JK Bank’s Pahalgam Extravaganza: A Corporate Excess Or A Politicized CSR?

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Analysis

SRINAGAR: The Jammu and Kashmir Bank- the state’s premier bank and the pivot around which the state’s economy hinges around- Thursday rededicated Pahalgam’s Amusement park to the public. This has been done in the name of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). The park, spread over 42 canals, till now has cost Rs.6.25 crore-by no means a small amount. While the ostensible rationale for the park is amusement for tourists and visitors to Pahalgam, the real reason appears to be dishing out of patronage and draw political mileage from it. Nonetheless, we will take the states’ and the Bank’s assertions at face value and not question these. The Banks’ assertion that the park project is part of and   stems from corporate social responsibility (CSR), however, is doubtful and questionable. The basic premises of CSR are action(s) taken by a business firm to promote social or public good beyond the interests (profit motive) of the firm. Given this definition, does the JK Bank’s promotion and development of the Pahalgam Park promote public or social good?

The answer is too obvious to merit detailed elaboration but suffice it to say that the park in contention neither adds value in a substantive sense nor contributes to the welfare and uplift of stakeholders- , society, communities, employees, consumers and investors- and the environment. In fact, the move appears to be divorced from the interests and values of these stakeholders and does nothing for the environment.

Pahalgam , in the final analysis, is a  destination that draws a diverse set of tourists because of its pristine beauty- beautiful and majestic  mountains defined by grandeur, free flowing rivers and rivulets and the environment that flows from these attributes. Tourists, it could be said, go to Pahalgam to savour the pristine nature and beauty of the place; not to indulge in past times or extravagant recreation. Any man made intervention-be it a park , or other assorted human artefact- will either subtract from the beauty of Pahalgam or lead to scarring of the resort. The Park is one such human intervention that will detract from Pahalgam’s appeal and create an effect that gradually diminishes the pristine beauty of the place. How it qualifies as CSR stretches the imagination.

The aim here is not to impugn JK Bank’s CSR philosophy. The Bank may or may not have its heart where its money is but surely its priorities and focus are misdirected and misplaced. In a society as ours which is increasingly defined by rising inequality overlaid on a social structure which is also unequal, there is evidence of this inequality affecting the lives of scores of people. The most vulnerable group in our society are the elderly belonging to a socio-economic stratum where adequate provision for them is wanting. This jars with the social expectation of welfare provision for the elderly by their adult offspring. The consequences are terrible: the elderly either suffer in silence or in extreme cases take resort to begging. Should not the Bank as an ethical and concerned corporate citizen be looking at and devising policies and practices that take care of this vulnerable section of our society? Would not this constitute a better and a more prudent, sensitive and humane corporate social responsibility than the Pahalgam Park which merely will be of entertainment value for a select group of people? Why can’t the bank think about this and consider social themes like these as part of its CSR approach?

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