Deepak Parekh, non-executive chairman of leading home loan firm HDFC, has been a pro-active voice in India’s economic reform process, influencing and guiding policy as a respected corporate elder. His concerns have shifted this year from policy issues to deeper ones on governance following corruption scandals that he believes hurts India’s emerging economy. Excerpts from an interview:
You have never been hesitant to speak your mind about everything that is happening recently (on corruption). How worried are you?
The damage is the damage to our reputation, to India’s reputation. It is not just the government. You just cannot blame the government. What about the giver of the bribe? The giver of the bribe is always an Indian corporate man to get favour — on land, mining or licence or whatever. The corporate sector is equally responsible and guilty. They should be punished if they have taken undue favours from certain quarters in the government. You need two hands to clap.
Do you feel all these telecom companies, particularly in the 2G scam, many of whom seem to have literally popped up overnight, had real estate backers behind them? And are guilty and should be punished?
I don’t know whether all (should be punished), but some, yes. The investigators will have to prove who is guilty, who has moved out of turn, got undue favours. These people have to be charged and booked.
In the current climate, it has become very difficult for the average citizen to draw the distinction between some of the most established corporates and the new players.
I am not familiar who is guilty and who is not guilty.
That only the investigative agency — CBI or SFIO (serious fraud investigation office) — will be in a position to say but one thing is certain: the Indian public has full conviction that the judicial system, particularly at the Supreme Court and High Court, is by and large fair, equitable and clean.
I want to take you back to a letter in which you and number of eminent citizens had spoken about corporate and political governance. Did you get a response to that?
I am not willing to answer that.
OK, which answers that in a way.
No. No. No. You will get to know the answer at the right time. Some of us felt frustrated, hurt, disappointed that India has such a huge opportunity and we should not just spoil it at this stage. And you know everything was going well for India. Everything was on a high and suddenly some of these scandals started coming out one after another, which certainly has damaged our reputation.
We felt we should let the government know, let the people know we are concerned.