The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) strongly demanded the immediate release of seven directors of AMRI Hospital in Kolkata arrested after a devastating fire consumed 93 lives. While FICCI called the arrests ‘anti-industry’ and ‘non-discriminatory’, chief minister Mamata Banerjee hit back hard saying she did not want industry that kills people. Indian industry associations are lobbying outfits that rarely take a strong and specific stand on any issue. FICCI was probably emboldened because its former director general, Dr Amit Mitra is now West Bengal’s finance minister; no other association joined the plea. Now that FICCI has been slapped down, will these lobby groups go into a shell again?
Interestingly, in the many decades of their existence, industry groups have never pushed for clarity of rules and processes with the government. Heads of industry, who met the prime minister and finance minister recently, bleated about harassment by powerful investigation and enforcement agencies which are empowered to threaten and intimidate companies or drag them through financially debilitating litigation based on their own capricious interpretation of the rules or British-era regulations that were framed to keep Indians in check.
They also have no qualms about initiating vindictive action at the behest of politicians. Yet, neither the industry associations nor the dozen-odd industrialists in Parliament have ever made a serious demand for a drastic cut in red tape or clarity in framing of statutes, rules, circulars and notifications of government. Given this background, FICCI’s plea to the firebrand Mamata Banerjee is rather surprising. Worse, some homework would have shown that there is unlikely to be much sympathy from the courts. In the Uphaar Cinema fire tragedy several years ago, the Delhi High Court had lifted the corporate veil to accept the prosecution’s contention that the Ansals were, in fact, controlling and running the cinema house that was burnt down and could not be absolved of violation of rules and lack of maintenance which led to the fire that killed so many people.