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Companies on job quota trial
- 1-year deadline for affirmative action

New Delhi, Nov. 15: Corporate India has been given a year to make good its promises on affirmative action.

The nudge — delivered by top officials assigned by the Prime Minister to interact with the private sector on jobs for weaker sections — coincided with a warning by a minister that such a quota could be legally enforced if needed.

“The officials today categorically indicated that they wanted us to implement affirmative action and gave us a one-year time-frame to show its impact on our balance sheets,” D.S. Rawat, the secretary-general of industry chamber Assocham told The Telegraph.

“In all likelihood, we will be given time at least till October 2007, so that results can be shown by individual companies,” Rawat added.

This is the most definite — and time-bound — statement yet from the Centre that it would like to see results on the ground on affirmative action.

Today’s meeting was called by the department of industrial policy and promotion to ascertain the views of the industry and convey them to the task force on affirmative action headed by T.K.A. Nair, the principal secretary to the Prime Minister.

The industry has been stressing on “voluntary, not forced” initiatives to help the weaker sections find jobs, ruling out direct recruitment based on quotas. In a report released today, the industry put forward several proposals — ranging from education aid to welfare projects — to assist the weaker sections.

The government has been playing along so far but a whiff of impatience was in the air today, probably because of the Assembly elections next year.

Commerce and industry minister Kamal Nath said: “The legal option is always open if companies do not fulfil their commitments.”

But J.J. Irani, the former CII chairman who headed a committee that drew up the affirmative action report, said: “We have made it clear that we are against quotas. Any move to impose this through legislation will be unfortunate.”

The report says the industry will set targets for itself on affirmative action, besides adopting a code of conduct that will initially cover firms with more than 400 employees.

The industry promised to create 100 entrepreneurs from among SCs/STs in the first year and establish coaching centres for about 10,000 SC/ST students in 10 universities. Another proposal is to coach 5,000 students for entrance exams in professional and technical courses. The industry has also offered to adopt districts with more than 40 per cent SC or ST population.

An ombudsman has been proposed to monitor the implementation of the promises. The Prime Minister will be updated on the progress after six months.

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