Ardeshir Darabshaw Shroff was one of those rare gifted individuals who leave an indelible mark on their environment and an impress on the hearts and minds of those who come across them. When the history of India’s industrial development, particularly industrial finance, is written, his name will figure prominently. But that was not the only area wherein he excelled. His contribution to economic thinking and public education in economic affairs was equally significant.
Shroff was a champion of free enterprise and a great leader of business and industry and an economist whose predictions have proved right over the years. Despite Shroff’s open opposition to the Congress’s economic policy, he was appointed by the Congress President Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose as a Member of the National Planning Committee set up in 1938, under the Chairmanship of Pandit Nehru.
After graduating from the University of Bombay and the London School of Economics, Shroff started as an apprentice at the Chase Bank, London. On return to India he joined the firm of stock brokers in Bombay, Batliwalla & Karani. As a partner of this firm, he gained increasing recognition in corporate circles and came in close contact with several Tata Directors, particularly the Chairman, Sir Nowroji Saklatwala. This eventually led to his being invited to join the House of Tatas. In1940 he joined the Board of Tatas and became their Financial Advisor.
In 1944 Shroff, along with seven leading industrialists like J.R.D. Tata, G.D. Birla, Kasturbhai Lalbhai and Krishnaraj Thackersey authored what has come to be known as the ‘Bombay Plan’, setting out the fifteen year perspective plan, and with “the greatest possible role for the private enterprise and reducing controls to the very minimum so that private enterprise may operate under conditions of market economy.”
Shroff was one of the two non-official delegates to the Bretton Woods Conference in 1944, which led to the formation of the World Bank and IMF. He ardently put forth the case for the status of India’s sterling balances. Lord Keynes, a leading protagonist of the Conference, who initially described Shroff as a “highly articulate maverick – a snake in the grass trying to catch us (Britain) out and filled with suppressed malice”, later on expressed appreciation of his moderate, friendly and realistic statement of India’s problem.
Shroff was Chairman and Director of numerous companies. He was Chairman of Bank of India and of the New India Assurance Company for several years. He was greatly exercised by the growing socialist ideology of the Indian Government in the early 1950s culminating in the nationalization of Imperial Bank of India, Airlines and Life Insurance. In order to educate public opinion of the serious implications of these measures, and to project the great contribution private enterprise could make to speedy development of the economy, he founded the Forum of Free Enterprise in 1956. Having been connected with national planning earlier, he believed in planning but not to the extent that it stifled individual initiative and enterprise. He was against Soviet style comprehensive centralized planning as adopted in India which encompassed all aspects of life. Events proved Shroff right. The Liberalization of the economy in 1991 was a vindication of Shroff’s vision and economic philosophy.
While Shroff propagated the message of the role of free enterprise in the development of India with fervour, he constantly urged the business community to exercise great discipline and circumspection in their conduct. He helped to evolve a Code of Conduct for businessmen in 1956. While evolving this Code of Conduct he said:
“It is absolutely imperative that thinking people in the private sector should make an organized endeavour to establish amongst all sections the highest standards of integrity and efficiency. However, much as we may disagree with government in the policies and action everybody engaged in the private sector must recognize it as their elementary duty to respect the laws of the country and to pay their dues promptly without any attempt to avoid their obligations.”
Shroff headed a number of important government committees. One which is particularly noteworthy was the Committee of Finance for the Private Sector appointed by the RBI in 1953. The far reaching recommendations of the Committee led to the formation of ICICI Ltd and a number of State Developmental, Financial and Industrial Corporations. His contribution was recognized by George Woods, Past President of the World Bank. In 1960 Woods invited Shroff to tour the USA. He observed:
“It was my great pleasure and privilege to be able to act as his host in a tour which took him the length and breadth of the United States. Everywhere he went he spoke of India with the love and understanding of a great patriot, and everywhere he went he left behind him new friends of India and a better understanding of her problems.” In a rare tribute Woods added: “Shroff’s prodigious command on facts and figures would have made him a leader among bankers and businessmen in any society.”
During Shroff’s birth centenary in 1999 the Government of India released a commemorative stamp in his honour. The biography of Shroff entitled “A.D. Shroff – Titan of Finance and Free Enterprise” by Sucheta Dalal was also published.
Murarji J. Vaidya (1908-1968)
Born on 2nd October 1908, Murarji J. Vaidya was a devoted admirer and disciple of Sir M. Visvesvaraiya, father of planned economy in India. Vaidya worked throughout his life with zeal and devotion for the cause of industrialization and expansion of trade and commerce. As a prominent industrialist and fearless champion of free enterprise, Vaidya founded industrial and commercial associations, where he worked for the cause of the country. Way back in 1941, he also played an important role in assisting Sir M. Visvesvaraiya in setting up the All-India Manufacturers’ Organization. He was on the board of directors of many companies and was a pioneer in introducing silk weaving in India.
His was the life dedicated to the cause of Indian industry, trade and commerce. He worked ceaselessly till the end for this cause and for the ideals of free enterprise, which he cherished the most. By virtue of his admirable qualities of high integrity, he commanded reverence and respect amongst all those with whom he came in contact. He was always looked upon with almost paternal feelings of regard by those who worked under him including the workers in his mills and factories.
Vaidya towered above many whose claims to greatness measured in terms of obvious success in trade and industry were more readily understood. His greatness lay in the fact that his guidance was sought by many businessmen and industrialists and he gave the best advice consistent with standards of conduct and behavior which he had learned to respect and practice at the behest of Sir M. Visvesvaraiya whose spotless record of public life he emulated with remarkable success.
It was a mission that Vaidya undertook in 1956, when he joined A.D. Shroff in founding the Forum of Free Enterprise to propagate the philosophy of market economy, and to save democracy in India from the onslaught of state capitalism and creeping totalitarianism. From the day the Forum was founded on 18th July 1956, Vaidya was a trusted, close associate of A.D. Shroff and threw himself heart and soul into a veritable battle of propagating the Forum’s philosophy. He addressed innumerable meetings, authored booklets and was always available for the Forum’s work. As Vice-President of the Forum, he visited many colleges and institutions in Mumbai and undertook strenuous tours to small and big cities.
After A.D. Shroff passed away on 27th October 1965, Vaidya was unanimously elected President of the Forum.
He was invariably up-to-date in his understanding of economic development and was a fluent speaker in English, Gujarati, Marathi and Hindi. Besides, he also knew Sanskrit and French. His sense of humour, knack of presenting any issue in clear, simple language, helped him to establish rapport with his audience. What really won him many admirers was his deep sense of humility and ability to present a case in a persuasive way. He used commonsense arguments with great felicity.
Murarji Vaidya passed away on 4th November 1968.
Nani Ardeshir Palkhivala (1920-2002)
In 1972-73 the full Bench of thirteen judges of the Supreme Court of India heard with rapt attention a handsome lawyer argue for five months before them that the Constitution of India, which guaranteed fundamental freedoms to the people, was supreme, and Parliament had no power to abridge those rights. The Judges peppered him with questions. A jam-packed Court, corridors overflowing with members of the Bar and people who had come from far away places just to hear the lawyer argue, were thrilled to hear him quote in reply, chapter and verse from the U.S., Irish, Canadian, Australian and other democratic constitutions of the world.
Finally came the judgment in April 1973 in Kesavananda Bharati vs State of Kerala, popularly known as the Fundamental Rights case. The historic pronouncement was that though Parliament could amend the Constitution, it had no right to alter the basic structure of it.
The doyen of Indian journalists, Durga Das, congratulated the lawyer: “You have salvaged something precious from the wreck of the constitutional structure which politicians have razed to the ground.”
In 1975 the Government of India sought to get the judgement reversed. Once again, this lawyer came to the defence of the citizen. His six page propositions before the Supreme Court and arguments extending over two days were so convincing, that the Bench was dissolved and the Court dropped the matter altogether. Commented a Judge:
“Never before in the history of the Court dropped the matter altogether. Commented a Judge: “Never before in the history of the Court has there been a performance like that. With his passionate plea for human freedoms and irrefutable logic, he convinced the Court that the earlier Kesavananda Bharati case judgement should not be reversed.”
The man who saved the Indian Constitution for generations unborn, was Nani Ardeshir Palkhivala. Rajaji described him as, “God’s gift to India”.
Nani Palkhivala was Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of India; Professor of Law at the Government Law College, Mumbai; Tagore Professor of Law at the Calcutta University; and a Member of the First and Second Law Commissions. He was elected in 1975 an Honorary Member of the Academy of Political Science, New York, in recognition of his “outstanding public service and distinguished contribution to the advancement of political science.”
Nani Palkhivala argued a number of historical cases in the Courts of India and abroad, including the cases between India and Pakistan before the U.N. Special Tribunal in Geneva and the International Court of Justice at the Hague.
He authored a number of books including The Law and Practice of Income-Tax, a monumental work, which is the definitive treatise on the subject. Other books include Taxation in India, published by the Harvard University in the World Tax Series; The Highest Taxed Nation in the World; Our Constitution Defaced and Defiled; India’s Priceless Heritage; We, the People and We, the Nation.
Nani Palkhivala was India’s Ambassador to the U.S.A. from 1977 to 1979. He was in constant demand during this period and delivered more than 170 speeches indifferent cities, which included speeches in more than 50 Universities, on subjects as varied as Gandhi, the nuclear issue, human rights, India’s foreign policy, democracy, political developments in India, the role of an ambassador, the importance of international studies and international understanding, civil liberties in India, Indo-U.S. relations, Indian agriculture, apartheid and the Third World.
Two American Universities – Lawrence University, Wisconsin and Princeton University, New Jersey - bestowed honorary doctorates on him. Princeton was the first to do so on 6th June 1978. The Citation reads:
“Defender of constitutional liberties, champion of human rights, he has courageously advanced his conviction that expediency in the name of progress, when at the cost of freedom, is no progress at all, bur retrogression. Lawyer, teacher, author and economic developer, he brings to us as Ambassador of India intelligent good humor, experience, and vision for international understanding. As we see the bonds of trust and respect grow between our two countries, Princeton takes pride in now having one of its own both in New Delhi and in Washington.”
Lawrence University honoured him with a doctorate of Laws on 28th March 1979. The citation said:
“What is human dignity? What rights are fundamental to an open society? What are the limits to political power? Ambassador Palkhivala, you, more than most, have pondered these great questions, and through your achievements have answered them.
As India’s leading author, scholar, teacher and practitioner of constitutional law, you have defended the individual, be he prince or pauper, against the state; you have championed free speech and an unfettered press; you have protected the autonomy of the religious and educational institutions of the minorities; you have fought for the preservation of independent social organizations and multiple centres of civic power.
As past president of the Forum of Free Enterprise and as an industrialist, you have battled stifling economic controls and bureaucratic red tape. You have always believed that even in a poor and developing country, the need for bread is fully compatible with the existence of liberty…
You are also an enlightened patriot and nationalist. You have successfully defended your country’s cause in international disputes before the special tribunal of the United Nations and the World Court at the Hague.
Never more did you live your principles than during the recent 19 month ordeal which India went through in what was called ‘The Emergency’. When those who had eaten of the insane root, swollen with the pride of absolute political power, threw down the gauntlet, you did not bow or flinch. Under the shadow of near tyranny, at great risk and some cost, you raised the torch of freedom…”
His annual talks on the Union Budget in Mumbai, New Delhi, Calcutta and other places were immensely popular and attracted attendance in excess of 100,000. He eloquently espoused the cause for a more rational and equitable tax regime. He was conferred the Dadabhai Naoroji Memorial Award in 1997 and in 1998 he was awarded the Padma Vibhushan.
Nani Palkhivala was associated with the Tata group for about four decades. He was Chairman of Tata Consultancy Services, Tata International Ltd., Tata Infotech Ltd., the ACC Ltd., and Director of Tata Sons Ltd., and several other companies. He was President of Forum of Free Enterprise (1968 – 2000) and Chairman of The A.D. Shroff Memorial Trust (1966 – 2002).
Nani Palkhivala passed away on 11th December 2002.
M.R. Pai (1931-2003)
Mangalore Ranga Pai, well-known champion of public causes and consumer activist long before the Consumer Protection Act was envisaged, was born in 1931 and educated at Presidency College, Chennai. He obtained his Master’s Degree in Political Science from Madras University in 1951 securing the First Rank, thereby winning the Candeth Gold Medal. Mr. Pai went on to do a Master’s Degree in Journalism from the University of California at Los Angeles, USA, where again he stood first. He also edited a newspaper at Carlsburg, California, during his stay in the USA.
Before proceeding to the USA, Mr. Pai worked for a short while for The Times of India as an Assistant Editor. On his return to India he joined New India Assurance Co. Ltd., as its first Publicity Officer. In 1956, when the late A.D. Shroff founded the Forum of Free Enterprise, Mr. Pai joined the organization even before it was formally launched on 18th July 1956. He was Forum’s Secretary till 1976, when he resigned and became its Hon. Vice-President in which position he continued till his death. Along with the late Nani Palkhivala, whom he “discovered” in 1957, Mr. Pai was instrumental in making the Forum a highly reputed national organization.
Mr. Pai was a rare individual - never political, he was always meticulously correct in his private and public dealings, most unassuming, extremely soft-spoken and gentle. He was never personal in his comments, even when the numerous battles he fought for the rights of consumers were at their most intense. He was, as the Afternoon Despatch & Courier put it, “Everybody’s friend, nobody’s enemy” (July 4, 2003).
Fame had no impact on him. He was sought after for his wise counsel by those well placed in life, but he never lost the common touch. His office at the Forum of Free Enterprise was ‘Open House’ for anyone with a problem and he was at his gentlest with the lowliest. He saw himself as merely doing his duty, guiding and encouraging citizens to assert their rights and demand their due against soulless bureaucracies in government departments and corporations, banks, airlines – anyone claiming to offer a service in the days of monopoly products and services. He had a knack for studying the rules and archaic laws in existence, and applying them with devastating effect to get the desired result almost immediately.
In the process, he became India’s home-grown Ralph Nader and a source of solace to many. There were many who sought him out, not just from Mumbai, but from across India. They wrote or came in person, seeking justice, looking for a ray of hope, often in desperation and as a last resort. Some had found their savings stolen from bank accounts, others personal effects missing from bank lockers, still others unable to collect their provident fund dues for which they had toiled a lifetime, or shell-shocked by huge telephone bills for calls they had never made.
His solutions were always law-abiding and democratic. He insisted on that. He would never countenance any infringement of the law, in word or deed. His indomitable and rare dedication to public causes was often at great personal cost to himself and his family. Till 1981, he did not have a telephone at his residence. He refused to accept an out-of-turn telephone connection when the waiting period for a phone was ten years and more, even though he could have got one because of his involvement in public causes. Nor did he accept nomination to committees where his presence could have compromised his commitment to consumer rights. These unique qualities endeared him, not only to those who came in close contact with him, but to many members of the public whom he had never met. When an appeal for a rare blood group to which he belonged was made shortly before his death, there was a flood of donors on two consecutive days. Among them was a marketing executive in a leading pharmaceutical company, the first to arrive at the hospital to donate blood. When asked about how long he had known Mr. Pai, his answer was typical: “I have never met him, but I am aware of the good deeds Mr. Pai has done for his fellow-citizens.”
He successfully fought innumerable battles for the consumer with the telephone department, banks, Indian Airlines and several institutions - long before consumer courts were set up under the Consumer Protection Act of 1986. But when the battle was won there was never a word of recrimination or bitterness. Thanks to him thousands of telephone subscribers, bank depositors and consumers all over the country have benefited. Some of the cases he took up were converted into writ petitions by the Bombay High Court suo moto and relief granted.
Such was his stature that the “Reader’s Digest” featured Mr. Pai on the cover of its October 1995 issue under the title “M.R. Pai, Champion of the Consumer” and paid glowing tributes to his work.
From “Reader’s Digest” (October 1995):–
“Mangalore Ranga Pai, in many ways, is a most unusual activist. Cool-headed and with a sharp sense of humour, this soft-spoken, cherubic 64 year old is a staunch supporter of free enterprise. Unlike most activists, he’s vehemently against strikes and demonstrations, which he describes as ‘extra-constitutional methods that have set the nation back’. His favourite weapon is a calm approach and an eloquent letter.”
“Pai struck one of his first blows for consumer rights in 1956, after a letter he’d sent to Germany came back because somebody had removed the stamps. Pai learnt from the post office that, to avoid stamps being stolen, you can have them cancelled in your presence. Pai wrote this in a letter which The Times published. The letter sparked a postal department enquiry into the stolen stamps.”
“What keeps Pai going? ‘Most Indians are ignorant of their rights and are therefore taken for a ride,’ he says. ‘All I’m trying to do is make our democracy a little more meaningful. Unless citizens actively participate in public affairs, democracies can’t work.”
“That’s why Citizen Pai himself is dearly loved”, says Nani Palkhivala, eminent jurist and former Ambassador to the United States, “Bombay is proud to have him.”
Mr. Pai was instrumental in “discovering” the late Nani Palkhivala in 1957 when he invited him to address his first ever public meeting. He also arranged Mr. Palkhivala’s first analysis of the Union Budget in 1958. These became an annual event till 1994 - and not just in Mumbai!
Mr. Pai was associated with the All-India Bank Depositors’ Association, Mumbai, since its inception in 1968. He was its Convenor, Hon. Secretary and President at one time or the other. He was also Honorary Vice-President of Mumbai Grahak Panchayat, a premier consumer organization, for some years. He was a member of the Government of India High-Level Committee on Reorganization of Telecommunications (also known as Dr. Athreya Committee) in 1990-91 and a member of the Reserve Bank of India Committee on Customer Service in Banks (also known as M.N. Goiporia Committee) in 1991 representing consumer interests in both the Committees. He was also a member of the U.T.I. Social Audit Committee in 1994.
Mr. Pai authored a number of booklets and publications including “What is Wrong with Telephones?”, “Telephone Excess Billing – Causes and Cure”, “Rights and Responsibilities of Consumers”, “Effective Consumer Action”, “Consumer Activism in India”, “Depositor Rights and Customer Service in Banks”, “Time and Stress Management”, “Career Opportunities in the 21st Century” and “How to Arrange Programmes and Meetings”. Besides these, he authored innumerable articles in various publications.
However, his most popular book was “The Legend of Nani Palkhivala” which he wrote and published on 16th January 2002 to coincide with the 82nd birthday of the legal luminary (who died on 11th December 2002). The first print order was sold out in a couple of weeks and a second print order was issued. Mr. Pai did not accept royalty for this book, but requested the publishers to send contributions to various organizations with which the late Nani Palkhivala was associated. An amount of Rupees Six Lakhs was thus distributed.
In the death of Mr. M.R. Pai on 3rd July 2003, the country lost an outstanding citizen, a great consumer activist and above all, a rare human being.
Minoo R. Shroff
Mr. Minoo R. Shroff, President of Forum from February 2000 till February 2017, has the unique experience of being present when Forum was formally launched on 18th July 1956 as a member of the public. He was present at Forum’s Silver Jubilee function as a member of its Council of Management. He presided over the Forum’s Golden Jubilee and Diamond Jubilee in 2006 and 2016 respectively. Truly a unique and enviable experience of being a witness to Forum’s growth as a national institution of repute.
Born on 29th January 1929, Mr. Shroff is a Management Accountant and Business Economist. He is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants, London; Institute of Cost Accountants, India; and the Institute of Directors, London. He is on Board of a few companies and a Past President, Bombay Management Association; All-India Manufacturers’ Organization; Indo-Japanese Association; and Past Chairman of Bombay Parsi Punchayet. He is Chairman, Leslie Sawhney Program of Training for Democracy; President, Indo-Iranian Friendship Society; and Immediate Past President, World Zarathushti Chamber of Commerce.
He was invited by US AID in 1963 to visit USA as a Multiplier from India and to participate in a Special Advanced Program for Foreign Executives at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. The Government of Japan invited him as a Business Leader in 1980. In recognition of the important role played by him in Indo-Japanese Trade relations the Emperor of Japan, in 2000, conferred upon him the distinguished award, “The Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon’’.
Widely travelled, Mr. Shroff has participated and presented papers at international conferences organized by Harvard Business School, Boston; I.L.O., Geneva; Financial Times, London; Business Council, Tokyo/Yokohama; et al. He was also invited to the China Summit in 1996.
Even before Mr. Shroff joined the Council he was actively involved in its activities. He attended its public meetings regularly and also addressed some of them on important economic issues. Besides, he has authored a few Forum booklets. As President he has written Introductions to several booklets and presided over public meetings and memorial lectures. He has travelled across the world extensively and his analysis of any economic issue is always looked forward to. Ever since he took over as President his involvement in its activities in Mumbai and other places is total, even belying his age. He has recently released a book, ‘Not a Dull Moment’, about reminiscences of meetings with notables in India and abroad, which has been well received.
A characteristic of Mr. Shroff’s role in public life is his consistent moral and financial support to good causes in a generous manner. Forum and The A.D. Shroff Memorial Trust have been very fortunate to have him as their President and Chairman respectively.
H.P. Ranina(President of Forum: Since February 2017
Mr. H.P. Ranina, a practicing Lawyer, is also a qualified Chartered Accountant. His expertise on Direct Tax Laws and Exchange Control Laws of India is recognized widely. He was Director on the Central Board of Reserve Bank of India (RBI) for eleven years, and also Chairman of Inspection and Audit Committee of RBI. The Government had also appointed him as a Member of the Board for Regulation and Supervision of Payment and Settlement Systems
Mr. Ranina is the author of “Corporate Taxation – A Handboook”, and “Taxation of Non-Resident Indians” which was the official publication of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India. He has addressed over 500 professional seminars in India and abroad on Taxation, Foreign Exchange Laws, Foreign Collaborations and Joint Ventures. He is a much sought after speaker on the Union Budget in India and abroad. He regularly appears on business television channels.
Mr. Ranina is a visiting faculty member at the Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management Studies and Sydenham Institute of Management Studies & Research, both in Mumbai. He has been associated with Forum for over 40 years and is also a Trustee of Nani A. Palkhivala Memorial Trust.