Corporate leaders on Wednesday came out strongly in support of Aditya Birla Group chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla, saying that there was nothing wrong in a business house making representations to ministers or government officials.
Birla, along with former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, has been summoned by a special CBI court in Delhi on criminal charges related to the allocation of coal blocks.
R C Bhargava, chairman of Maruti Suzuki India Ltd, said, "Giving a representation to the minister in charge and them considering it is all right. If there is evidence that the consideration was mala fide, corrupt or illegal then it is something different."
Bhargava, a former IAS officer who has himself held senior positions in the government, said, "Representation is the right of every business house. If this has happened then it's unfair, there is no remedy to this.''
Uday Kotak, managing director of Kotak Mahindra Bank, said, "I am talking from the point of view of private business. The private sector does meet government officers and this is a normal calling process.
"We also represent to the government on potential issues we may have and request the government to look into them.
"My view is that a situation where business calls on the PM in the normal course and requests for a look at the policy prima facie does not look out of the way for me," he added.
Kotak said private business meeting government officials at different levels is "not unusual" and business must have the flexibility and freedom of dialogue with government at different levels.
"Interaction between government and business is crucial for us and I would strongly recommend that we protect such interaction which is vital for the progress of Indian economy," he observed.
Kotak was also of the view that business must have a right to make representations to the government, based on the merits of the case.
Cyril Shroff, partner, Amarchand Mangaldas, said, "I do not want to get into specifics as the matter is sub judice. I would like to talk about the signalling effect of what has happened in the court.
"This is depressing. It undermines the message that decision making has to move forward quickly and stuck projects will revive. I think it has gone in the wrong direction. It is a big surprise."
As for previous PM Manmohan Singh, his reputation for personal integrity is so unshakable that even his worst detractors, including the BJP, have not sought to make political capital out of his being issued a summons on criminal charges. Several union government ministers have admitted that any such move would backfire.