Dehradun, Nov 15 (Calcutta Tube) The Tata Group, which had originally set up Air India before it was nationalised, was asked for a Rs.15-crore bribe by a minister to allow it entry into the aviation industry in the 1990s, chairman Ratan Tata said Monday in a startling revelation.
‘We approached three prime ministers. But an individual thwarted our efforts,’ Tata, who is known generally to observe restraint on controversial matters, but also speaks his mind freely when he thinks fit, said at a lecture here.
‘I happened to be on a flight once and another industrialist who was sitting next to me said: ‘I don’t understand. You people are stupid. You know the minister wants Rs.15 crore. So why don’t you pay it?’,’ Tata said, about the conversation.
‘I just said: ‘You can’t understand it. I just want to go to bed at night, knowing that I haven’t got the airline by paying for it’,’ he said at the lecture organised by the Uttarakhand Foundation on ‘India in the 21st century: Opportunities and Challenges’.
The soft-spoken, highly-respected industrialist who oversees the $72 billion diversified group added that the matter pertained to some ’10-12 years’ ago, but requested no probe into the matter, as a ‘wrong person’ may come under the shadow.
He was referring to the 1990s when the Tatas wanted to set up an aviation company here with Singapore Airlines. ‘Even though we pioneered the airline industry here, we had enormous problems, if you remember through the reports in the media.’
Tata said there was no plan to change his mind to retire by end-2012 when he turns 75.
‘I don’t want to change the deadline I set for my retirement,’ he said, responding to a question. ‘There are lots of sacrifices, one has to make in terms of personal life. I wanted my life back. I want to enjoy the things that I wanted to do.’
The holding company of the group has already formed a five-member selection committee to find an individual who can step into his shoes and Tata said: ‘I ferociously want to ensure that my successor has total commitment for ethics and values.’
He said there was no such thing as an indispensable individual and added that the day he succeeded legendary J.R.D. Tata, he had very large shoes to fill, knowing very well that there cannot be another ‘JRD’ and he had to come into his own.
‘I believe my successor will also be his own person. Hopefully he will do things for the country and the group the way we have been doing till now or much better.’