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Don't show off wealth, pay back to society: PM
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May 24, 2007 11:46 IST
Last Updated: May 24, 2007 12:24 IST

The Indian industry's success in wealth creation is worth celebrating, but showing off the riches through ostentatious parties is as good as insulting the less privileged and stoking social unrest, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Thursday.

Apparently turned off by extravagant weddings and other parties thrown by the "rich and the famous," he cautioned that "rising income and wealth inequalities, if not matched by a corresponding rise of incomes across the nation, can lead to social unrest."

Inviting the industry to be the government's partner in creating a humane and just society at CII's annual general meeting here, the prime minister wanted corporate India to first resist excessive remuneration to promoters and senior executives and reduce conspicuous consumption -- as it was "socially undesirable" and "environmentally unsustainable."

"We cannot afford the wasteful lifestyles of the Western world," he said, reminding the industry that India, with over one billion people, still faces the problem of scarce natural resources on per capita basis.

Stopping short of mentioning anyone in particular, the prime minister said the media often highlights the vulgar display of wealth by the rich, which plants the seed of resentment in the minds of the have-nots.

He also said that corporate social responsibility must not defined by tax planning strategies alone, but must be based on the idea that the wealthy have an obligation to society and to nature.

But giving credit to the industry where it deserves, Singh said he was happy with CII's report on affirmative action and believes it would be widely emulated.

"I am aware that some of our companies are doing creditable work. I compliment them. But we need more such inspiring examples... The representation companies give to SCs, STs, OBCs, minorities and women in their workforce and staff must increase," Singh said.

On the industry's performance, he said: "When I read about the growing number of Indian millionaires and billionaires, about the companies buying up multinationals, about our clogged airports, about the real estate boom, about new holiday destinations, about soaring CEO compensations, I know that you have benefited from the growth process."

But this growth calls for the business community to realise its wider social responsibility. "The time has come for the better off sections of our society to understand the need to make our growth process more inclusive."

"Corporate social responsibility must not be defined by tax planning strategies alone. Rather, it should be defined within the framework of a corporate philosophy which factors the needs of the community and the regions in which the corporate entity functions," Singh said.

Singh said unless workers feel they are cared for at work "we can never evolve a national consensus in favour of more flexible labour laws aimed at ensuring that our firms remain globally competitive."

The prime minister also made it clear that operation of cartels by groups of companies to keep prices high must end.

"It is unacceptable to obstruct the forces of competition from having fair play. It is even more distressing in a country where the poor are severely affected by rising commodity prices," Singh said.

Terming cauterisations as a "crime" that goes against the grain of an open economy, the prime minister said: "Even profit maximisation should be within the bounds of decency and greed."

He suggested that CII develop 'codes of conduct' to fight corruption, saying there are many successful companies that have refused to yield to corrupt business practices.

The prime minister said that while the UPA government will continue to create an environment that is friendly for the growth of manufacturing industry, leaders must also facilitate employment creation in their industries.

This requires expansion of economic activity, investment in human capabilities and the pursuit of socially, politically, environmentally and financially sustainable growth, he said.

"The government has its role and responsibility, but so do the better off sections of our society. This is where I look to CII for leadership," Singh said.

While lauding the industry for maintaining high growth, Singh said to win the race in being globally competitive, "you must work in a harmonious environment, an environment in which all citizens feel actually involved in economic growth and in which each citizen sees hope for a better future."

He said as industry aims to master increasingly complex technologies and becomes organisationally more complex it must try to maintain its competitive edge by investing in R&D and innovation and promoting enterprises. "While the government can do its bit, the larger burden is on industry," he said.

Singh said the industry must be pro-active in offering employment to the less privileged at all levels of the job ladder.

While welcoming the CII's report on affirmative action, the Prime Minister said the representation companies give to people belonging to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and other Backward Classes, minorities and women in their workforce and staff must increase.

He said the recommendations of this report should be implemented by CII members in a time bound manner.

"I look forward to credible results at an early date," he said, adding that the industry show sensitivity to those who are physically less-abled.

Singh said the industry must also lay stress on employing retired members of the armed forces who spend their youth defending the nation but retire at a relatively young age.

The 10-point social charter emphasises on workers welfare, corporate social responsibility, offering jobs to less privileged, resisting excessive renumeration to promoters and skilled development among other things.

Speaking on the occasion, CII president R Seshashayee said the his organisation was against the concept of crony capitalism. For raising farm output and productivity, he favoured setting up of Special Agriculture Zones near farm cooperatives.

The CII, he said, desired handing over of sectors like power and mining completely to the private players.

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