Anand Sharma, Minister of Commerce & Industry, speaks to NDTV's Shweta Rajpal Kohli on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, about the reform process giving a positive signal to foreign investors. He also speaks about the Supreme Court's move to question government's FDI in multi-brand retail policy.
Here is the edited transcript of the interview:
NDTV: Commerce Minister Anand Sharma is here in Davos hard selling India's investment story. Mr Sharma, you are holding important bilateral meetings with top retail giants just after we have seen that very important FDI vote win. What's the response looking like?
ANAND SHARMA: Well, there is enthusiastic response, there is much interest, there is a clear message we have given that not only are we binding commitment to reforms, but have put in policies that will attract investments. Recent decisions have certainly sent a signal, which has resonated across the major capitals of the world and I could feel that here. Yesterday, over one dozen top CEOs of the world have met me, one on one, indicating clearly that they want to engage more with India, and there are some who want more clarity on our policy regime, particularly on our single brand and multi brand and which we were able to give. And I am sure that they feel convinced now that this is the right time to engage more. It's not only the single brand and multi brand but also in civil aviation, the Banking Amendment Bill as well as the Insurance Bill, which has been cleared by the Cabinet, and we hope that the same will be cleared by Parliament too.
NDTV: Mr Sharma, there has obviously some concerns. You are here in Davos to woo foreign investors. Back home India's apex court, the Supreme Court has questioned if the FDI in multi-brand retail policy was a mere political gimmick. How would you respond to that?
ANAND SHARMA: Well, I do not know in what context it was said. Executive policy decisions are serious decisions and the Constitutional demarcation is very clear - what executive domain is; what Legislature domain is and what domain the Judiciary is. It's important for all the three to respect that separation of power and not to transgress into the area which do not belong to them.
NDTV: Is this a classic case of where you feel the Judiciary is overstepping its boundary into the executive domain?
ANAND SHARMA: Conflict with the Judiciary, but it has to be borne in mind that it was an executive decision, which is very much within the ambit of an elected government, in our Parliament democracy. It went beyond that. It went to Parliamentary debate and vote, and in both the Houses of Parliament, the government's decision has been endorsed, be it Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha. What is left after that is how to implement.
NDTV: Are you surprised with the Supreme Court's reaction?
ANAND SHARMA: See, we shouldn't send messages which confuse or demoralize investors at a time when the Indian economy is going through a difficult phase and when such decisions are made. It was only in December that Parliament debated and voted. Now, you can't have investment decisions, which are serious business decisions; they are serious propositions to be made by investors, who will be coming with hundreds of millions and billions of dollars and pounds; these can't be taken in a jiffy, in a day or two. And we have to keep in mind that even for the IKEA, the single brand retailer, it has taken months and months and months and finally with absolute clarity, it has gone through. So, it doesn't happen in a week's time. For that matter, even in the Court's judgement it's not given instantly, they do take time.
NDTV: The other point that has been raised by the Supreme Court is that have you seen real investments coming in, and you are saying that it is going to take time?
ANAND SHARMA: Investments are coming in. I am not coming to a conflict with the Supreme Court. As I said, we do not know in what context the Supreme Court observation was made, but one thing that separation of power made by our Constitution must be respected. Legislature and Executive decisions, which are well within their domain, are to be respected. Elected governments are accountable. They are accountable to the Parliament. They are accountable to the people. The sovereignty of the people invested in the Legislature, that's what I know as a Minister. Whatever we do is to serve and uphold the supreme national interest, and once you are in democracy and you have to go back to your people, you take all factors in consideration, whether it's your job creation or whether it's your farmers or the small shopkeeper. It's the political leadership that is conscious and sensitive to these matters. If we are not sensitive to these issues, then the people will react and we don't want worst reaction from our people.
NDTV: Sure, the Supreme Court has once again raised an issue that has been at the heart of...
ANAND SHARMA: I don't think it is a policy issue, where Parliament has voted should be discussed or debated, we have to move on.
NDTV: Also talking about your meeting with the TESCO chief that has already happened. Walmart, you are hoping to happen today. Share with us the details of their plans and whether they are bullish on India?
ANAND SHARMA: Well yesterday the TESCO chief, the insurance chief, the BA system among others met me. And they are very serious about engaging more with India. So you have people in aviation, defence, multi-brand retail and today in the afternoon we had the roundtable with the global investors. I can say one thing that last year there were questions and government will take these decisions whether these policies will be put in place. Now since that has happened and also in the manufacturing side, we have approved 12 national investments in manufacturing zone, which are integrated self-governing industrial townships. The message has gone and I do hope that 2013 will be better than 2012, which has been a difficult year, whether it comes to economic growth or whether in terms of investments. I am optimistic about 2013.
NDTV: Do you see the perception of India changing? Do you think, given the spate of new initiatives, that the government has taken over the last few years, it was a real worry about India losing its sheen? The fact that India is no longer an attractive destination for foreign investors, is that perception changing?
ANAND SHARMA: Ironically, perception yes, but perception and reality are different. India has always remained an attractive destination for foreign investors but now even that perception would change. It's very clear that our global partners are seeing India as a country, which is well governed, has policy makers who are serious, who have conviction and who have the firmness to take decisions.
NDTV: Alright, here is hoping all the very best in convincing the investors about the India's story. Many, many thanks Minister Anand Sharma for talking to us.