You Can

“A horse a horse, my kingdom for a horse,” spake King Richard in Shakespeare’s Richard III.

In a slight twist to the Shakespearean phrase, we say A can a can. A can for my car. A Swachh can for my Hyundai Accent car.”

Hyundai Motors, a leading car maker in India, has boldly gone where no car has gone before. It has done the unthinkable. It has introduced a Swachh can inside its cars.

Not a bag. Not an envelope. A can.

I am sure my erudite readers understand what a can is. But a Swachh can?

My erudite readers, a Swachh can is also a can. In this particular case it is the size of a Venti Latte takeaway coffee cup of Starbucks. Or an ice-cream cone with a slightly upsized mound of ice-cream.

And Swachh? Swachh means clean. Swachh Bharat, or Clean India, is the call given by the present PM to keep the country clean, which is why our countrymen did not keep the country clean before the call. They were waiting for the call I believe. Now they are waiting for something else. We will find out as soon as that call gets given.

They, Hyundai Motors, have splashed advertisements in all prominent media to ensure no person is denied this pleasure. And roped in Shahrukh Khan, the leading star of Hindi movies for almost two decades, and their brand ambassador for perhaps as long. Of having a Swachh can in his car.

swachh can

But if Hyundai wants to place a can in its cars, why should we care? It is a free country after all. They are free to place a can, a flower-pot, or a steering wheel, in their cars. They have to figure out the commercial model of their decision and ensure it is legal.

We care because we are sensitive and caring human beings. We care because we believe Hyundai’s hand has been forced. By the draconian Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) law. The company has admitted that it is using its Corporate Social responsibility (CSR) funds for this initiative.

The CSR law, as some might already know, mandates for-profit corporations of a certain size, to spend 2% of the average net profits of the last three years, on CSR activities.

In order that the law is transparent and fair, the government has sharply identified what qualifies as a CSR activity by only recommending particular areas of need, including eradicating hunger and poverty, maternal and child health, HIV, TB and malaria, promoting gender equality and environmental sustainability. Companies can develop their own investment strategies and decide where to invest as long as it is approved by their Board which has one independent director who is paid by the company. To make the law even more clear, it also does not define an enforcement mechanism or penalties for non-compliance.

The Swachh can ticks off all boxes.

The CSR law, apparently, has been brought in because it is believed that for-profit corporations are best suited to carry out CSR activities since welfare of society is neither their primary, or secondary, or tertiary objectives or any part of their reasons for existence.

And since one of the primary responsibilities of a government is understood to be to determine high-priority needs of society and target public expenditure in these areas, what better way to discharge it than to abdicate the responsibility to for-profit organisations. After all, since corporations exist, why should the government do any work beyond making vague and misleading laws? We all know how difficult that itself is, don’t we?

Instead of managing a billion people many of whom are poor and expect the government to actually work for improving their lot, why not just manage a few thousand business corporations who will make the process of governance easier by contributing handsomely to politicians and political parties for these rights and laws.

Governments and politicians are happy because they will have even lesser work to do and can make good use of their time by making baseless accusations at other politicians for questioning this law.

Corporations are happy because what was required as an essential part of the success of their business and anyway being done, now can be quantified in Rupee terms and showcased as their selfless contribution to society.

A billion people are happy because they believe a huge amount is being spent on them and not on for-profit corporations making money for themselves, and their gradual decline into greater misery is either not visible or on account of their own incapability, and not for lack of government and for-profit corporation support.

Armed with the CSR law, for-profit corporations are boldly going where they been many times before.

Like a hydrocarbon extraction company who has decided to use the CSR funds for training displaced independent, proud farmers to handle jobs as drivers, security guards and pantry boys in their offices.  Which they were doing even before the CSR law was introduced.

Like a soft drink manufacturer who is using its CSR resources to recharge ground water supplies in the areas they produce their drinks. Which they were doing even before the CSR law was introduced.

Like Hyundai Motors putting Swachh cans inside cars.

No wonder cars were not clean. No wonder roads were not clean. There was no Swachh can inside the car.

Now, as soon as there is trash inside the car, what will you do? You will open the lid of the Swachh can and poof. The offending trash will vanish inside the can. And, as soon as the can is full, what will you do? You will open the lid of the can and poof. The offending trash will vanish on the road.

It was the absence of the can that kept our roads dirty. Not the absence of a mindset that allows us to respect others and the space of others.

Pressed for answers on the genesis of this CSR initiative, Hyundai Motors says they have done it because in a survey 98% of respondents have said that they deeply care about cleanliness of outside infrastructure such as streets and roads. Respondents were given two choices, as below:

Q. Cleanliness of outside infrastructure such as streets and roads is a big issue in India. Which of the following statements describes you best?

  • ˆI care about it
  • ˆI don’t care about it

And 95% of respondents said they favoured a portable covered bin inside the car in which waste items could be conveniently disposed off. Again, respondents were given two choices, as below:

Q. For conveniently disposing off trash inside the car, would you

  • ˆPut the trash in a portable covered bin inside the car
  • ˆThrow the trash outside the window

Since people told us, we have invented from scratch and given you the Swachh can.

And a plastic one too, by the looks of it.

Boyed by the resounding success of the CSR initiative as it seems to have changed nothing, and since 30% of their profits paid by for-profit corporations to the government as taxes cannot be used for governance since there are other important uses for that money, the government is considering enactment of laws to get for-profit corporations to spend 2% of their average annual net profit over the last three years to ensure that crimes against women are eliminated, and penalise them if they are not.

Why did we not think of this before? Everything the government could not do now seems possible.