Real estate, being the second largest employer after agriculture, is one of the biggest and most vital sectors in India. It is one of the key drivers of economic growth – the housing sector alone contributes five to six per cent to the country’s GDP. While we typically associate real estate with tall buildings and glitzy malls, it actually includes four sub-sectors: housing, retail, hospitality and commercial. The real estate market in India is expected to grow at 30 per cent over the next decade and touch $180 billion by 2020.

Names like DLF, Brigade and Unitech are synonymous with this sector and here we will take a closer look at the CSR efforts of some of these industry giants.

DLF

One of the most recognised names in real estate, thanks in no small part to IPL and them owning half of Gurgaon, DLF’s CSR is channelled through the DLF Foundation, established in 2008. The CSR activities listed in the policy document are: rural development, promotion of education and healthcare, skill development, and cleanliness initiatives. The stated environmental policy is to comply with existing regulations, optimise the use of natural resources, and enrich the surrounding biodiversity.

The flagship CSR initiative is the ‘village cluster development’ programme, which is essentially about creating model, sustainable villages around rural Gurgaon.

The flagship CSR initiative is the ‘village cluster development’ programme, which is essentially about creating model, sustainable villages around rural Gurgaon. Spearheaded by DLF Foundation, the idea here is to build on existing government facilities to set up solutions for issues spanning health and sanitation, education, infrastructure and women empowerment. Accordingly, primary healthcare centres, waste management systems, smart schools and infrastructure development projects have been taken up. One of the more novel projects taken up as part of this is the Sanitary Napkin enterprise, which is a women-driven microenterprise for the production of sanitary napkins and sensitisation regarding good menstrual-hygiene practices. As per the company’s claims, about 60,000 people benefit annually from this.

 The Nurturing Talent programme provides support – including financial assistance, coaching and counselling – to bright, young students from poor backgrounds. Students from Class 1 onwards are covered under this programme. Other initiatives have also been launched to deliver quality education to poor children, with about 18,000 students positively impacted. Till August 2016, scholarships were provided to 1,143 students. The Skill-a-Million project, which was launched in 2011, has the core objective of providing skills training and job placement to one million young people within the next decade. This is being done in conjunction with skill training organisations in areas such as hospitality, customer relations and sales, IT, etc. Till FY 2016, an estimated 15,000 youth were trained and nearly 70 per cent were placed in various companies. The fourth major programme is the ‘urban underprivileged development’ programme that seeks to address health and education issues for the urban poor. Three wellness centres and four clinics are operational in and around Gurgaon, while four DLF Swapna Sarthak schools provide free education to nearly 1,200 children. Three crèche-cum-learning centres have also been set up. As of FY 2016, the company spent Rs 10.4 crore on CSR – this works out to 2 per cent of their average net profit. The highest spend was on the village cluster programme.

Jaypee Group

This conglomerate, which has interests spanning real estate, construction, power, hospitality and even sports, is well known for its townships and expressways. While it is not possible to break down the contribution of the real estate division towards the overall CSR efforts due to lack of available data, a broad overview can still be attempted.

Jaiprakash Sewa Sansthan is a not-for-profit trust created in 1993 to coordinate the CSR projects of the Group’s many entities in the areas of education, skill development, medical facilities, rural infrastructure and animal husbandry (strangely, no official website). The company also has an environment and energy policy with a set of requirements that is supposed to be implemented for each of their projects.

The main programmes are centred around education, specifically on running universities and schools. This includes Jay Jyoti Girls school in Bharuch district in Gujarat which provides free education, and the Sardar Patel Vidyalayas that cater to underprivileged families. The Sansthan has been running the ‘comprehensive rural development’ programme in 360 villages in 11 states since its inception. On skill development, 1,341 students were trained in industrial training institutes and polytechnic institutes in FY 2016. Medical services involve health camps, ambulance services and dispensaries, helping six lakh villagers annually. Two hospitals were also set up in Himachal Pradesh, benefiting nearly one lakh patients every year. The company spent Rs 7.43 crore on CSR in FY 2016 even as its profit in the past three years showed negative.

The Sansthan has been running the ‘comprehensive rural development’ programme in 360 villages in 11 states since its inception. On skill development, 1,341 students were trained in industrial training institutes and polytechnic institutes in FY 2016.

More effort seems to have been invested in sustainability initiatives. Examples include high-efficiency boilers in power plants, usage of energy-efficient lamps, water conservation through reservoirs, and waste-reduction efforts. The efforts in the real estate division revolve mainly around energy-usage reduction through measures like energy-efficient air-conditioning systems.

Oberoi Realty

The company places emphasis on these CSR areas: slum redevelopment, education, poverty, healthcare, and sustainability measures. However, little information is available on Oberoi’s CSR work. From the annual report, one can glean sparse details – out of the stipulated Rs 736.71 lakh allocated to CSR activities in FY 2016, the company managed to spend Rs 544.67 lakh. The two projects taken up were adoption of green belts (maintaining green initiatives and beautification of public spaces) in Mumbai and donation to the Maharashtra Chief Minister Relief Fund. The latter received the lion’s share of the company’s CSR expenditure that year.

Unitech

One of the country’s largest real estate firms, Unitech’s CSR policy focuses on  education, healthcare, skill development, environment and community outreach, ensuring that the entire gamut of CSR-worthy issues are covered, at least in its policy document. Saankalp is the flagship CSR programme and is based around the company’s project sites. In education, the Shiksha Abhiyan donates books and magazines to schools; day-care centres have been set up at project sites; and major festivals are celebrated with the children of the construction workers at its sites (which shouldn’t really be considered as ‘CSR’ but a regular activity that is expected from all such companies). Medical and eye check-up camps are organised on site, while medical inspection rooms are set up at all such locations. Again, these are standard worker-safety practices and not CSR.

Other activities include inviting NGOs to raise awareness about their programmes, collection drives among employees, blood-donation camps, and contributions to relief funds. From a sustainability perspective, all of Unitech’s commercial developments in NCR are registered under LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Core and Shell rating. Most of its projects have built-in energy conservation, rainwater harvesting and waste-reduction measures. In FY 2016, the company spent Rs 2.43 crore on CSR (as per its definition anyway), which was 2 per cent of its net profit. However, the details of this spend – which project, where, breakup of the costs – weren’t provided. We are expected to take the company’s word for it.

Godrej Properties

Godrej Properties’ stated CSR policy is part of the Group’s overall ‘Good and Green’ CSR programme, covered in detail in this CB write-up. The focus areas are employability, greener India, and brighter giving (employee volunteering).

The company’s CSR expenditure for FY 2016 was Rs 2.18 crore, which comes up to 2 per cent of its net profit. The bulk of it was spent on Nipun, which is the skill-enhancement training programme for construction and related trades, implemented in six states.

The company’s CSR expenditure for FY 2016 was Rs 2.18 crore, which comes up to 2 per cent of its net profit. The bulk of it was spent on Nipun, which is the skill-enhancement training programme for construction and related trades, implemented in six states. Education needs of rural tribal children were supported in Maharashtra and Gujarat. Day-care services for children of migrant labourers working on the company’s Pune construction sites were set up through Tara Mobile Creches. The company is also a major supporter of Teach for India.

Godrej Industries has incorporated sustainability as a key part of its business philosophy and, accordingly, Godrej Properties claims to follow the same for all its projects, starting from energy modelling for reduced energy consumption to accounting for environmental factors such as pedestrian-friendly development, maximising day lighting and natural ventilation, and achieving water and energy efficiency. The company’s goal is to obtain green certifications from external agencies such as Indian Green Building Council (IGBC) and LEED – nine projects received it in FY 2016. Incidentally, Godrej Group was one of the founding members of the IGBC. The company is also a founder member of the Sustainable Housing Leadership Consortium (SHLC), which is a voluntary effort with leading Indian housing sector companies to drive sustainability in the country’s housing market. The company has also put procedures in place to reduce energy and water demands, recycle waste, and promote sustainable sourcing, although data is sparse. For instance, in FY 2016, there was a 20 to 25 per cent drop in energy usage as compared to the previous year. It carries out environmental impact assessments for large projects. One would like to see this conducted for all projects.

K Raheja Corp

The company’s CSR activities are centred on education, healthcare and skills training. Vishwas Dhumal, CSR head, says: ‘Building an impressive initiative that benefits the society as a whole is imperative for us at K Raheja Corp. Hence we decided to step in with initiatives involving education, healthcare and training. With various communities grappling with problems, we step in to structurally engage them with solutions by providing them resources for development.’

Elementary school facilities are set up at all construction sites for the children of workers. With primary education a key focus area, the company has collaborated with Mindspace on the Teaching Tree initiative which works with Teach for India to help indigent children by enrolling them in private schools for better education opportunities. Teacher training is conducted with the help of technology. Book-donation drives and art exhibitions by students are also organised.

The company supports an apparel training centre in Andhra Pradesh that trains women from remote villages in various skills to help them earn their livelihood. Similarly, youth readiness training centres help young people from rural backgrounds receive training in job-related skills. This year, the company’s major focus is going to be on skill development centres to be set up in Mumbai, Navi Mumbai and Hyderabad. These will be fully funded three-month programmes that will provide 100 per cent job placements at the end of successful training. On healthcare, the SL Raheja Hospital – Center of Excellence in Diabetes and Oncology is jointly managed with other entities, while the company works with Marrow Donor Registry India (MDRI) on sourcing of bone marrow donors. It has also helped restore Hyderabad’s Durgum Cheruvu Lake and converted it into a recreational hub for the local populace – the same includes a 2.5-km jogging and cycling track, and a children’s play area. An internal team evaluates the progress of the various initiatives on a half-yearly basis.

Last year, K Raheja Corp was in the news for introducing the ‘time off for volunteering’ policy through which employees were offered six days of paid leave to volunteer with an NGO of their choice – making it one of the few companies in the country to adopt such a policy. Commendable indeed.

Last year, K Raheja Corp was in the news for introducing the ‘time off for volunteering’ policy through which employees were offered six days of paid leave to volunteer with an NGO of their choice – making it one of the few companies in the country to adopt such a policy. Commendable indeed.

The company’s CSR goals for the next few years will focus on skills training for the youth to help prepare them for jobs and self-employment opportunities. It also plans to upgrade the skill sets of the housekeeping staff to help them command better wages.

Brigade Group

The real estate giant is primarily known for its properties around Bengaluru and, not surprisingly, most of its CSR work is concentrated around the city and Mysore. While there are no specific focus areas that have been called out, development of public spaces such as parks and playgrounds appears to be front and centre of all its CSR efforts. In FY 2016, it contributed towards the redevelopment of a BBMP playground at Malleshwaram in Bengaluru and the maintenance of Sitharampalya lake in Whitefield.

The company also donated to the Indian Music Experience Trust, the amount accounting for the majority of its CSR spend that year (nearly 90 per cent of the total Rs 2 crore expenditure). In previous years, it has supported initiatives such as the creation of the Centre for Indian Music Experience (IME), India’s first interactive music museum, and remodelling of the offices of the Chief Fire Officer, Bangalore West Zone, and Yeshwantapur Police Station.

The company’s website mentions that vocational training and management development programmes will be provided in the construction field. As of now, there’s no clarity if and when these will commence. The Brigade Group has established the Brigade Foundation, which is a not-for-profit trust. The Foundation has set up schools in Bengaluru but these cater to the moneyed sections of the city.

On the sustainability side, the company’s environmental policy states its commitment to ‘continual improvements in pollution prevention and safety practices through awareness-raising efforts, and promoting conservation of natural resources.’ There is, of course, no sustainability report but even data regarding its conservation and recycling efforts are missing. For instance, the company simply quotes that the percentage of recycling of products and waste is greater than 10 per cent, and that it is ‘difficult to specify a percentage of input sourced sustainably.’ Indeed.

There is, of course, no sustainability report but even data regarding its conservation and recycling efforts are missing. For instance, the company simply quotes that the percentage of recycling of products and waste is greater than 10 per cent, and that it is ‘difficult to specify a percentage of input sourced sustainably.’ Indeed.

Hiranandani Group

The Mumbai-based behemoth is a privately controlled company and that may be the reason why information on its CSR is almost nonexistent. Currently, only House of Hiranandani, which is a division of the Hiranandani group, has deigned to publicly disclose some of its CSR work. This includes a middle school with about 300 children in Kazhipattur, Chennai, and a large community library space within the Hiranandani Gardens, Powai, for underprivileged children.

The Mumbai-based behemoth is a privately controlled company and that may be the reason why information on its CSR is almost nonexistent.

Afforestation is another area of intervention with some 10,000 trees planted on Powai hill every year; the same is being done for other projects by the company. Energy-conservation methods include hybrid power systems comprising of windmills and solar panels, rainwater harvesting, and sewage water recycling and reuse.

Ansal API

While the CSR policy document link seems to be broken, education, sustainability, community development (including housing), and healthcare are the main focus areas and run by the Chiranjiv Charitable Trust, which was set up by the Ansals in 1976. The Chiranjiv Bharti School, Ansal University, and Ansal Institute of Technology and Management are the various education initiatives of the Trust. However, it is unclear if there are special programmes or scholarships accorded to students from poor communities, or whether these are not-for-profit institutes. Through Diya India Foundation, the company supports primary school education for children from the slum clusters. Day-care programmes with mobile crèches are usually set up at project sites.

On sustainability, the company has installed solar power plants at some of its locations. Better still is the scientific research programme that it has undertaken on innovations in the field of solar energy with a view to providing clean energy at reasonable costs.

Community development projects include village adoption, tree planting, infrastructure support, and health and employment facilities – details and numbers aren’t available, though. Affordable housing (more than 3,000) for poor people is currently being developed in Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. The company works with two NGOs, Shanti Sahyog and Kahma Welfare Committee, to provide healthcare services in Delhi and Punjab. It has also set up SAMVAD, a literary charitable organisation for creative writers.

For FY 2015 (the report for 2016 isn’t available), the amount spent on CSR was Rs 0.86 crore, all of which was allocated to a research programme on clean energy.

Housing Development & Infrastructure Ltd (HDIL)

Aside from its many commercial and residential projects, HDIL is also known for its government-backed slum-rehabilitation projects that are administered by the Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA). This is based on the approach of offering development rights in exchange for redeveloping slum lands, while providing alternate housing for the displaced slum dwellers. Aside from this, there’s no information on what some of its CSR projects are.

No work has been undertaken yet because, as stated in the FY 2016 annual report, CSR activities will be taken up ‘only after the company has regularised in meeting all statutory and financial obligations’, even though the company had to spend Rs 437.67 lakh on CSR. 

However, the company has set up the HDIL Foundation with the aim of starting educational institutions and hospitals, and also contributing to the upliftment of poor people. No work has been undertaken yet because, as stated in the FY 2016 annual report, CSR activities will be taken up ‘only after the company has regularised in meeting all statutory and financial obligations’, even though the company had to spend Rs 437.67 lakh on CSR. One can only hope that CSR ceases to be an afterthought for one of the country’s biggest real estate companies.

On energy conservation, measures have been taken to install energy-efficiency systems although there’s no data on the results. The company is also conducting R&D in construction-related technology.

Indiabulls

Much like the rest of the group companies, the real estate arm of the famous Indiabulls Group conducts its CSR activities through the Indiabulls Foundation. The Foundation itself runs several programmes in health and nutrition, education, sanitation, rural empowerment, arts and culture, renewable energy, and sports. Most of its projects are implemented in Maharashtra.

Through its community-centric project Jan Swasthya Kalyan Vahika, the Foundation runs mobile health vans catering to 765,000 patients per year, free medical clinics and health camps. 

Through its community-centric project Jan Swasthya Kalyan Vahika, the Foundation runs mobile health vans catering to 765,000 patients per year, free medical clinics and health camps. It has also sponsored free surgeries for 1,800 children suffering from cleft deformities. To combat malnutrition, it provides nutrition supplement to approximately 5,000 underprivileged children every month in multiple districts of Maharashtra. The Foundation has also adopted the entire Mokhada taluka in the same state to combat malnutrition through nutrition supplements, mobile vans and health camps. Another initiative is Kumud wherein sanitary napkins are distributed to underprivileged women and girls in various ashram schools, orphanages, shelter homes and rehabilitation centres in Maharashtra.

On education, the Foundation offers scholarships to meritorious students from low-income families and donates e-learning systems and computers to tribal ashram schools. The CLABIL project – Central Library of Audio Books in Indian Languages – is an online library that works as a self-help resource centre in Indian languages for disabled children and those from poor communities who do not have access to such facilities. Since February 2016, more than 47,000 people have benefited across India. Rural projects include water wheels and constructing water pipes and storage systems for easy transportation of water as well as rainwater harvesting. The Foundation has also installed solar energy plants in five rural tribal schools in Maharashtra. Its sports excellence programme is geared towards the development of star athletes.

In FY 2016, the CSR expenditure for Indiabulls real estate was Rs 111 lakh (2 per cent of its average net profit). Half of it was spent on Kumud while the other half was split between an animal development project in Maharashtra and relief work for the Nepal earthquake disaster. Information on its sustainability efforts, if any, does not exist.

CB view

A recurring theme among all these real estate companies is a distinct lack of CSR-related information. Whether publicly listed or not, aside from a select few, most do not seem to be of the view that CSR is worthy of any of their invaluable attention. Unlike some other sectors in the country, say IT and FMCG, where there are companies leading the way in CSR innovation, real estate doesn’t throw up any such champion. While a few like DLF and Indiabulls have put in some effort into their CSR, for some (like Oberoi) it is as far removed from them as the discovery of gravitational waves. Still others, like Unitech, seem to have mistaken basic workers’ rights as ‘CSR’ – mind you, providing medical care is not a social responsibility, it’s the minimum basic requirement when you are employing people.

A recurring theme among all these real estate companies is a distinct lack of CSR-related information. Whether publicly listed or not, aside from a select few, most do not seem to be of the view that CSR is worthy of any of their invaluable attention. 

With the real estate industry continuing to be a crucial part of the country’s future while also suffering from bad PR and a not so stellar reputation among the populace, investing in CSR is a win-win for both the corporates as well as the millions of potential beneficiaries. The question is: will these landlords listen?

While we received no responses from most of these companies,  would have been much easier to assess their CSR efforts if information was easily available and not buried deep inside the annual reports. These reports, while providing a decent snapshot of the CSR projects taken up for that particular year, do not give a coherent understanding of the company’s CSR policy, strategy or goals. It merely comes across as a tick in the box in the checklist of items to be mandatorily declared in the report. On sustainability, too, while there’s some positive movement towards greener buildings, much of it appears to be mere lip service, especially with the lack of concrete data points and benchmarking (never mind the complete absence of periodic sustainability reports). With all the focus on cost savings and fatter profits, one wonders if real, tangible investment in environment-friendly materials and practices is even possible. An indication of the actual amounts and resources would go a long way in dispelling doubts.

With the real estate industry continuing to be a crucial part of the country’s future while also suffering from bad PR and a not so stellar reputation among the populace, investing in CSR is a win-win for both the corporates as well as the millions of potential beneficiaries. The question is: will these landlords listen?