India to weather the global storm, regulators ''agile

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New Delhi, Oct 7: Finance Minister P Chidambaram has avowed that regulators and the government will remain ever ''vigilant and agile'' prepared to tackle any problems that may arise on the horizon.

In his address last night at the NDTV 'Business leader of the Year Awards', Mr Chidambaram exuded confidence that Indian industry will be able to weather the global financial storm which may affect the country only indirectly. In short, Indian industry has come of age.

Mr Chidambaram cited the instance of the swiftness with which the two regulators--SEBI and RBI--had acted to ease the liquidity crunch.

''There is a storm blowing across the world, India will be affected to some extent, although indirectly. But Indian business and industry have placed India in a situation where we can weather the storm. We will remain vigilant,'' Mr Chidambaram said.

The financial sector regulators moved in tandem yesterday to restore investor confidence in the Indian markets. RBI responded with a 50-basis points cut in the Cash Reserve Ratio to pump in an additional Rs 20,000 crore liquidity to banks, while Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) relaxed the curbs on Participatory Notes to make it easy for for Foreign Institutional Investors to take positions in the domestic equity markets.

Mr Chidambaram was hopeful that the economy would be able to clock a growth rate of eight per cent this year and in 2009-10, the growth rate will bounce back to nine per cent.

He said there were a number of "positive signals" to show that the Indian economy was on the fast track, like robust growth in taxes, sharp pickup in exports and impressive growth of certain key sectors.

Mr Chidambaram said Indian Inc had "nothing to fear but fear itself.'' The Finance Minister said the awards symbolised "ambition, aspirations and confidence" of the Indian Corporate Sector.

The Finance Minister with NDTV Chairman Prannoy Roy, chose to ask questions to some award winners. They yielded interesting answers.

An unusual award winner was Railway Minister Lalu Prasad, who got the honours for turning around the behemoth Indian Railways from a deficit to a surplus.

Mr Chidambaram asked Mr Prasad had he ever been a businessman, that he was able to turn around an enterprise as big and complex as the Railways.

Mr Prasad said he started life by selling milk.

Mr Chidambaram asked him as to what were his plans now as the Railway Minister.

In his characteristic rustic style, Mr Prasad said next on his agenda was to provide good quality food to the passengers and then turned the tables on Mr Chidambaram asking him to remove the surchcrage on food items so that he could do this job better.

The Finance Minister parried the question, saying it was an issue for year 2009 and beyond.

Mr Chidambaram asked the former Bihar Chief Minister whether he planned to take to teaching since so many management students from Harvard to IIMs were seeking his advice on how to turn around organisations.

Mr Prasad said a teacher is confined to an institution, his domain was teaching students all over the world.

The Finance Minister advised Mr Prasad to now effect cleanliness in the Railways as the toilets and surrounding areas left much to be desired.

Mr Prasad said he has set his eyes on this project itself and assured that within three years, the face of the largest Public Sector Undertaking would undergo a transformation. The project for proper disposal of human waste would be taken care off in just three years.

Mr Prasad was the first Minister to win the 'Inspirising leader of the year award.' Mr Chidambaram thanked the organisers for choosing Mr Prasad for the award, ''or else you would have had only those who are 'suited and booted' being given the awards.''

Mr Chidambaram asked Mr Mukesh Ambani, Chairman Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL), whether high oil prices or lower oil prices were in his interest. Mr Ambani replied "I am a strong believer that oil prices will come down," but suggested that India should continue to scale its efforts relating to offshore oil discovery process.

He said all oil reserves would be eliminated in the next 50 years and great opportunities were arising globally in alternative sources of energy.

He said his objective was to bring the Krishna-Godavari gas to 'aam admi" or the retail users. He said the Finance Ministry should push the concerned legislation to bring gas to all poor households and asked the Finance Minister to use good offices to do so.

Mr Ambani was given the 'Business leader of the year' award.

The 'Lifetime Achievement Award' went to Mr K V Kamath, CII President and CEO and MD ICICI Bank.

Mr Chidambaram before asking him a question remarked that in the afternoon he was in Delhi and had rushed to Mumbai to take advantage of the liquidity that has been pumped into the system.

Mr Chidmabaram spoke to him using the video conferencing facility.

Mr Kamath repeatedly said he had been humbled by the award and that it had come entirely unexpected.

He said it was the need to get money that had driven his Bank had to raise capital in America. This was a tough decision that his Bank taken in the 1990s.

ICICI Bank shares are listed in India on the Bombay Stock Exchange and the National Stock Exchange and American Depository Receipts are listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

Asked whether he regretted his decision to takeover a British Bank which had gone so cheap, Mr Kamath that let alone regret, he did not even want to remember whether the offer came the way of the Bank. He said while there were opportunities presenting themselves to takeover in the overseas market, he saw no necessity to look at those areas.

Mr Kamath said there were enough opportunities in India for a Bank like ICICI.

He said he believed that Indian economy was likely to double every six to seven years.

Mr Kamath said the current financial instability scenario should resolve in six months to a year and that Indian economy will be back on track for a ten per cent growth.

In his opening remarks, Mr Roy said, "Pessimists underestimate India. India moves when there is a crisis. It is a time for agility and we must note that booms are borne out of despair."

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