December 24, 2011

Mukesh Ambani tells PM: Don't worry, Manmohan, I’ll invest 70k cr in India

NEW DELHI: After a long spell of gripes over policy inaction, Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani has provided some much-needed support to the government, saying he did not share the gloom and pessimism that several industry leaders were talking about.

At the meeting of the Prime Minister's Council on Trade and Industry on Thursday, the country's richest man went on to talk about his group's mega investment plans. "Sir, I don't share the gloom and pessimism on India. I plan to invest Rs 70,000 crore in India over the next two years. To me, India remains the best investment destination," a senior government official present in the meeting quoted Ambani as saying.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is learnt to have responded by saying that he hoped that others shared Ambani's views. "Very good! I hope others also follow your example," the official quoted Singh as saying. Government representatives present in the meeting also emphasized that the mood was not as negative as it had appeared before the deliberations began.

Several industry leaders, such as Ratan Tata, N R Narayana Murthy, Sunil Bharti Mittal, Sunil Munjal and Vindi Banga endorsed Ambani's view and suggested that they were all betting big on India. Industry leaders said the perception that India was not a profitable place to do business was wrong, stressing that they were not planning to shift their business overseas.

They, however, urged the government to expedite infrastructure and other large projects. Industry leaders were assured that a mechanism would be put in place to sort out bottlenecks in implementing large projects.

There did seem to be a sense of exasperation with the Anna Hazare-led movement. Sunil Bharti Mittal is learnt to have said that there was no place for such a confrontation in a parliamentary democracy. Sources quoted him as saying that maintaining constitutional order was critical for a conducive business climate.

Ashok Ganguly, former HUL chief, also spoke in the same vein. Significantly, the RS member was part of the group of industrialists which went public with its lament over policy inaction, but pressed for backing the government on FDI in retail.

The statements from industry leaders came against the backdrop of some straight talking by the prime minister. "I must confess that it is a little disappointing to sometimes hear negative comments emanating from our business leadership or be told that government's policies are causing slowdown and pessimism in the industrial sector," Singh had said. "Such comments have added to uncertainty and have emboldened those who have no stake in our economic growth. It is true that our country faces a large number of issues which need urgent resolution. The energy sector, the port sector, the transport sector, the supply of gas and coal, all need greater attention. Corruption and better governance also require firm handling," the PM said.

He went on to talk about the possibility of reduction in interest rates if the easing trend on inflation was sustained. Besides, he agreed with concerns on the sharp depreciation of the rupee but urged exporters to take advantage of the situation.

The business leaders expressed confidence in the fundamental strength of the Indian economy. They were generally of the view that the economy was poised to return to a high rate of growth in the near future.