Jamshed J Irani, former managing director of Tata Steel, believes that professional educational institutions such as Indian Institute of Technologies and Indian Institute of Managements should be run by autonomous bodies and should see no political interference of any sort.
"If a vice-chancellor or dean of such an institution does something improper or indulges in corruption, punish him by all means, sack him, but otherwise keep out of the campus," he said.
Director of Tata Sons and an ex-student of St Francis de Sales School Nagpur, Irani is also associated with the premier management institution, XLRI at Jamshedpur and the Tatas-run Institute of Science and Technology at Bangalore.
In Nagpur to attend his school's reunion, Irani felt the entire controversy about political interference in the nation's best-run management and engineering institutions was "very unfortunate".
"There can never be a political solution for every sort of problem," he remarked in his now trademark direct manner. He was critical of politicians trying to meddle in everything and indulging in vote bank politics.
"Religious problems must be left to religious heads, economic problems to experts on the economy. Political solutions cannot work all the time," he said.
Commenting on the buoyancy in the economy, Irani said he had not seen such a boom in the past 40 years.
"I have never seen it across-the-board and in all sectors. Automobiles, pharmaceuticals, information technology, cement, steel all seem to be registering a rise," he said.
Irani attributed the growth to "a good situation in the international market" rather than any drastic policy changes by the Union government.
Referring to the steel sector, he said the investments done in the past 10 years were now paying off.
Irani, who is also credited for the massive modernisation effort at Tata Steel after he took over as managing director in 1992, said the sector saw investment coming in during the lean period with the kick-off of the liberalisation process.
"Tata Steel had old technology and an ageing plant. We changed all that without any capacity addition. Our advantage was that we got machinery at rock bottom prices as suppliers during a lean phase had no orders, no other buyers for the machines," he reminisced giving a peep into the vision that saw Tata Steel soon getting award after award despite it being one of the oldest private sector establishment in the industry.
Irani had praise for former finance ministers Manmohan Singh, P Chidambaram, Yashwant Sinha and also Jaswant Singh.
"We have had a series of good finance ministers who gave sensible policies," he said.
He agreed with Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's target of an eight per cent growth in the economy by 2007 and questioned the reasons for India not being able to achieve it much sooner.
"China is growing at 10 per cent. We cannot be China where obedience is demanded without dissent, but can surely grow at a much faster pace," Irani said.
He condemned corruption which was "now being seen everywhere" and opined that the guilty should not be allowed to go unpunished.
"I am not saying we should have severe punishment like chopping off the hands of a bag lifter, but there should be some punishment like in Singapore or Malaysia where there is no getting away from the law," he said adding that there should be "fair administration of justice and the process should not be influenced by political or other pressures."
Indiscriminate staff firing flayed
Irani warned against India trying to ape the labour policies of any other country.
"We do not have a safety net like the US and the UK and unless we can offer dole, we have no business firing people from jobs indiscriminately," said the man who introduced a novel voluntary retirement scheme at Tata Steel which enabled the company to reduce the workforce from 78,000 to 42,000 over 10 years as it transformed from a flabby old organisation to a lean and mean new generation machine.
"One day our government will provide a good safety net, but till then a hire and fire policy cannot work here," he said.
Irani was, however, also not in favour of granting complete protection in employment. "I advocate a blend between the two. Hundred per cent job security and efficiency do not go hand in hand. Some authority should also be there in the hands of the management," he said.
Agreeing that change in any form would face some amount of resistance, Irani said 90 per cent people were generally amenable to what the management desired and were of a good mind, nine per cent could be convinced and would maybe, grudgingly follow, but one per cent would not budge.
"These have to be isolated and fired," he said adding that Tata Steel too had its share of the one per cent who wouldn't listen. "Nobody objected to their being removed," he recalled.
Irani said he favoured good relations with the workmen and even promoted the concept of having a good and responsible trade union.
"You see we cannot now have a situation where the management wins and the labour loses, either both win or both lose," he remarked.He said wages could be partially linked to productivity, but only as a motivational factor. "We moved away from giving a production-linked bonus at Tata Steel to giving a productivity-linked one," he said.