India Inc demanded simpler tax rules, faster project approvals and tougher rules on corruption at an economic summit on Thursday, as companies challenged the government to push for deeper economic fixes than a handful of recent reforms.
Tempers frayed between frustrated executives and defensive ministers, and social activists took officials to task on a lack of action from the government, despite a much-trumpeted set of initiatives in response to slowing economic growth.
The mood is a bit sombre, Siddhartha Lal, managing director of Eicher Motors, said at the World Economic Forum (WEF). There is a pressure to force some change.
Suddenly because three laws have been passed everyone is extremely excited. This should be a daily routine affair of passing legislation and making reforms. We should be having hundreds of these a year.
India in September allowed foreign investors into the supermarket sector, increased overseas investment limits in airlines and raised diesel prices in a big bang push designed to perk up subdued business sentiment.
But executives said a long-delayed national taxation regime, a government body to fast-track infrastructure developments and a credible initiative to tackle widespread corruption would provide a far greater boost to the sluggish economy.
India's GDP growth in the current fiscal year that ends in March 2013 is expected to be the worst for a decade, with many corporates blaming a lack of action from a government hamstrung by graft allegations and a lack of political clout.
Hundreds of big ticket infrastructure projects have been hit by delays, hurting investor sentiment. The government has pledged to roll out a National Investment Board (NIB) to speed up implementation, but the initiative has hit opposition.
The air in Delhi is thick with not just the smog but with the expectation that these things will be translated into action, Rajiv Lall, managing director of IDFC Ltd, said at the event in Gurgaon, a business hub next to New Delhi that was shrouded in thick, polluted fog.
NO PERFECT SOLUTIONS
In the absence of the prime minister or finance minister, both of whom had attended the forum in previous years, and with many attendees remarking on a lack of big-name policymakers, the subdued event sprang into life with a spat between a government minister and one of India's most outspoken corporate figures.
Rahul Bajaj, chairman of the Bajaj Group and a former lawmaker, told the law minister that his companies' success had come in spite of the government, not