|Industry has a responsibility to the
60 per cent of population that is living in rural areas - Ratan Tata
New Delhi, April 21: In the backdrop of the debate over how industry should help the disadvantaged sections of society, a business delegation today met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who recently called for voluntary affirmative action.
The new president of the Confederation of Indian Industry, R. Seshasayee, led the team that is believed to have informed Singh of its views on contentious issues like job reservation and labour law changes.
Officially, the CII described the meeting as a “routine courtesy call”. “It was a customary meeting as every year the new president calls on the Prime Minister,” said a CII source.
Given the strong views against job reservation in the private sector expressed by such businessmen as Azim Premji of Wipro, who has said such an idea was unacceptable, it is difficult to believe the subject was not discussed at today’s meeting.
“The issue was definitely a part of the discussion. The focus, however, was on empowering socially backward classes,” said a source.
Amid the widespread business indignation over any suggestion ' officially, there isn’t one yet ' of a quota, Ratan Tata, who heads one of the country’s largest business groups, asked industry to be socially responsible, according to a PTI report from New York.
Giving a lecture at Cornell University, he said: “In addition to creating value for shareholders, industry has a responsibility to the 60 per cent of (India’s) population that is not industrialised and is living in rural areas.”
“We (businesses) need to operate with principles and values,” he said. In a country like India with a large disadvantaged population, one “cannot create great wealth without making an effort to spread the wealth”.
But whenever there is talk of social responsibility, “we’ve been told we’re depriving our shareholders of something that belongs to them,” he said.
Industry is strongly opposed to any form of “compulsion”. “Most of our members are involved in some form of corporate social responsibility project. So far, these projects have been devoid of any caste-based approach,” said a top industrialist.
Seshasayee said his company, Ashok Leyland, was planning “20 per cent reservation for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes” in its driver training programme.
“The idea is to enhance the skill levels of the underprivileged. We train about 120,000 drivers every year and may now select 20 per cent of these from the SC/ST community. Having said that, this is not job reservation, but a skill enhancement initiative.”
“Skill enhancement” is what the CII delegation is believed to have emphasised to the Prime Minister. Singh had said at the inaugural of the CII’s annual session that industry should make their employee profile more “broad-based and representative”. But he had spoken of affirmative action taken voluntarily.
“The decibel levels are so high that it virtually creates cacophony. We have a stumbling way of moving forward,” said an industrialist who was present at the meeting with the Prime Minister.
Singh is talking about affirmative action for much the same reasons as he recently described the Naxalite movement as the country’s biggest internal security problem. In the absence of opportunities, the underprivileged are getting sucked into the politics of violence, which is showing in the growing influence of Naxalites as well as in agitations by people displaced by industrial projects, as in Orissa.
Tata, too, spoke in the same vein. He said one-fifth of India’s billion-plus people are below the age of 20 and by 2040, the country will have the world’s largest working-age population.
“These young Indians want a place in the sun, education, a job, the kind of life they know exists from television. Will there be jobs for them'”
If not, the country may see “the makings of a revolution,” Tata said.