Despite forebodings of an early demise the Forum of Free Enterprise
(Forum) has come through an eventful odyssey of half a century not only
unscathed but revitalized to launch on a fresh journey of economic
education for better and more effective governance in all spheres of our
The genesis of the Forum goes back to the ominous clouds of socialism
which were gathering strength in the mid-1950s. The Government’s
decision to establish a socialist state based on the concept that the
state should assume increasing control and ownership of the means of
production and that the resources of available to the private sector
would be gradually directed to the public sector, caused great concern
in the business fraternity. The nationalization of coal mines, civil
aviation and life insurance in the early 1950s proved beyond doubt that
the Government was serious in its intent to execute this policy.
Signed articles published in leading newspapers by prominent
businessmen, A.D. Shroff, Murarji Vaidya, M. A. Master, M.A. Sreenivasan
and others evoked considerable interest among a large cross-section of
the intelligentsia and the thinking public of the need to galvanise
themselves into a constructive movement to stem the tide.
The Forum was launched in July 1956 under the leadership of A.D. Shroff.
Though it had limited support from the very sections it sought to
serve and protect, it was not deterred in its mission.
The leaders of the Forum were convinced that a centralized command
economy and a pluralist democratic polity did not go well together. That
with one dominant political party in power and with no, active organized
opposition the thin borderline between democracy and totalitarianism
could soon be crossed.
Mr. Shroff and his colleagues toured the country extensively to
highlight the enormous contribution made by the private sector in
pre-independence days in the face of gross indifference and even
discouragement on the part of the colonial rulers. The lay public were
not conscious of the private sector’s contribution and on top of that
were subjected to ceaseless propaganda by the authorities and the
leftist parties of their sins of omission and commission. Bereft of all
sense of proportion responsible official spokesmen exploited
mismanagement by a small minority as an excuse for sweeping condemnation
of the large majority. This campaign of misinformation and condemnation
of the private sector was sought to be effectively countered through the
The founders were very conscious that there were some bad elements in
the business community. Hence they propagated that an orgnaised
endeavour should be made among all sections to establish the highest
standards of integrity and efficiency. They also advocated that however
much some may disagree with Government in their policies and actions,
everybody engaged in the private sector must recognise it as their
elementary duty to respect the laws of the country and pay their dues
promptly without any attempt to avoid their obligations.
The Forum was the first organization in the country to evolve a
comprehensive Code of Conduct in 1957 which in its scope is as wide as
any code of governance formulated decades later. This was evidence of
its earnestness to cooperate wholeheartedly with Government in all
measures intended to genuinely promote national interests and curb
As a result of misguided policies India’s fiscal and forex situation
deteriorated markedly by late 1950s and the Government faced a serious
resource crunch, both on domestic and external fronts, to implement its
various Plans. The Government resorted to regulation and control of
almost all economic activities. Industrial licensing, import controls,
high import tariffs and unconscionably high levels of direct taxation
were imposed. Between 1951 to 1980 the economy crawled at an average
annual GDP growth of 3.5% and attained a woefully low rise in annual per
capita income of 1.3%, one-third of what was planned for.
Personal freedoms were also sought to be curtailed.
The indomitable Nani Palkhivala, who was the President from 1968-2000,
waged a relentless crusade for human rights and more moderate rates of
taxation. He wrote his lucid treatise on “The Highest Taxed Nation”
which resulted in considerable pressure being brought on Government by
Chambers of Commerce, tax practitioners and even members of Parliament
to reduce tax rates to curb rampant tax evasion which resulted therefrom.
Considerable credit should be given to the Forum and Mr. Palkhivala for
the far more equitable tax structure, emerged since the early 1990s.
Forum’s message was put across through the medium of public lectures,
press articles and more importantly through booklets. The latter have
been universally lauded.
The Forum has been also instrumental in setting up of the A.D. Shroff
Memorial Trust, the Nani A.Palkhivala Memorial Trust and the M.R. Pai
Foundation to pursue various objects and activities which were dear to
them. Biographies of Mr. Palkhivala and Mr. Pai are also being
It has also striven for the last four decades to develop the youth.
Numerous essay and elocution competitions, leadership camps and career
guidance sessions have been held in Mumbai and other cities on its own
and on behalf of several other trusts and foundations. The feedback has
been most reassuring.
The Forum owes a deep debt of gratitude to M.R. Pai who was an
invaluable guide and support to A.D. Shroff and Nani Palkhivala during
their stewardship. His intimate involvement with the institution right
from its inception to the time of his demise was a reflection of his
rare dedication and commitment to the cause.
Distinguished individuals have delivered the annual A.D. Shroff Memorial
Lectures on a wide range of topics of national importance, The list of speakers is most impressive and a testimony of the high
regard and esteem in which it is held. Other internationally renowned
scholars who have adorned our platform in earlier years are Prof. Milton
Friedman, Prof. Peter Bauer and Prof. Colin Clark.
The Government of India honoured the late A.D. Shroff for his
contribution to India’s economic development by issuing a
commemorative stamp in 1999. Mr.
Nani Palkhivala’s outstanding contribution to public life was
recognized by the Government in 2004 by issuing a stamp. Mr. Palkhivala
was also recipient of the Padma Vibushan from the Government and
Honorary Doctorates from leading universities in India and overseas.
Forum is now celebrating its Golden Jubilee and has lined up special
programmes. A chronicle of its achievements over five decades will be
released. A website is being launched in January 2006. Eminent speakers
will be delivering lectures on subjects of vital importance to the
country, on its onward march. The Forum will be publishing texts of
these lectures in the form of booklets.
A NGO, like the Forum, can survive only with the support of its members.
Many members who joined the Forum in 1956 and in the early years
thereafter have continued their active association. This loyalty and
esteem for the organization is most reassuring. While the membership fee
is still very nominal, scores of members send handsome contributions
when renewing their membership annually.
Forum has made its impact on great thinkers abroad. In their
autobiography, Nobel Laureate, Prof. Milton Friedman and Mrs. Rose
Friedman, ‘Two Lucky People’ have made a mention about the Forum and
M.R. Pai. George Woods, President of the World Bank referring to A.D.
Shroff said – “Few patriots did more than he to make friends for the
Indian nation and to build confidence in that nation among those whose
business it is to provide capital for sound investment opportunities.”
Forum is happy that thousands of people have benefited from its
multi-faceted activities since inception. More heartening is the fact
that during the last four decades the major beneficiaries of these
activities have been several thousand young college and management
students all over the country. Many of the participants are now holding
important positions in government, business, industry and public life.
Forum has come a long way. It has carved out a niche in the public mind
for its great objectivity and extolling high levels of governance and
integrity in all areas of public life. It dedicates itself to this
mission with added vigour and determination.