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Unmatched Philanthropy - The Tata's Way

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  • Nam Perumal
    Abdul Salim Sheikh and his wife, Ava (In pic with their daughter)/ Photo: Amey Mansabdar Wah Taj Setting an example of unmatched philanthropy, the Taj welfare
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 30, 2010
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      Why thes people produce so many childrn neglecting continuous family planning campaign by GOI.Specially muslims think they have allah's license to produce as any children as possible.This is sheer nonsense.Why we should help such people?They are already liability on society.No relief,no jobs,no help for people having more than two children in this coutnry.Let people go and seek help of their gods in temples and mosques and churches.Let their god send relief.We will watch.
      _________ moderator

      Abdul Salim Sheikh and his wife, Ava (In pic with their daughter)/ Photo: Amey Mansabdar
      Wah Taj

      Setting an example of unmatched philanthropy, the Taj welfare trust has been helping not only the families of Taj group’s employees and guests but also other victims of the 26/11 attack

      By Nandini Oza

      Not so long ago, Momima Khatoon lived happily in the Mumbai slum Govandi with her husband, Mohammad Umar, and three children. The luxuries of life were out of her reach, but she had no complaints. The events that unfolded on November 26, 2008 changed it all. When terror struck the landmark Taj Mahal Palace, far away, her beautiful world shattered.

      On the fateful day, Mohammad left home at 7 p.m., his usual time. He did not return the next day, but the news of his death in a blast inside the taxi he drove did. November 26 claimed the lives of many others, who left behind grieving wives, daughters and sons, parents and friends. The 26/11 terror attack not only shook Mumbai but the entire country and changed the course of history.

      Momima is illiterate. Mohammad, who was the sole breadwinner in the family, had no savings. Without income, Momima struggled to put food on the table and pay the monthly rent of  Rs. 1,600 for her kholi (home). Fate had thrust another responsibility on her. Momima’s fourth son, Harhaan, was born a few months after Mohammad’s death. She knew the Rs.5 lakh compensation given by the government would run out soon.
      The Taj Public Service Welfare Trust, set up days after the 26/11 attacks, came to her rescue. The trust has been giving her Rs.10,000 a month for the last seven months. “I have no idea what the future has in store for me. But for this support from the trust, I would have killed myself,” Momima tells THE WEEK.

      In addition to providing the money, the trust has also taken up the responsibility of funding her children’s education, for which she is grateful. “The fee is directly deposited in the school,” she says. “I was offered a job by the trust but I could not go as there was nobody to look after my children.”
      This young Muslim woman is one of the many who are rebuilding their lives, thanks to the trust. Setting an example of unmatched philanthropy, the trust has been helping 138 victims of the attack and their families at a time when corporate social responsibility either is shrinking or is limited to the areas in or around the industry. To date, the trust has spent Rs. 2.214 crore on families who were affected by the terror attack but have no direct connection with the Taj group. It does not include the money given to the family members of the Taj employees and guests who were killed or injured in the attack. One year on, the trust has also accumulated Rs. 9.03 crore as donation.  

      Ramachandran Nair, 30, a native of Palakkad in Kerala, worked in his brother’s shop near Leopold Café where the terrorists went on a shooting spree. He was injured in the right leg and was hospitalised for 10 days. He was on medication for over three months. Using the compensation money and the monthly sustenance money given by the trust, Ramachandran started a business. An additional Rs.91,000 was given to him for renovating the shop. “Tatas provided me financial assistance of Rs.91,000. I have taken a shop on rent for Rs.18,000 a month in Fort to do a wholesale business in eggs,” says Ramachandran, who is not sure why the trust chose to help him.

      “Having formed the trust days after the attack, going about it was not easy,” says H.N. Shrinivas, senior vice-president, human resources and business excellence, The Indian Hotels Company Limited. Tata Institute of Social Sciences was roped in to collect information on the requirements of  the 400 families affected by the tragedy. The surveyors—in an exercise that took over a month—came back with details on social status, financial requirements and emotional and psychological help needed by the people. Well-trained counsellors were sent to the victims’ houses. It was an arduous effort to convince people, who were under stress, to give details.

      The trust wants to make the families self-sustainable at the earliest. It offers support in the form of monthly sustenance, medical/hospitalisation support, children’s education, and help to pursue a livelihood and for setting up of a micro-enterprise. The families are also given psychological counselling and post-treatment assistance.

      The gesture, Shrinivas says, is a tribute to those who lost their lives in the attack. “Taj, a victim, is sharing its emotions. Money came from various quarters—Tata company, HDFC, some individuals and trusts,” he says.

      When it came to its own employees, the Taj group did much more than anyone could have expected. Twelve employees of the group died in the attack and nine were injured. “I could not have asked for more. I will get my husband’s last drawn salary as long as I live. This is apart from a lump sum amount running into lakhs, children’s education and medical insurance,” says Sunu, whose husband Varghese Thomas, a senior captain  at the Taj, died in the attack.

      Even when the hotel was closed for renovation, all the employees were given salaries through money orders and not a single person was laid off. Employee outreach centres were opened and first aid and counselling were provided.  

      According to sources, the trust has spent nearly Rs.50 lakh on the treatment of a guest who was injured in the attack. It has also footed the bills for the treatment of another guest who was dining with her parents and brother-in-law in one of the restaurants in the Taj. While she survived, her relatives died in the attack.

      Shabaaz Mohammed, 20, was injured in the taxi blast. Though his family is not dependent on his income—his father Zuber works in the Bombay Dock Yard—an assistance of Rs.5,000 a month for six months came in handy, says Husnabanu, his mother. “My husband does not get his full salary as we had taken a loan for my heart operation in 2005 for which we had spent Rs.1.90 lakh,” she says.

      “Last year some people came and asked how far Shabaaz had studied. He didn’t talk much as he was in shock. He still is in shock. Those who came did not tell us that they were from the Tata group. Thereafter, we started getting financial assistance,” she says.
      “Shabaaz was given a job at the Taj Lands End in Bandra but he could work only for two months. He became very weak and could not take the workload,” says Husnabanu. Post-recovery, Shabaaz has been rehired by the Taj. He is at present working at the Taj President.

      Bang opposite the Dock Yard Colony is a slum settlement where Abdul Salim Sheikh lives with his family in a dingy little kholi. Abdul and his wife, Ava, were sitting outside their house when the blast in the taxi took place, injuring them both. In the following months Abdul, who was unable to work because of his injuries, lost his job as a cook in a hotel.

      Part of the compensation, given by the government, was used up to pay off a loan of Rs.20,000 taken to meet the expenses during the time Abdul could not work. As the family was struggling to make ends meet, the money provided by the trust came as a great relief. Abdul was given Rs.5,000 a month for a year and Ava Rs.5,000 for six months. Later, Abdul was given a job in the Taj kitchen in Andheri and Ava found a place in the housekeeping department of the Taj in Bandra.

      “Our only hope is that Abdul gets a permanent job in the Taj,” says Ava. The couple does not have to worry on one count: “The trust will take care of our children’s education.”

      These victims, who have been employed in different hotels of the Taj group, are on a one-year training programme. “They are employees and are given a stipend,” says Deepak Bhatia, manager of the trust. For Bhatia, it has been a satisfying experience over the last one and a half years. “We are trying to rebuild the lives of these families and making them self-sufficient,” he says.

      The story of Rajkumari and her family is similar to that of Momima. They, too, have lost their sole breadwinner. Shivshanker Gupta, Rajkumari’s husband, died in the attack at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, where he sold bhelpuri. “They [Taj group] offered to train my mother after which she was to get a job,” says Neelam, 18, a class X student and the eldest of four siblings. But fate did not allow Rajkumari to lap up the opportunity. Not used to going out of the house, Rajkumari found travelling an hour daily from her chawl in Mankurd to the training venue challenging, and eventually she gave up.

      “The amount that we received as compensation is dwindling fast. I do not know how long we will be able to survive like this,” says Rajkumari. “We pay Rs.1,200 a month as rent for the kholi. If I think of buying a kholi then the compensation money will get over. Earlier, we could manage as my husband used to earn Rs.150 to Rs.200 a day,” she says.

      Neelam, who is the smartest in the family, says she is overwhelmed by the support provided by the trust. “We had nothing to do with the Taj group but they have given us money considering it their responsibility,” she says. Neelam plans to finish school and do a computer course to support her family.

      For victims like Momima and Rajkumari, the compensation money won’t take them far. Do these compensation packages do any good? Perhaps, not in the long run.

      Professor Anil Gupta of Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad, while lauding the good gesture of the Tatas, strongly feels the need for a review of the relief and compensation packages at the national level. Often, inadequate or late compensation acts like salt rubbed into the wounds of the victims and their families. These packages should not only take care of the monetary aspect but also look into rehabilitation and children’s education. The trust has gone one step ahead by extending relief to victims of sudden acts of violence, natural disasters and other tragic events that inflict damage to life and property. A few months ago, it helped 307 families affected by fire and cyclone in Bihar.

      Even as the government spends crores of rupees on the safe custody of the terrorist Ajmal Kasab, the trust’s short-term relief in form of medical and financial assistance is helping many get on with their lives.
      The trust’s long-term initiative includes skill training and, as Shrinivas says, more than 25 per cent of the trained people will be employed in the Taj and the rest will be given certificates that will help them find employment elsewhere. The trust is also setting up a hospitality module at ITI Lonavala to impart training on a variety of skills like housekeeping, restaurant service, food production and hygiene.

      According to Vasant Ayyappan, director (corporate sustainability) at The Indian Hotels Company Limited, one of the most challenging aspects has been to ensure that the money goes to the right people at the right time and that is why in cases where the victims or their family members did not have accounts, new accounts were opened and a proper system has been set up for follow-ups.
      And the efforts earned the Taj group permanent accounts in the minds of all those touched by the project.


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