Aiming to mobilise resources for 'Aahaar', a subsidised meals scheme, the Odisha government plans to reach out to corporates to contribute wilfully under their CSR (corporate social responsibility) initiative.
Aahaar, a people-centred scheme is in operation since April 2015. Under this programme, cooked meals are served to the beneficiaries. While the beneficiaries pay Rs five, the implementing partners pay Rs 15 for each meal.
The state government runs 115 Aahaar centres covering 77 urban local bodies in 30 districts across the state. Around 70,000 meals are served each day throughout the year barring Sundays.
The cost of running the scheme comes to Rs 330 million every year. And, to ensure its smooth and uninterrupted run, the secretary, department of housing & urban development has urged his counterparts in the departments of industries, MSME (micro, small & medium enterprises) and steel & mines to nudge corporates to defray the scheme's expenses. For effective implementation and monitoring of the programme, Odisha State Aahaar Society and the District Aahaar Society has been registered under the Societies Registration Act, 1860.
“In order to mobilize resources to be utilised for this programme, you are required to impress upon the corporate bodies to contribute voluntarily under the CSR for smooth functioning of the programme. Financial contribution to the Odisha State Aahaar Society shall be exempted from income tax under the provisions of Section 12 A and Section 80 G of the Income Tax Act, 1961”, G Mathi Vathanan stated in a letter.
Previously, corporate houses like Tata Steel and state-owned undertakings- Odisha Mining Corporation (OMC), Odisha Power Generation Corporation (OPGC) and Odisha Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporation (Idco) have sponsored Aahaar programme at disparate locations. However, two central government controlled entities- National Aluminium Company (Nalco) and Coal India subsidiary Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd (MCL) had cold shouldered the state government's overture to fund the scheme.
The populist scheme lacks a budgetary provision. There is ambiguity on whether the state government can elicit support from the corporates especially under the CSR head. “Aahaar is more of a philanthropic contribution. CSR contribution by industry can only be for a project. Enlisting corporate support for contributions under CSR may not be legally tenable”, said an industry source.
Earlier, the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) government in the state has faced a barrage of criticism from the Opposition Congress and BJP for pushing corporates into funding Aahaar instead of provisioning for it in the State Budget.