The non-executive directors of Amri and members of the Emami-Shrachi clan, plagued by a fire which caused 90 deaths, and subsequent imprisonment, have found support from different quarters.
A delegation from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), met M K Narayanan, Governor, West Bengal, against the treatment being meted out to the directors on grounds of the fact that they are non-executive directors and are therefore not criminally liable for any accident.
“We met the Governor, because we do not think the owners are guilty in case of a tragedy like a fire. The responsibility lies with the executive directors, who in this case, were government nominees and are still free,” said Rahul Sinha, president of the BJP state unit.
This, incidentally, is the first demonstration of support that the beleaguered Amri clan has received from a political brass, which, barring Mamata Banerjee has so far been silent on their culpability.
Banerjee, for her part, has maintained that they are guilty and law will take its course. “I do not want industry that kills,” she has said on more than one occasion. The Left has maintained a vague position, in the wake of public sentiment, saying that law should take its course.
After the Amri fire broke out on December 9, founders R S Goenka, Manish Goenka and Prashant Goenka of the Emami Group, S K Todi and Ravi Todi of the Shrachi Group, and executive director D N Agarwal were arrested.
Co-founder R S Agarwal was held at a nursing home. Aditya Agarwal, Priti Sureka and Rahul were listed as proclaimed offenders, which has been stayed by the court yesterday. All are Marwaris. Interestingly, four directors (including the managing director and chairman) have not yet even been interrogated by the police.
Sinha further said that interestingly enough, in case of a rail accident, when the liability falls with a minister, no arrests have ever been made despite most accidents being caused by acts of negligence.
The support that has so far been forthcoming has been from industry bodies including the Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), which released a statement questioning the culpability of non-executive directors in case of an accident caused by acts of negligence.
The second instance of industry support has come from the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), where current president, B Muthuraman has written to past presidents seeking their views on the issue.
"The idea is that CII would like the West Bengal government to fall in line with the new Companies Bill which draws a distinction between non-executive directors, irrespective of whether they are promoter director or government nominees, and executive directors," a CII past president said.
However, from the feedback it emerged that majority believed that CII should take it up with the state government on a one-on-one basis.
"The state government's handling of the AMRI issue has had a huge negative impact on the investor community on an all-India basis," the past president said.
The issue, incidentally, had garnered fire on the back of allegations from the city’s dominantly Marwari business community that the steps of the government are discriminatory.