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Published on: Dec. 13, 2021, 10:58 p.m.
How Ramco grows with the community
  • Students at the tribal hostel: bringing pleasant changes in the society

By Sajal Bose. Deputy Editor, Business India

The Ramco Group has made enormous efforts to uplift society but does not call attention to itself as it does so. Long before corporate philanthropy became an integral part of the corporate world’s business model, the Ramco group had been quietly working towards the holistic socio-economic development of the villages and society around its plants.

Rajapalayam in Tamil Nadu is where the group began its journey with a spinning mill. It later diversified into cement, building products, software solutions, wind energy and logistics. Ramco today is a large industrial conglomerate.

The philosophy of the Ramco group is to facilitate the community’s desire for self-sustainability, thereby liberating it from dependency. It plays a catalytic role in the creation of rural infrastructure, women empowerment, education, healthcare and the environment. The company has built several schools, colleges, industrial training centres, hospitals, hostels, which directly and indirectly help in the development of Rajapalayam and the nearby villages. With a high literacy rate, the town is growing employment opportunities.

 “It is our legacy to move with the community by offering welfare services through our several charitable trusts,” says Nirmala Raja, wife of PRV Raja, Ramco chairman, who is passionately driving the company’s CSR initiatives.

At the centre of these programmes is the tribal welfare service started by the group in 2004. Tribal Welfare is working in many fields towards the betterment of villagers, health, income generation, women's empowerment, agriculture, and irrigation. The self-help group also makes them aware of various government benefits of which they have not heard. The company also observed that when tribal adults go to the forest to work and earn a livelihood, they leave their children behind, without any support and care. They therefore become isolated, sick and suffer from malnutrition.

To weed out the problems faced by tribal children, Ramco volunteered to support these children by setting up a tribal hostel called Jayanth Tribal Students Hostel for Boys & Girls. It started with 69 tribal students in 2005. The company arranges their stay, food, clothing and education from primary to higher secondary education. From 69 the number of tribal students has now gone up to 155, of which 72 are girls. The Jayanth Hostel later constructed a new building on one acre of land in Rajapalayam.

M Pandi Selvi is a typical beneficiary student of the tribal hostel; she completed her BE in computer science at the Ramco Institution of Technology and is now the main breadwinner of her family, working in the ERP section of Sudarsanam Spinning Mills. Similarly, M Dharmadurai works in the state forest department after completing his diploma in electrical engineering. Looking at the benefits, requests for admission to the hostel are now piling up. “It was not easy to convince the tribal parents to send their children to the hostel. It took almost 10 years to build trust,” Nirmala Raja explains cheerfully.

Continuing traditions

In an age where education has become an industry and entrepreneurs are lining up to open engineering, IT and medical colleges, the older Indian traditional education and cultural heritage is getting the short end of the stick. Moved by the need to continue some of these traditions, Raja’s family, who are great admirers of religious activities, built the Veda Pathasala in 1997. It aims to preserve ancient Hindu culture and the oral traditions of Vedic studies using the Gurukul method.

  • Nirmala Raja: passionately driving the company’s CSR initiatives

Spread over 20 acres of land on the outskirts of Rajapalayam it accommodates 57 students from different states across India who learn Krishna Yajur Veda and Rig Veda. It trains 8-11-year-olds and the basic course lasts for seven years. The students stay in this serene atmosphere. It has classrooms, library, hostel, playground, and quarters for Vedic teachers.

The centre also makes arrangements for the students to teach modern school subjects like English, Maths, Social Science and Sanskrit. The students also appear for board examinations.

The Veda Pathasala is recognized by Maharshi Sandipani Rashtriya Veda Vidya Prathistan, Ujjain, an autonomous body of the Ministry of Human Resources Development, GOI. “Once the course is completed, the students become qualified to offer their services for rituals and ceremonies like marriage, Yajna, shardh, vedic chanting for pujas and seminars, etc. There is a huge demand for their services and their monthly income can vary from ₹80,000 to ₹1 lakh,” says SR Rajkumar, chief general manager (Admin).

 Mental health is an important part of overall health and wellbeing. Social support is important to learn how to cope with mental illness. Ramco has a unique initiative called Atmaprasara, a pioneering community mental health programme that is enabling a society where mental wellness is a priority, not a stigma.

The Atmaprasara initiative is implemented in partnership with Anna Chandy & Associates for the entire community of Rajapalayam and commenced a year ago. A team of 17 trained volunteers offer free counselling sessions. 

“It is no secret that stress, anxiety and panic can wreck our emotional well-being. It is important to seek help instead of ignoring it. Atmaprasara – the counselling programme – will assist one live a healthy and balanced life. It regulates how we make choices, handle stress, emotion, and how we relate to those around us,” says Raja. She is building Rajapalayam as an example to the rest of the country, by creating an environment where the mental health of all sections of the community is important. Equality and inclusivity are the core values, with a specific focus on the well-being of women.

Counselling to heal 

“We have managed to create awareness and the response to Atmaprasara is overwhelming,” senior councillor Shyamala says. “Earlier, people with marital issues, family abuse problems, academic pressure, among others would quietly knock on the doors of astrologers or priests for help. But today they are reaching out to us, either physically or online.

All counselling sessions are confidential. People come to us from all sections of society,” says Rajesh, an Atmaprasara volunteer.  Rajeshwari’s (name changed) marriage was on the verge of breakdown. After 14 counselling sessions, both she and her husband began to look at life differently and worked on their shortcomings. Today, they are living happily and have a child.    

Environment protection is part of Ramco’s community services. The company has taken up the ecological restoration of the exhausted Pandalgudi limestone mine, which once catered to its RR Nagar cement plant in Tamil Nadu. The operation of the mine ceased in 2012. In view of rehabilitating and reclaiming the land, the company has initiated an afforestation programme at Pandalgudi.

  • Ecopark, Pandalgudi: insects, birds and other animals coexist peacefully

Ramco has partnered with Auroville Botanical Gardens to restore the Pandalgudi mines and transform the area into a recreational eco-park.  “The object of the project is to create an area that serves both the needs of the local community and at the same time provides a habitat for the flora and fauna of the region spread across 260 acres,” says Ramco chairman PRV Raja. He and his wife are fully involved in this transformation to make it a perfect destination for the nature enthusiast. The company is spending Rs15 crore to turn this into an eco-park.

So far 2,00,000 trees and shrubs including 140 native species, have been planted. “Our plan is to plant a total of one million saplings in the area. With this, in the future the average rainfall should increase,” says Jagdish Babu P, general manager-mines overseeing the restoration. On the rocky ledges of the abandoned quarry, perfect perching sites for the Indian horned owl were found. The water body itself is the perfect habitat for cormorants, kingfishers as well as egrets. Groups of insects, birds and other animals coexist peacefully in this eco-park.

The shaping of the piles of rocks to form an interesting topography and stable surface for plantations and paths took some time. “The aim was to create spaces, which would serve the needs of visiting schools and institutions for environmental programmes,” C Ravichandran, assistant vice president, CSR points out. “The company is in talks with education institutions for free educational day trips.” The Park, which will open to the public soon, also has an environment centre, a large lawn and refreshment areas.

Ramco is generous in corporate social responsibility. The philosophy of the company is to give back to society what it earns from them. If every corporate had a similar philosophy, poverty levels in our country would definitely come down.

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