In this article, R. Anupam Pillai pursuing M.A, in Business Law from NUJS, Kolkata discusses Corporate Social Responsibility: An Overview For Companies to Opt Effective Framework.
In the recent years, business environment has seen a dynamic change in the market when it comes to brand positioning and creating goodwill amongst the customers. Corporates have been more conscious and aware regarding the stakeholders’ rights. As corporates have been viewed as establishments that pander to the business sector request by giving items and administrations, and have the onus for making riches and employments, their business position has customarily been a capacity of money related execution and benefit. Notwithstanding, over the past few years, as a result of climbing globalization and pressing natural issues, the observation of the part of corporates in the more extensive societal connection inside which it works, has been changed. Stakeholders (workers, group, suppliers and offer holders) today are redefining the part of corporates considering the corporates’ more extensive obligation towards social order the earth, past investment execution, and are assessing whether they are leading their part in a moral and socially dependable way.
As an aftereffect of this movement (from simply monetary to ‘financial with an included social size’), numerous discussions, establishments, and corporates are embracing the term Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). It has been observed that with such changes, companies have pulled up the strings in order to have better image in the global market . In order to do the same Corporate Social Responsibility, has played a vital role in remodeling the company’s brand value and position. It is not a mere business practice but rather phenomena to show respect towards the society which has always stood up to serve the essential needs of the company, straight from the nascent stage of production to that of ensuing route for market stability and sustainability.
Corporate Social Responsibility does not have any concrete definition but it has been evolved as a concept based on the principle of “to give back from where we take”. It is a commitment to improve community well-being through discretionary business practices and contributions of corporate resources. In the recent years there has been a lot of change in the corporate scenario in India and now this concept finds its place in the legislations to make Indian counterparts understand the need of the same.
This paper shall explain the necessity of legal framework for implementation of CSR and when, why and how any company does needs to implement the same.
Emergence Of Csr Spending As A Legal Compulsion
As a result of cross-outskirt exchange, multinational undertakings and worldwide supply chains, there is an expanded mindfulness on CSR concerns identified with human asset administration rehearses, natural security, and well-being and security, in addition to everything else. Investigating the CSR exercises by corporates is in this manner progressively getting required.
In an increasingly fast-paced global economy, CSR initiatives enable corporates to engage in more meaningful and regular stakeholder dialogue and thus be in a better position to anticipate and respond to regulatory, economic, social and environmental changes that may occur.
Financial investors are increasingly incorporating social and environmental criteria when making decisions about where to place their money, and are looking to maximise the social impact of the investment at local or regional levels. 
Arguments against CSR spending as a matter of legal compulsion
Theoretical and Jurisprudential Argument
There are many objections that could be made to mandatory CSR spending, both theoretical and pragmatic. These arguments fall into two categories: those that argue that mandatory CSR spending goes too far, and those that argue that mandatory CSR spending does not go far enough.
Those, similar to Friedman, Hannsman, or Macey, who might contend that required CSR spending goes too far, would demand that the proposition makes advertise wasteful aspects that may harm the economy over the long haul. India, all things considered, has been doing great under its liberal monetary administration. Unfathomably, its GDP has been expanding at a rate of very nearly eight percent for each year.
It is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, and the rising tide has, to at least some extent, lifted all ships. Even the lower classes have benefited from privatization and globalization. Although millions of Indians remain in poverty, millions more have broken past the poverty line and are edging closer to a middle-class existence.
Perhaps the most salient argument against mandatory spending is that it might put India at a competitive disadvantage in the global marketplace and might slow or reverse the country’s near-miraculous growth. Those who already have little might, contrary to the proposal’s aims, fall farther away from the prospect of a middle-class lifestyle. Even if we were to accept Greenfield’s premise that inequality is a market imperfection. Others would contend that the market does require intervention, and perhaps quite rightly, that the proposal is not developed or regulatory enough. Without a coercive enforcement mechanism, it is unlikely that the law would garner sufficient compliance.
In the Western nations, laws do not stipulate mandatory CSR quantum; they only make disclosure of CSR spending mandatory in the annual reports. Thus, with the enactment of Companies Act, 2013 India has become the first country to have CSR spending mandated by the law.
Criticism against Such Mandate
The Planning Commission has been of the view that CSR should not be made mandatory; rather companies should take up CSR voluntarily. Making CSR mandatory will lead to corrupt practices and meddling by high-handed implementing authorities. Some members believe that making CSR mandatory would encourage companies to reduce wages, fudge accounts, or indulge in unfair practices. The best way would be to make them more accountable to the system and the society by rewarding good behaviour, and the way do that is to empower SEBI to move towards global standards and enforce them strictly.
Earlier, Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia has said that making CSR mandatory would amount to “privatizing taxation.” He said if the Government wants it can increase the rate of corporate tax to 32 per cent from the current 30 per cent rather than making it mandatory for companies to spend 2 per cent on CSR and add complications.
Experts also agree with the Planning Commission and ask when companies are already paying taxes, why the Government is not able to use that money effectively for social welfare activities? They also feel politicians and political parties too will be able to pressure the corporates if CSR becomes compulsory.
Corporates’ Reaction over such spending
Section 135 of the Companies Act, 2013 is seen with suspicion by the corporate houses, although the government position was clarified by Veerappa Moily, the then Union Corporate Affairs Minister,“We are not interested in micro-management of a company. Section 135 is just an oversight clause.” While the Minister of Corporate Affairs indicated that some executives were supportive of the two percent mandate, most of India Inc. was immediately up in arms.
The Confederation of Indian Industry asserted, “The law should not specify any amount to be spent on CSR activities. It should be left to the decision of the board.” Infosys Technologies CEO Kris Gopalakrishnan, the Managing Director of Sonata Software B. Ramaswamy, Wipro Chairman Azim Premji, and Piramal Group Chairman Ajay Piramal, all openly spoke out against the measure. But corporate India feels that it would lead to unwarranted intrusion into its affairs as well as harassment through vexatious inquiries by government inspectors to verify the mode and extent of compliance with the law. It has been vociferously claiming the right to decide its CSR for itself and according to its own enlightened self-interest and conscience.
Arguments favoring CSR spending as a legal mandate
The major standpoint of mandating CSR spending, instead of imposing extra charges, would be the safeguarding of the organization’s self-rule in choosing how its assets are utilized. To some degree, the organization would be “free” to put its assets in the group straightforwardly or in a neighborhood non-benefit or national NGO. Organizations could utilize the cash to additionally limit externalities, past the prerequisites of natural law, or they could make positive externalities by building schools or giving specialists more far reaching benefits. 
Additionally, companies may invest their money more efficiently than the government would, and in ways that will inure to their long-term benefit. An explanation for the prominence of education spending, for example, may be that investing in schools promises to have direct returns for the company. A more educated local workforce is certainly a boon to any industry, especially the information technology sector, which continues to grow in India. Given the level of corruption that persists in many developing countries, corporations may actually produce more impactful public goods than governments at a lower cost.
The second major argument for mandatory CSR spending is that countries like India are desperately in need of funding for development. However, if hampered by a liberal and competitive global economy, it is difficult for them to impose steep taxes or comprehensive regulation. Although as per Greenfield’s contention that corporations really are public enterprises, it makes good sense to require them to contribute to the public good—primarily by making money, but secondarily by spending some portion of it on development. Two per cent CSR spending would simply bring India in line with CSR expenditures in the United States, and the money for development is certainly more desperately needed in India, where at least one-fifth of citizens live in poverty and where the public health and education systems are famously dysfunctional. Hence it would help in better funding for the welfare of poor and needy.
Legal Provisions Pertaining To CSR Activities Amongst Various Corporates
International Legal Instruments and Guidelines
In the recent past, certain indicators and guidelines such as the SA8000, a social performance standard based on International Labour Organization Conventions have been developed. International agencies such as United Nations and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development have developed compacts, declarations, guidelines, principles and other instruments that set the tone for social norms for organisations, though these are advisory for organisations and not mandatory.
One of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals calls for increased contribution of assistance from country states to help alleviate poverty and hunger, and states in turn are advising corporates to be more aware of their impact on society. In order to catalyze actions in support of the MDGs, initiatives such as Global Compact are being put in place to instrumentalize CSR across all countries. As the world’s largest, global corporate citizenship initiative by the UN, the Global Compact, a voluntary initiative is concerned with building the social legitimacy of business.
The Global Compact is a framework for businesses that are committed to aligning their business operations and strategies with ten universally accepted principles that postulate that companies should embrace, support and enact, a set of core values in the areas of human rights, labour standards, the environment, and anti-corruption.
Voluntary Guidelines, 2009: An attempt to answer few calls regarding CSR
With a specific end goal to help the organizations to embrace capable administration hones, the Ministry of Corporate Affairs has arranged an arrangement of deliberate rules which demonstrate a portion of the center components that organizations need to concentrate on while leading their undertakings.
These rules have been set up in the wake of considering the administration challenges confronted in our nation and in addition the desires of the general public. The profitable recommendations gotten from exchange and industry chambers, specialists and different partners alongside the universally predominant and rehearsed rules, standards and principles in the range of Corporate Social Responsibility have likewise been considered while drafting these Guidelines.
Each business entity should formulate a CSR policy to guide its strategic planning and provide a roadmap for its CSR initiatives, which should be an integral part of overall business policy and aligned with its business goals. The policy should be framed with the participation of various level executives and should be approved by the Board.
Core principles of Voluntary guidelines are as follows:
- Care for all stakeholders.
- Ethical functioning.
- Respect for human rights.
- Respect for workers rights and their welfare.
- Respect for environment.
- Activities for social and inclusive development.
Implementation Guidance under Voluntary Guideline, 2009
- The CSR approach of the business substance ought to accommodate implementation steps which ought to incorporate distinguishing proof of activities, setting quantifiable physical focuses with time allotment, hierarchical system and obligations, time lines and observation. Organizations may band together with nearby specialists, business affiliations and civil society/non-government associations. They may impact the production network for CSR activity and spur representatives for willful exertion for social improvement. They may advance an arrangement of appraisal and effect evaluation while undertaking CSR exercises in a specific zone. Independent assessment may likewise be embraced for chosen ventures/exercises now and again.
- Companies should allocate specific amount in their budgets for CSR activities. This amount may be related to profits after tax, cost of planned CSR activities or any other suitable parameter.
- To share experiences and network with other organizations the company should engage with well established and recognized programmes/platforms which encourage responsible business practices and CSR activities. This would help companies to improve on their CSR strategies and effectively project the image of being socially responsible.
- The companies should disseminate information on CSR policy, activities and progress in a structured manner to all their stakeholders and the public at large through their website, annual reports, and other communication media.
In spite of these guidelines there was a sole need to include CSR spending as a mandate provision under Companies Act, 2013 for the reason being changing scenario of business environment in India.
CSR vis-à-vis Companies Act, 2013 and Companies (Corporate Social Responsibility) Rules, 2014
According to Section 135 (read with Schedule VII), of Companies Act, 2013 (“Act”), “Every company with a net worth of Rs. 500 crore or more, or turnover of Rs. 1,000 crore or more, or net profit of Rs. 5 crore or more in a financial year will have to form a corporate social responsibility (CSR) committee, consisting of three or more directors, of which at least one would be an independent director.”This committee has to ensure that the company spends, in every financial year, at least two per cent of the average net profits made during the three immediately preceding years, towards CSR activities. Secondly, Schedule VII of the Act enumerates various activities to be covered under CSR. The Act also makes it compulsory for the company to specify reasons if it fails to spend the amount.
In 2014, the rule making committee of MCA has published the draft CSR rules and uploaded the same on MCA website for public discussion and debate. Later on the said rules came into effect as Companies (Corporate Social Responsibility) Rules, 2014(“Rules”). Highlights of the Rules are mentioned herein:
- Under the Rules, net profit is defined to mean ‘net profit before tax’ as per books of accounts and shall not include profits arising from branches outside India.
- While the reporting framework under the Rules suggest that the unspent amount of the specified CSR spend to be rolled over to the succeeding financial years, it does not clarify whether the excess spend of over and above 2 percent mandatory CSR spend in any particular financial year can be carried forward in succeeding financial year or not.
- The Rules provide the format in which all qualifying companies shall report the details of their CSR initiatives in the Director’s report and in the company’s website.
For better clarity to the procedural aspects of CSR implementation, the Rules enlightens following points.
Definition of the term “CSR”– The term CSR has been defined under the CSR Rules which includes but is not limited to:
- Projects or programs relating to activities specified in the Schedule; or
- Projects or programs relating to activities undertaken by the Board in pursuance of recommendations of the CSR Committee as per the declared CSR policy subject to the condition that such policy covers subjects enumerated in the Schedule.
CSR Policy: As per Rule 6 of the Rules, CSR policy of a company;
- Shall enlist all the activities covered by the company pursuant to Schedule VII and not covered by the activities done in due course of business;
- Shall also monitor the process of such program or projects. and
- Shall specify that the surplus arising out of the CSR projects or programs or activities shall not form part of the business profit of a company.
CSR Committee: Pursuant to Rule 3 of the Rules, the Committee shall be constituted as per Rule 5, which stipulates;
- For unlisted public company or private company, in case there is no independent director then it is not necessary to have one in the CSR Committee;
- For private company with only two directors, the CSR Committee shall only comprise with those two;
- For foreign company the constitution shall be pursuant to Section 380(1) of the Act.
CSR Expenditure: It is the expenditure pertaining to CSR activities including contribution to corpus for projects or programs as approved by the Board.
CSR Reporting: The company shall report the CSR activities at the end of Financial Year ending on 1st April of every year, in the Board’s Report as per Annexure mentioned in the Rules. In case of a foreign company, the reporting shall be done in the balance sheet as per Section 381(1)(b) of the Act.
Hence the Act and Rules describes the manner and scope of such CSR spending by the Companies. There is another peculiar issue of how to implement and manage CSR under the said garb of regulations, which has been described in next paragraph.
Steps in implementation of CSR framework in a company
Understanding threshold for applicability of CSR provisions to a Company
As per applicable provisions of Act and Rules, every qualifying company as per Section 135 (read with Schedule VII), of Companies Act, 2013, “Every company with a net worth of Rs. 500 crore or more, or turnover of Rs. 1,000 crore or more, or net profit of Rs. 5 crore or more in a financial year will have to form a corporate social responsibility (CSR) committee, consisting of three or more directors, of which at least one would be an independent director.” Furthermore the appointment of committee and policy eventually comes into play once a company ensures that it is covered under the said ambit.
Role of CSR Committee
- Every qualifying company needs to constitute a CSR committee of the Board consisting of 3 or more directors.
- Though the CSR provisions under the Act required minimum 3 directors for constitution of CSR committee, the issue that needs to be clarified is whether qualifying private companies (which requires minimum two directors only) would be required to appoint one more director only to constitute CSR committee and comply with the CSR provisions.
- The mandate of the said CSR committee shall be:
- To formulate and recommend a CSR policy to the Board;
- To recommend amount of expenditure to be incurred on CSR activities;
- To monitor the CSR policy of the company from time to time.
Guidelines regarding spending in CSR activities by companies
The company can set-up a not-for-profit organisation in the form of trust, society or non-profit company to facilitate implementation of its CSR activities. However, the contributing company shall specify projects/programs to be undertaken by such an organisation and the company shall establish a monitoring mechanism to ensure that the allocation to such organisation is spent for intended purpose only.
Company may also implement its CSR programs through not-for-profit organisations that are not set up by the company itself. Such spends may be included as part of company’s prescribed CSR spend only if such organisations have an established track record of at least 3 years in carrying on activities in related areas. Companies may also collaborate or pool resources with other companies to undertake CSR activities. Only CSR activities undertaken in India would be considered as eligible CSR activities. CSR activities may generally be conducted as projects or programmes (either new or ongoing), however, excluding activities undertaken in pursuance of the normal course of business of a company. CSR projects / programs may also focus on integrating business models with social and environmental priorities and processes in order to create shared value. CSR activities shall not include activities exclusively for the benefit of employees and their family members.
How to implement CSR effectively?
The following checklist shall be mentioned for effective implementation of CSR program or project;
- CSR Policy to be implemented as per the special resolution by the Board meeting.
- Projects/Programs for implementation of CSR activities shall be compliant with Schedule VII of the Act
- CSR Committee shall be constituted pursuant to Section 135(3) of the Act and Rule 3 of the Rules.
- CSR fund shall be made pertaining to the CSR expenditure.
- Average net profit to be calculated pursuant to Section 198 of the Act for the purposes of contribution to be made as per Section 135 of the Act.
- Annual Board Report shall be made as per Annexure of the Rules.
- Auditing report shall mention about the CSR expenditure.
For better understanding of CSR framework and its applicability we shall discuss a case study on how a well-known company has implemented CSR and carries CSR activities for inclusive growth and development.
Case Study for implementation of CSR under Companies Act and Rules
The case study referred herein has been conducted for the purpose of understanding how CSR has been implemented and what CSR activities come under the ambit of Rules. For the purpose of this article the following illustration elucidates how CSR activities are carried by Bhilai Steel Plant, SAIL, India.
CSR department, BSP was established in October, 2006 but the initiatives related to CSR were practiced by the BSP since its inception. Earlier the CSR related work were managed by Peripheral Department, BSP. There are 17 members including both executive and non-executive posts in the CSR department. The office of CSR, BSP is located at Sector-6, Bhilai, Durg, Chattisgarh. The vision of CSR department, SAIL is “Making a meaningful difference in people’s lives” explains the SAIL’s initiatives to be directed to the better welfare of the people. While implementing various initiatives the department has changed its perspective of doing work for mere philanthropic motives and has taken care of the very concept of CSR in mind by strictly working for the benefit of the society in which the plant operates and not for employee welfare as there has been a separate Employee’s Welfare Association. The area of action for CSR activities have been defined within a periphery of 16 kilometers, surrounding the BSP which includes a total of 136 villages. Directorate of Public Enterprise,2013 guidelines are followed that explains the procedure for doing activities related to Corporate Social Responsibility. The Corporate Social Responsibility Policy of SAIL is as follows:
SAIL recognizes that its business activities have direct and indirect impact on the society. The Company strives to integrate its business values and operations in an ethical and transparent manner to demonstrate its commitment to sustainable development and to meet the interests of its stakeholders. The Company is committed to continuously improving its social responsibilities, environment and economic practices to make positive impact on the society.
Toward this commitment, the Company shall:
1) Create a positive footprint within the society to make a meaningful difference in the lives of people by continually aligning its initiatives to the goals for sustainable development.
2) Maintain commitment to quality, health and safety in every respect of the business and people.
3) Undertake ethical business practices across the supply chain.
4) Make positive impact on the environment and promote good environmental practices.
5) Promote equality of opportunity and diversity of workforce throughout its business operations
On account of following CSR policy, CSR dept., BSP has undertaken various initiatives as a part of CSR in the defined area of 16kms periphery surrounding BSP. These initiatives can be further divided into following heads:
- BSP offers subsidized education to children belonging to weaker section and Below Poverty Line (BPL).
- BSP has joined hands with Akshay Patra Foundation for providing free midday meals to 25,000 under-privileged children in and around Bhilai, with the support of State Govt. of Chhattisgarh. An MOU was signed between SAIL & APF and as part of the undertaking the Chhattisgarh State Govt. will be providing subsidy and food grain etc. for 5 years and BSP will provide 50% of the cost of the meal i.e. Rs. 3/- per meal. The program was started on 27th January 2009 and by 1st April 2009 the scheme was covering 25,000 children. Currently a temporary centralized kitchen set-up by BSP is supplying midday meal to 123 Govt. schools, including both primary & upper primary, and covering more than 30,000 children enrolled in these schools.
- BSP has ensured high literacy levels above than the national average at these schools so that it has made efforts to fulfill Minimum Development Goals of Achieving universal primary education (Goal 2) and Promoting Gender equality and Empowerment (Goal 3).
- 21 Model Steel Villages have been identified out of which 19 have been completed.
- Infrastructure activities include construction of community halls, public toilets, road pavements, bore wells, cultural halls, bus stands, playgrounds, additional classrooms, health centre etc. have been constructed at these villages with an annual expense of 25 lakhs per annum on rotational basis.
Health and medical care
- 248 medical camps have been done and more than 14000 patients were treated.
- Special camp for physically disabled was conducted on January 15,2013 for distribution of artificial limbs/ aid to 263 patients.
- A mega medical camp took place at Marra village, Patan block, Durg, that benefitted about 4200 patients.
- 16 medical camps were organized at Rowghat mines covering 6409 patients.
- 14 medical camps were organized at Rajharah mines covering 5232 patients.
- With the help of Muskan, an NGO a rehabilitation centre has been created for treatment of children with mental disabilities.
Sports and Culture
- Khel mela was organized on November 12, 2012 at Narayanpur.
- All India Football Tournament was organized at Narayanpur.
- Lok Kala Mahotsav was organized at Bhilai for 3 days as well as at Rajharah, Rowghat an Nandini in May,2012.
- 5 Gramin Lokostova were organized in 5 MSV’s.
- Vermi Compost Scheme launched in 3 MSV’s, covering over 30 villages as well.
- SWAYAM SIDHA, a self help group comprising of women in rural areas help in income generation by selling handmade agarbattis and papads.
- Vocational Training to 483 youths were provided in 44 courses.
- A new training course of 4 months duration for training nursing aid/ bedside attendant has been started.
- Bahu Kaushal Bal Vikas Prashikshan Shivir has been conducted for development of different skills of school children.
- A seven member small group has been formed namely Sapta Bahna to propogate CSR activities in Piperchedi and nearby villages.
- Adoption of 16 girls from Rowghat village for training them with nursing course has been done.
Access to proper water resources
Water harvesting has been done by constructing a pond at Sector-7, near Siyan Sadan, Bhilai, Durg.
- More than 3,20,000 trees have been planted.
- Smokeless Chullah have been provided to 4000 families in 21 MSV’s.
- Awareness initiative had been organized to ban use of polythene.
- Solar lanterns have been distributed in the villages.
- With the help of INSDAG, Kolkata, 8 bullock carts made up of steel have been distributed.
Steps in which CSR activities are carried on are as follows
- Base line Survey is carried for the need assessment of the beneficiaries in a sample area with the help of an NGO. In BSP, Society for Rural Industrialization (SRI), Ranchi conducts the base line survey.
- This need based assessment is carried against the allotted budget which comprises of 2% of Profit After Tax (PAT) by SAIL.
- Impact Assessment is done by third party to check whether the scheme/ program has been properly implemented or not. In BSP, NABARD conducts then impact assessment.
- (Audit, both internal as well as external is done at regular intervals.
Some issues and challenges faced by CSR, BSP
- With coming up of DPE guidelines the CSR department is very open to get all sort of questions pertaining to fund and budget allocation under Right to Information Act,2005, this makes the department to work more accountable and responsible.
- There are instances were there is chance of theft of construction materials in villages as there’s lack of supervision.
- Sarpanch’s tenure is for 5 years and it seems to be a hectic job to get clearance or NOC on time.
- There are instances when there is a need for further assistance required or demanded by the village community regarding maintenance of roads or buildings which is not viable at times.
The above mentioned case study explains what are the points which a company needs to keep in mind while implementing CSR activities and how to ensure it complies with all regulations per se.
CSR has seen paradigm shift from philanthropic event to legal mandate. With coming up of Rules and Section 135 of Companies Act, 2013, there has been plethora of issues pertaining to its applicability and scope of implementation.
The proposed mandatory 2 per cent CSR spending is actually unnecessary for two reasons: One, its proper implementation is impractical and two, social pressures and adoption of voluntary operational norms are more effective. International bodies also prophesize “soft norm” rather than legal binding “hard” rules. There is another reason against mandatory CSR spending. It is the changed nature of today’s world. The widespread penetration of Internet around the world has turned it as a powerful platform for information dissemination and expressing concerns. This has increased pressure on companies to mind their conduct and heed public opinion.
Finally, more and more companies are discovering that integrating CSR strategies make their operations more profitable and sustainable. This presents an opportunity for NGOs and social organization. They can expect greater partnership with the corporate world in the coming future. It is in their interest to gear up for such collaborations and utilise core competencies of the business houses.
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