Sunil Bharti Mittal has turned a billionaire on the back of his Bharti Airtel's breakneck growth and the effect that has had on his company's stock. But there was a new challenge to face last week on the embarassment of riches, when he took over as the new president of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII).
Mittal took charge a day after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, speaking at the CII's annual session, laid down a ten-point social charter for India Inc with forceful comments against corruption, high CEO remuneration, greed and ostentatious spending.
Gaurav Choudhury caught up with Mittal, who is the chairman of group controlling firm Bharti Enterprises, on a variety of issues.
The Prime Minister has urged the industry to maiximise profits within the bounds of decency and greed? How would react to his remarks?
Greed is bad and is a bad word. If anybody is showing greed that needs to be checked. The Prime Minister's message is to be taken in the right spirit. His concern was in view of the wealth inequality in the country... In-your-face spending hurts people.
Singh meant to say that ostentatious display of wealth should be avoided. I do not think that the Prime Minister ever said that profits are bad. In fact, he commended the industry for high growth. He said: while you earn profits, could you help the government in picking up some pieces in nation building? I think that is fine.
The issue of ostentatious spending is outside the domain of the CII and is an individual trait. The Prime Minister actually was appealing to the physical sensibilities of individuals.
The Prime Minister also said that corporations should undertake corporate social responsibility not as a measure to reap tax benefits but as a wider philosophy. Do you have any thoughts on that?
I agree that philanthropy cannot be solely because of reaping fiscal and tax benefits. Every nation builds an incentive mechanism for corporations to undertake voluntary social work. But having said that, I do not think that fiscal incentives should be the sole reason for implementing such programmes.
Corruption is another issue that is adversely affecting the Indian economy and Prime Minister has sent out a strong message by asking industry not to pay bribes. What measures would you suggest to curb this?
Simplifying regulation and processes are the best way to address the menace. There should be more use of technology and minimum human interface. This would go a long way in reducing the menace.
The CII has forecast 3 per cent growth in agriculture in 2007-08. Do you think it is achievable?
The CII has a GDP forecast for the year 2007-08 and we believe the agriculture sector would grow by 3 per cent. We are expecting the government to make a major policy announcement for the farm economy over the next few days.
A three per cent growth rate in agriculture is not ambitious, because I feel that the organised retail sector, which is expected to provide key linkages between the farm and market, would play a significant role in pushing this growth.
The key enablers in this growth would be establishing links between the farmers and the markets and adopting a value chain approach. It is necessary to enhance farm investments and accelerate the use of technology.