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Minister wanted Rs 15-crore to allow our airline: Tata

Last updated on: November 15, 2010 19:39 IST

Minister wanted Rs 15-crore to allow our airline: Tata

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Deepti Saxena in Dehra Dun

Tata Group chairman Ratan Tata on Monday said he did not enter the airline business as he was not comfortable with the idea of bribing a minister, as had been suggested by an industrialist.

He regretted that despite being a pioneer in the airline industry, the group faced enormous problems in setting up a domestic airline in collaboration with Singapore Airlines.

"We approached three prime ministers also. But an individual thwarted our efforts to form the airlines," Tata said, recalling how he spurned the suggestion by a fellow industrialist.

He, however, did not name the individual.

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Image: Ratan Tata.
Photographs: Reuters
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Amid Tatas' efforts to set up a joint venture with Singapore Airlines, a fellow industrialist had said: "You are stupid people. The minister was asking for Rs 15 crore (Rs 150 million). Why didn't you pay the money?"

Narrating the incident, Tata said, "I did not want to go to the bed knowing well that I set up an airline by paying Rs 15 crore."

Ratan Tata's predecessor, JRD Tata, had set up the first commercial airlines of India 'Tata Airlines' in the 1930s and that was later in the 1950s taken over by the government and turned into Air India.

Responding to questions about how he succeeded without compromising ethics and values after delivering a lecture on 'India in 21st Century: Opportunities and Challenges' here, Tata, 72, said he did not have a methodology in this regard, but went on to narrate the entire history of how Tatas failed to re-enter the aviation business.

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Image: Ratan Tata speaks in front of a bust of Jamshetji Tata.
Photographs: Reuters
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After taking over the reins of the group, Ratan Tata had tried at least on three occassion to pursue the aviation business and accordingly moved the government of the day in 1995, 1997 and 2001.

The last time (2001), it was the Bharatiya Janata Party government when Tatas and Singapore Airlines withdrew as sole bidders their joint bid for Air India, citing political opposition to the sale.

Earlier in 1995 and subsequently in 2000, the consortium had made concerted efforts to take stake in Air India, but the controversies that engulfed divestment through a strategic sale in a public sector undertaking and the unions' agitation prevented materialisation of the bids

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Photographs: Reuters
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Tata, who took over the group in 1991 and has since overseen its global expansion, said he doesn't want to change his retirement due in 2012.

"I don't want to change my deadline I set for my retirement. There are lots of sacrifices, one has to make in terms of personal life. I wanted my life back. I want to enjoy the things that I wanted to do," the top industrialist said in Dehradun.

He said there are two kinds of people, one who goes back home on his own feet, and another who goes in a box. "I have told my shareholders that I do not want to go back in a box," he said.

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Image: Ratan Tata with Hillary Clinton.
Photographs: Reuters
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In August this year, the Board of Tata Sons Ltd had formed a selection committee comprising five members, including an external member for eventually deciding on a suitable successor to Ratan Tata.

"There is no such thing indispensably individual. The day I succeeded JRD Tata, I felt in very large shoes. I knew that I cannot be another JRD and I have to be my own person," Tata said in reply to a question after delivering a lecture.

"I believe my successor will be his own person and hopefully will do things for the country and the group the way we have been doing till now or much better.

"I ferociously wanted to ensure that my successor has total commitment for ethics and values, we fought for years now," Tata said.

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Photographs: Reuters
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To a question if he saw similarities between what his group faced in Singur and the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai, Tata said though there is no similarity between the two things, but he is a victim and survivor of both the tragedies.

Tata had to move the mother plant of its small car Nano from Singur to a site in Gujarat, following violent protests spearheaded by Trinamool Congress against land acquisition.

To another question, Tata agreed that the disparity between haves and have-nots is increasing, and said that it is the responsibility of each one of us, who have, to do something for those, who do not have.


Image: Ratan Tata with Mukesh Ambani.
Photographs: Reuters
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