New Delhi: In an exclusive interview to NDTV, Ratan Tata talks about the 2G scam, believed to be India's largest-ever swindle worth 1.76 lakh crores, according to the government's auditor.
The Chairman of the Tata Group says the leaked tapes that have PR representative Nira Radia and others discussing 2G spectrum are taking away attention - he describes them as "a smokescreen" for the real issue. Tata was one of Radia's clients. She is now part of the investigation into the 2G controversy.
He also asserted that the Tata Group never subverted any policy through Radia. "Never once have we done something to exploit a policy issue, never once we used her (Radia) to make payments or to seek favours," he said, adding that the government should take over the tapes and restrain the media from indulging in character assassination.
This is a transcript from his interview with Shekhar Gupta, Editor-in-Chief of the Indian Express and host of NDTV's Walk the Talk. (Read full transcript)
Hello and welcome to Walk The Talk. I am Shekhar Gupta at Taj Wellington view Mumbai, and my guest today is Ratan Tata, who has removed time in an unusual time on a very special day, there is a candle lit right behind you because it is the second anniversary of the terrorist attack. I understand your reluctance to walk in the corridors of the Taj today, it's all very fresh.
Ratan Tata: Thank you for honouring that wish. Thank you very much for having this session today, it's always an honour, it's always a pleasure to be with you.
Shekhar Gupta: I also said unusual times, you know why. Because there is a certain murkiness in the air right now, particularly when it comes to government-business interface...
Ratan Tata: "Ya it is a murky time, you are right. It's a confusing time for me because just a couple of weeks ago, we were sitting sort of on top of a summit or a mountain top with President Obama showering praise on what we had done, talking about maturity, talking of our having emerged, and not being an emerging force... and then we have somewhat slipped into a morass of a series of allegations... unauthorised tapes flooding... the media going crazy on alleging, convicting, executing... literally character assassination. In fact the whole thing in so doing - there has been a smoke screen behind what is really the so-called scam - which really is out-of-turn allocation of spectrum, hoarding of spectrum by important players for free... and things of this nature. So I think it's a bad time. I wish the government would take a stand, bring an auditor... have an investigation and book people who are guilty of something, but stop this sort of Banana Republic kind of attack on whoever one chooses to attack on a basis unsubstantiated even before the person has a very Indian right- namely to be considered innocent until found guilty in a court of law.
Shekhar Gupta: The government has the power to tap somebody's phone, and that power has to be exercised with a great deal of caution - the Supreme Court has set down the law very strictly. Shouldn't there also be responsibility to protect somebody's privacy, even if they are involved in criminality? They can only use that information specifically in case of prosecution.
Ratan Tata: I totally agree, government also has a responsibility; the agencies also have a responsibility. They have been given a special right to be able to invade people's privacy for national security or for enforcement of law, whatever it may be. So they can do so. That additional power is a very special power which has to be exercised with a sense of responsibility. The content needs to be held for prosecution purposes and not to be misused, and certainly not to go out to have a field day with. There doesn't seem to be prosecution on one end and there doesn't seem to be confidentiality on the other. Perhaps as things will emerge, not even knowledge of how it was disseminated, nor admission of even having conducted such telephone tapping. So we are going to be in a dead man's zone on this, which I think is unfortunate. Here I just want to put what you have said quite rightly in juxtaposition to feeling I have as an Indian, perhaps a law abiding Indian, I wouldn't even try to work my way out of a speeding ticket. We have all to be proud of what we have done in India, we have got to be proud of our Prime Minister, we have got to be proud of the success we have. It's terrible if we as a nation destroy ourselves and whoever is doing this kind of thing needs to consider themselves not as hero of the nation but in fact as one of the villains who would bring down this nation after the good that is being done.
Shekhar Gupta: Do you see the danger in that? Do you see where the murkiness can lead to...
Ratan Tata: I think if it's not controlled, I think yes. I used the word Banana Republic, I did not use it lightly.
Shekhar Gupta: I was coming to that, because that is a very serious expression.
Ratan Tata: Banana republics are run on cronyism. People of great power wield great power, but people of lesser power or people who have fallen out of power go to jail without adequate evidence or their bodies are found in the trunks of cars. The danger is that you could degenerate into that kind of atmosphere unless the necessary parts of government play their role in upholding the law and fine, let no one be above the law. I would happily have that happen, various other people would not like to see that happen but I would feel very happy to see that, I would feel very proud. So I think it can happen, I mean a Banana Republic kind of an environment could emerge, if we don't put an end to this kind of thing and under the guise of freedom of speech or the guise of many other numbers of so-called rights of democracy abused, the luxury of a democracy.
Shekhar Gupta: While the government does not do its job?
Ratan Tata: The government should do its job, the government's job is in fact to run the country, to manage the country, to govern the country. And governance is an important thing not application where it suits one so to micro control where it suits them on the other hand.
Shekhar Gupta: So you see a lot of crony capitalism, since you used the expression.
Ratan Tata: Yes I see the evidence of it. I am not in a position to say a lot of it but it's certainly evident.
Shekhar Gupta: Will you say some of it?
Ratan Tata: Yes.
Shekhar Gupta: Will you describe some of the evidence that you've seen?
Ratan Tata: You see, large contracts being awarded, we see conditions of contracts becoming a little vague, implemented funnily, eligibility of capability being abused. You know, very often I wondered there are some countries for example where favouritism doesn't apply but you actually pay into the government if you get a contract. But the nice thing about those countries is that you get the best contractor, it becomes like a tax. It's an open tax, you pay not to individuals but an agency. I'm not condoning that but am saying that's one form.
Shekhar Gupta: That's corruption by tariff card... transparent.
Ratan Tata: Ya, here, who pays the cost of giving something to a person with less capability - the customer. We get something that takes five more years to finish than it should. It costs five times more to complete than it should. So this is not the time we should do this, this is the time we should build our nation. And we should build it as many other emerging nations have built theirs, on the basis of meritocracy.
Shekhar Gupta: How do you manage? How does the group of Tatas manage in this environment?
Ratan Tata: Well, we have endeavoured to uphold a value system that has been a part of our tradition. And we've been disadvantaged repeatedly. In that we have lost projects, projects have been delayed, we have ingratiated ourselves in some cases with some politicians but we will stay that course. Sorry, annoyed them. And in that sense we would like to keep the group ferociously protecting this one asset that we have.
Shekhar Gupta: Do you sometimes pay if you have to pay?