coin collection numbering 34,975 is reputed to be one of the foremost numismatic collections of the period 600 BC to 600 AD.

The vision is to someday house our priceless antiquities in a museum and research facility, where it can be available to students, historians and scholars who will advance our understanding of India’s glorious, multi-cultural heritage.

Paul Abraham is the President, Hinduja Foundation.