Sharma was joined by captains of industry such as HDFC chief Deepak Parekh and Biocon head Kiran Mazumdar Shaw who sharply criticised the CBI move. Parekh said that straightforward people like Kumar Mangalam Birla were being harassed by the Indian prosecution system while major fraudsters were allowed to go scot-free.
The CBI Tuesday accused Aditya Birla group chief Kumar Mangalam Birla - the head of Indias third largest industrial group by turnover - and former coal secretary P C Parakh of criminal conspiracy in the allotment of two coal blocks in Orissa in 2005.
Top industry leaders have spoken to me today, protesting strongly. They have said it is impossible to operate in this sort of an environment, Sharma told The Indian Express, referring to the FIR against Kumar Mangalam Birla. I am duty bound to take cognisance of their concerns.
The commerce minister said such repeated accusations against government actions that began with the alleged 2G telecom scam, the iron ore export issue and now coal blocks allotment had created a sense of policy paralysis and hurt investor confidence.
While the minister said he would not like to go into the specifics of the present case, he said authorities including the CAG, the courts and other agencies should not play to the gallery and create an environment of sensation and shock. The minister said this could hold to ransom every government decision if there is an attitude that every signature is suspect.
He stressed that his comments did not amount to prejudging issues made out by the CBI.
My comments are not on any specific matter. But Ratan Tata, Mukesh Ambani, Anand Mahindra and Kumar Mangalam Birla are iconic figures of Indian industry who are respected across the globe. We acknowledge their contribution, he said.
Kumar Mangalam Birla, incidentally, is also a member of the Board of Trade, an advisory body of industrialists with the commerce ministry as well as a member of the Prime Ministers Council on Trade and Industry.
Sharma said it is strange that meetings between industry heads and ministers or officers are being questioned. We run an open system of governance. It is the right of each one of them to present their case before us but to infer from there that the decision is prejudiced is absolutely wrong, he said.
On Tuesday, a statement from Hindalco, the Aditya Birla group firm that had applied for the coal mines, had described the charges against Kumar Mangalam Birla as preposterous.
Hindalco also said in a statement to the Bombay Stock Exchange that it had followed every process required for allocation of coal completely, as stipulated by the government policy.