Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has emerged as a crucial aspect of modern business practices, focusing on the ethical, social, and environmental impacts of business operations. In India, CSR is not merely a voluntary practice but a legal obligation under the Companies Act, 2013. However, the journey of CSR in India has not been without its legal disputes and controversies, which provide significant insights into the challenges and opportunities within this framework.

Understanding CSR under Indian Law

The Companies Act, 2013, particularly Section 135, mandates certain classes of companies to spend at least 2% of their average net profits over the previous three years on CSR activities. The law applies to companies with a net worth of INR 500 crore or more, a turnover of INR 1000 crore or more, or a net profit of INR 5 crore or more during any financial year. These companies must form a CSR committee to formulate and monitor a CSR policy that ensures compliance with the Act.

The Schedule VII of the Companies Act outlines the areas in which companies can invest their CSR funds, including education, gender equality, hunger and poverty eradication, healthcare, and environmental sustainability. Non-compliance with CSR obligations can lead to penalties and other legal repercussions.

CSR activities

CSR motivates the companies to contribute socially, economically and environmentally by engaging in acts like :

  • Engaging members of the local community
  • Using “Socially Responsible Investment” (SRI)
  • Developing cordial relationship with the employees as well as the consumers
  • Engaging in actions/ activities for the protection and sustainability of the environment eg. using chain of sustainable manufacturing/production practices
  • Paying fair wages to the workers
  • Supporting reforms in the social justice policy 
  • Innovating the products to solve any environmental or a social issue
  • Undertaking to reduce the carbon footprint
  • Contributing appreciable profits to any charitable cause

Legal Disputes and Case Studies

While the intent behind CSR regulations is to promote sustainable and inclusive growth, implementation has often led to legal disputes and controversies. Here are some notable examples:

1. Vedanta Resources: A Case of Environmental Responsibility

Vedanta Resources, a mining giant, has faced numerous legal challenges regarding its CSR activities, particularly concerning environmental responsibilities. The company’s mining operations in Odisha’s Niyamgiri Hills have been the center of a prolonged legal battle. The Supreme Court of India, in a landmark judgment in 2013, upheld the rights of indigenous tribes over their land, effectively halting Vedanta’s bauxite mining project. This case highlighted the conflict between corporate interests and environmental sustainability, emphasizing the need for responsible business practices that respect local communities and ecosystems.

2. Tata Steel and the CSR Spending Controversy

Tata Steel, a flagship company of the Tata Group, has been lauded for its CSR initiatives. However, it faced scrutiny from the Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA) regarding its CSR spending. In 2019, the MCA issued a notice to Tata Steel for allegedly not spending the prescribed 2% of its profits on CSR activities. Tata Steel defended its position by highlighting its substantial contributions to community development projects, which it claimed exceeded the mandated expenditure when considered over a broader timeline. This case underscores the complexities in measuring and accounting for CSR expenditures, as well as the interpretative challenges of CSR laws.

3. Infosys and Corporate Governance Issues

Infosys, a leading IT services company, has encountered challenges related to corporate governance, impacting its CSR commitments. In 2017, the company faced a whistleblower complaint alleging irregularities in its acquisition deals and executive compensation. Although primarily a corporate governance issue, the controversy affected Infosys’ CSR reputation, leading to increased scrutiny of its CSR activities and overall ethical practices. This case illustrates how corporate governance and CSR are intertwined, with lapses in one area potentially undermining the other.

The Role of Judiciary in CSR Disputes

The Indian judiciary has played a significant role in shaping the CSR landscape. Courts have interpreted CSR provisions to ensure that companies do not evade their responsibilities. For instance, in the case of Technicolor India Pvt. Ltd. vs. Registrar of Companies, the Karnataka High Court held that CSR spending should be aligned with the objectives set out in the Companies Act and cannot be arbitrarily defined by companies. This judgment reinforced the legal accountability of companies in fulfilling their CSR obligations.

Ineligible activities under CSR provisions

Following are the activities that do not fall under the purview of the CSR provisions :

  1. Activities that are carried out in conformity to the normal course of the company’s business. 

Nevertheless, any company engaged in R&D activity of any new vaccine, drugs and medical devices in its normal course of business may carry out such work related to COVID-19 for the financial years 2020-21, 2021-22, 2022-23 depending upon fulfilment of the conditions that :

  • Such R&D activities are undertaken in partnership with any institutes or organisations specified in item (ix) of Schedule VII of the Act;
  • Particulars of such activity are disclosed independently in the CSR Annual report as submitted by the Board.
  1. Activities undertaken by the company outside the Indian territory, apart from the training of Indian sports persons representing any State/UT at the national level or representing India at an international level.
  2. Activities that benefit the employees of the company.
  3. Activities supported by the companies on the basis of sponsorship, to derive marketing advantages for the products or services of the company.
  4. Activities that are carried out in order to fulfil any other statutory obligations under any other law enacted in India.

Challenges and Future Directions

Despite the legal framework, several challenges persist in the effective implementation of CSR in India:

1. Lack of Clarity and Standardization: Companies often face difficulties in interpreting what constitutes valid CSR activities. The broad categories under Schedule VII can lead to varied interpretations, resulting in legal disputes.

2. Monitoring and Enforcement: Ensuring compliance with CSR provisions requires robust monitoring mechanisms. The absence of a standardized reporting and verification system can lead to discrepancies and misuse of CSR funds.

3. Balancing Profitability and Responsibility: Companies must balance their profit motives with social and environmental responsibilities. This balance can be particularly challenging in sectors where profit margins are slim, leading to potential conflicts and legal issues.

Significance of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

1. Legal Mandate:

– In India, companies meeting certain criteria are legally required to spend a portion of their profits on CSR activities.

– Section 135 mandates qualifying companies to allocate 2% of their average net profits over the past three years to CSR.

2. Social Development:

– CSR initiatives address social issues such as healthcare, poverty, and education.

– These efforts contribute to the overall development of the country.

3. Inclusive Growth:

– CSR activities aim to bridge socio-economic gaps.

– They ensure that economic development benefits marginalized and underprivileged communities, promoting equitable and sustainable growth.

4. Environmental Sustainability:

– Many CSR projects focus on renewable energy, conservation, and sustainable practices.

– These efforts help mitigate environmental impacts and contribute to a greener future.

5. Community Engagement:

– CSR provides opportunities for companies to engage with local communities.

– This fosters positive relationships, trust, and a sense of shared responsibility.

6. Brand Image and Reputation:

– Meaningful CSR activities enhance a company’s brand image and reputation.

– Consumers, investors, and stakeholders often favor companies committed to social responsibility, leading to increased trust and loyalty.

7. Employee Morale and Productivity:

– Companies involved in CSR tend to have higher employee morale.

– Employees take pride in working for socially responsible organizations, which boosts productivity, retention, and workplace satisfaction.

8. Risk Mitigation:

– Proactive CSR initiatives help mitigate business risks.

– Addressing social and environmental concerns reduces the likelihood of regulatory issues, negative public perception, or legal challenges.

9. Global Standards and Expectations:

– As India integrates into the global economy, adhering to international CSR standards is crucial.

– Multinational companies in India follow global CSR practices, and local companies align their strategies accordingly.


Corporate Social Responsibility in India represents a significant shift towards inclusive and sustainable business practices. However, the journey is fraught with legal challenges and disputes that test the robustness of the CSR framework. Through case studies of companies like Vedanta, Tata Steel, and Infosys, it is evident that legal disputes often arise from conflicts between corporate interests and social responsibilities. The Indian judiciary has a pivotal role in interpreting CSR laws and ensuring compliance, but the road ahead requires greater clarity, standardization, and enforcement mechanisms.

As Indian companies navigate the evolving landscape of CSR, they must embrace transparency, ethical practices, and genuine community engagement. Only then can CSR transcend from being a statutory obligation to becoming an integral part of corporate ethos, contributing meaningfully to the nation’s socio-economic development.

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