New Delhi: Breaking his silence over the telephone tapping controversy, prime minister Manmohan Singh today acknowledged that there was “nervousness” in the corporate sector and spoke of tightening the system to prevent leakage of tapped conversations, reports PTI.
Speaking at a business conference here he said the cabinet secretary has been asked to look into these issues and report back to the Cabinet within the next month.
“I am aware of the nervousness in the corporate sector, arising out of the powers conferred upon the government authorities to tap phones for protecting national security and preventing tax evasion and money laundering.
“While these powers are needed, they have to be exercised with utmost care and under well-defined rules, procedures and mechanisms so that they are not misused,” he said while inaugurating the India Corporate Week 2010.
Mr Singh said solutions should be looked through technology to prevent access of telephone conversations to systems outside the framework of the government.
“Legal mechanisms already in place should be strengthened for more effective enforcement. I am asking the cabinet secretary (KM Chandrasekhar) to look into these issues and report back to the Cabinet within the next month,” he said.
The effort of the government, the prime minister said, would be to provide a “level-playing field for private businesses, free from fear or favour”.
The prime minister’s remarks come against the backdrop of Tata Group chairman Ratan Tata expressing serious concerns over conversations between him and corporate lobbyist Niira Radia making their way to the media. He used strong words like India facing the threat of becoming a banana republic.
HDFC chairman Deepak Parekh, too, had expressed concern over telephone tapping and leakage of ‘private conversations’ in public domain, and said the episode had hurt the morale of the industry.
Part of the 5000-odd telephone conversations recorded by the income tax authorities between Ms Radia and bigwigs including businessmen, politicians and press persons have found their way to the media and the Internet.
Raising concerns over the issue of “ethical deficit”, the prime minister said, “the manner is which they (corporates) use natural resources and the extent to which they are sensitive to the needs and aspirations of common man is critical to their own long-term survival.”
Noting that concentration of wealth without empowering people is unacceptable ethically, Mr Singh said, “I am sure business leaders are aware that business practices of some corporate houses have recently come under intense public scrutiny for their perceived ethical deficit.”
The prime minister said that “ethical and responsible behaviour needs to become the cornerstone of corporate behaviour, as indeed out national outlook.”
Mr Singh also asked India Inc to ensure resettlement and rehabilitation of the project-affected families, besides addressing environmental concerns.
“Our growth process must not suffer because of loss of confidence in industrialisation and development,” he said, adding the country needs policies and interventions that would minimise livelihood disruptions.
The companies, he said, “Must also adopt environmentally friendly measures and avoid taking shortcuts that adversely impact livelihoods and worsen the quality of living of the local populace.”
On the positive side, the prime minister referred to growing might of domestic companies on the global stage and said, “India's corporate sector is poised to become the main engine of growth for the Indian economy. The responsibility it carries is, therefore, enormous.”
The corporate affairs ministry, he said, has been providing an enabling regulatory framework to facilitate the corporate sector to function productively and responsibly and broadly in line with national aspirations.
Mr Singh also complimented the ministry for updating the Company Law, introducing limited liability partnerships, making efforts to converge domestic accounting norms with International Financial Reporting Standards and spreading investor education.
“The voluntary guidelines issued by the ministry on corporate governance and corporate social responsibility have evoked interest internationally,” he said.
The government was committed to providing an enabling environment conducive to the growth of the corporate sector, Singh said, hoping, “corporate India will contribute to our efforts to fulfil the dreams of the aam adami (common man).”