Ms. Nirmala Sitharaman, Union Finance Minister, said the Government is moving towards a direction where the law does not look at business enterprises with suspicion. She also said the industry and Government should jointly work together to take the country’s economy to $5 Trillion.

Delivering the Nani Palkhivala Centenary Celebrations Lecture organised by the Palkhivala Foundation on “Road Map to $5 Trillion Economy” in Chennai, the Finance Minister said her earnest attempt is to decriminalise matters concerning the Companies Act or other related laws, and also cited Tata Group Head N. Chandrasekharan’s speech in Mumbai where he had said Government should trust its own citizens.

Stressing further on the trust factor, Ms. Sitharaman said the Government’s intention is not to distrust business houses and the road to $5 Trillion Economy will be much easier with mutual trust. She also said that a suggestion has been made in the last GST Council meeting to revise the tax rates once a year after due consideration.

Queried on the credibility of public data, she said changing the base year for calculation has been done by Governments earlier too and blaming Prime Minister Narendra Modi for this is not acceptable.

According to her, the banks have been asked to reduce their non-performing assets (NPA) on regional levels and targets have been given for tax collections so that there is no slack in revenue collections.

Earlier, Mr. R. Anand, Trustee, Palkhivala Foundation, in his welcome address, outlined the Palkhivala Foundation’s activities.

Nani Phalkhivala was an Individual par excellence and aptly referred to as “God’s Gift to India”. For him the country and the issues facing the country were more important than Individuals. Most of the Chartered Accountants and Lawyers in their formative years in 1970s and 1980s benefitted immensely from his post Budget Analysis delivered without a slip of paper in his hand. Had he been alive, he would have been 100 years and 3 days old. Palkhivala Foundation is 17 years and 12 days old. When we started the Foundation back on 2003, it was our desire to perpetuate the memory of the legendary Lawyer and also educate the citizens of Chennai about the views and ideals of Late Shri Nani Palkhivala. We accomplished this by conducting a series of public lectures covering various subjects.”

About eight months back, the Trustees in a meeting decided that we need to have a proper Centenary Celebration event to mark the milestone and to remember one of the most noble souls in this country on his 100th Birthday. We decided on two distinct approaches. First and foremost, it was felt proper to bring out a book containing most of the Palkhivala memorial speeches conducted by the Foundation between 2003 and 2019. The publication is now complete and will be released today by the Honourable Minister. It was a herculean task undertaken by the supervisory efforts of Mr. K. Balaji, Trustee, who executed this vital mission well within the due date. The second decision we took was to set out a theme for the next couple of years. After some discussions, it was unanimously decided that the theme would be to improve the climate and spirit of Corporate Governance in this country.

You will all agree that if we need to attain the targeted goal of 5 Trillion Dollar Economy, Corporate India and the business community as a whole should come together to improve the overall quality and content of governance. It is quite disconcerting that the past few months have thrown up several skeletons and corporate lapses which have left the Regulators and the public at large in a state of discomfort. While there is a feeling that Regulators have to up the ante in ensuring that lapses are contained, there is a view point that excessive regulations stifles growth and innovation. The answer lies in striking the right balance between over regulation and under regulation. Having said that, it is up to us collectively, namely, owners, directors, auditors and other stake holders to ensure that governance standards stand the test of both letter of the law and spirit of the law. The best that we can leave behind for the next generation is to hand over a platform of good ethical practices and governance. Some may remark that these lapses may at best be called “aberrations”. But then, we find too many of these aberrations unfolding on a regular basis. It is now turning out that “aberrations” are slowly becoming a “Norm” rather than “Exception”. It is therefore our desire to focus on educating various stake holders about good practices and good governance. We sincerely feel that if all of us work together to arrest what I may call “Integrity Deficit”, “Fiscal Deficit” will automatically be controlled. Our Prime Minster summed this up recently by stating that “Our approach is to Reform with Intent, Perform with Integrity and Transform with Intensity.”

In deciding the Chief Guest for today, there was no discussion at all. We were clear that it has to be only the Finance Minister to be present and release the publication and deliver a lecture on the most important subject “Road Map to 5 Trillion Dollar Economy”. When I spoke to the Honourable Minister a few months back about this programme, she not only readily agreed but also allowed us to publish her speech which she had delivered in September 2011 on the subject “Revisiting Centre-State Relations”. This speech very much forms a part of the publication and some of the observations which she made in 2011 are valid even today.

You will agree that at such a critical juncture of the year with the Budget round the corner – if the Finance Minister has chosen to take time out of headquarters and be part of this celebrations in Chennai, it only demonstrates her Respect, Regard and Admiration for one individual – His name is Nani Palkhivala. A word about our Chief Guest. I do not want to fall into the “Clichéd trap” by stating that she needs no introduction. She does not. But for the sake of good order, it is appropriate to spell out her background and achievements. Born and brought up in Tamil Nadu, she obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics from Seethalakshmi Ramaswamy College, Trichy. Thereafter she did her Masters in Economics and M. Phil from JNU, Delhi. She also enrolled for her PhD in Economics with a focus on Indo European Trade.

She joined the BJP in 2006 and was the party spokesperson between 2010 and 2014. In Modi 1.0 in 2014 she became the Minister of State – Commerce with Independent charge and Minister of State – Finance under Shri Arun Jaitley. In 2017, she was appointed Minister of Defence becoming only the second women after Late Smt. Indira Gandhi to hold the post. In Modi 2.0 in 2019, she was appointed Finance and Corporate Affairs Minister. She presented her maiden Budget on 5th July 2019 and will be presenting her second Budget on 1st February 2020.

It is appropriate to conclude with the famous quotation for Late Shri. Nani Palkhivala which is almost three decades old. He mentioned at the time “the most persistent tendency in India has been to have too much Government and too little administration; too many laws and too little justice; too many public servants and too little public service; too many controls and too little welfare.” We must admit with a fair degree of conviction that in the last 5 to 6 years that there has been a clear reversal of the phenomena mentioned above. If all of us work together and channelize all our energies in executing all ideas on the ground, the 5 Trillion Dollar number is imminently achievable, added Mr. Anand.

Mr. S. Mahalingam, Managing Trustee, elaborated on the various activities of the Foundation from 2003 to 2019. He also highlighted how the Arbitration Centre was set up by the Foundation to provide an alternate dispute resolution system to the courts. The Arbitration Centre is functioning in Chennai and New Delhi. Thereafter Mr. K. Balaji, Trustee, gave a glimpse of the Book that was released quoting from select speeches of Soli Sorabjee, Harish Salve, Narendra Modi and Indira Rajaraman.

Finally Mr. V. Ranganathan, Trustee, summed up the proceedings and gave the vote of thanks which was laced with wit and humour.