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PM talks of corporate quota; India Inc will resist if forced

THERE IS a flutter in India Inc. And it has to do with job reservations. With Prime Minister Manmohan Singh once again broaching the subject of job quotas for the socially underprivileged in the private sector at the CII annual session on Tuesday, corporate India reckons that it should be voluntary and industry should not be forced to implement reservation. Rahul Bajaj, former CII president and Bajaj Auto chairman, told HT: "I heard the PM say very clearly that it should be voluntary and not mandatory.
By HT Corporate Bureau | None, New Delhi
PUBLISHED ON APR 19, 2006 01:25 AM IST

Going to court among options

THERE IS a flutter in India Inc. And it has to do with job reservations.
With Prime Minister Manmohan Singh once again broaching the subject of job quotas for the socially underprivileged in the private sector at the CII annual session on Tuesday, corporate India reckons that it should be voluntary and industry should not be forced to implement reservation.

Rahul Bajaj, former CII president and Bajaj Auto chairman, told HT: "I heard the PM say very clearly that it should be voluntary and not mandatory. The government, through minister Meira Kumar, is in touch with industry associations like ours, the CII, but this is a progressive dialogue. I hope it is not legislated.

We'll go to court."

Bajaj said they were prepared to do everything possible to help the socially underprivileged if it entailed educating them or developing their skills. "But jobs can only be given on merit," he said.

Sunil Mittal, chairman, Bharti Airtel, offered similar sentiments. "Industry needs to do something about it (the uplift of underprivileged) but at the same time there shouldn't be any legislation in this regard," he said.

Nandan Nilekeni, MD, Infosys, said there had to be a conversation between the government and corporate India across a table. "There has to be a detailed dialogue on this," he said.

Responding to the PM's call to broadbase employment and make it representative, he felt the industry needed to first showcase what it was already doing towards meeting social commitments and then further study what needed to be done in the future. 

In his address, Singh laid down the government’s short-term agenda for growth. He spoke about opening up the labour market, undertaking labour reforms and going ahead with job reservations.

He said the three issues required a national consensus.

Singh assured corporate bosses that labour reforms would definitely be ushered in. “We’ll be able to impart a measure of flexibility to the labour market in the years to come,” he said.

The PM also sought a national consensus on land redistribution, tenancy reforms and improving the asset base of the rural poor.

Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Meira Kumar had recently said that everything pertaining to this contentious subject would be decided by the cabinet. 

The GoM on job quotas has reportedly reverted to the cabinet. Kumar is of the view that something like this will require constitutional amendment after elections are completed in five states.

Mittal said the CII was working closely with the government to strike the right balance “so that the country does not suffer, political leaders fulfil their promises to the masses and industry can grow”.

Bajaj said: “There might be a backlash from the non-reserved categories. Legislation is not the right way to provide opportunities to people from reserved categories.”

ITC chairman Y.C. Deveshwar too echoed the view, saying providing quotas should be voluntary.

Singh asked the industry to enhance educational and employment opportunities for people from the reserved categories. “Though legislation is not what we prefer, we’ll follow it if it comes into force,” said Mittal.

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