With a nervous India Inc for an audience, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday broke his silence over phone tapping and assured the industry that utmost care would be taken so that the powers were not misused. He also instructed cabinet secretary KM Chandrashekhar, the country’s top ranking civil servant, to look into ways of strengthening legal framework that prevent leaks in future.
“I am aware of the nervousness in some sections of the corporate sector arising out of the powers conferred upon governmental authorities to tap phones for protecting national security and preventing tax evasion and money laundering,” Singh said. “While these powers are needed in the world that we live in, they have to be exercised with utmost care and under well defined rules, procedures and mechanisms so that they are not misused. We must also look for solutions through technology to prevent access of telephone conversation to systems outside the institutional framework of government.”
Singh’s remarks follow complaints by Ratan Tata, one of India’s most respected businessmen, who found himself caught up in $40 billion (Rs 176,000 crore) 2G licensing scandal. Tata, who heads the Tata Group, known for its strong corporate ethics, had to deny allegations of involvement in the scam after his intercepted conversations with lobbyist Nira Radia on the allocation of 2G licences were leaked to the media. With the industry on the backfoot, Singh could not resist moral preaching.
“I am sure our business leaders are aware that business practices of some corporate houses have recently come under intense public scrutiny for their perceived ethical deficit,” Singh said. “Ethical and responsible behaviour needs to become the cornerstone of corporate behaviour, as indeed our national outlook. Ethics encompass a wide sphere of actions, economic, social and human, involving the consumer, labour, society at large and the government.”
With the entire corporate world under the spotlight, industry reaction has been varied but an outright rebuttal was missing. Many shied away from the topic and those who did not, accepted it was part of the system.
“Wherever there is something that is valuable and where discretionary powers are vested with somebody, there is a chance of it (corruption),” said RC Bhargava, chairman, Maruti Suzuki India Ltd, the country’s largest carmaker. “The best answer is to have as open and transparent a system as possible.”
“Any unethical practice done by either industrialist or bureaucrat, it’s bad for all of them,” said Bajaj Auto chairman Rahul Bajaj. “Something needs to be done about this.”