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Indian PM challenges business leaders to improve the lives of poor

INDIA: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh challenged business leaders Thursday to ensure the poor benefit from India's economic boom, and to shun the West's "wasteful lifestyles" of greed and conspicuous consumption.

"Such vulgarity insults the poverty of the less privileged," Singh said at the opening the annual conference of the Confederation of Indian Industry or CII, a leading business group.

He promised to continue fostering a business-friendly environment, but said businesses that have benefited from the boom must do more to improve the lot of ordinary people in a country where nearly 40 percent of the 1.1 billion population live on less than a dollar a day. "We cannot afford the wasteful lifestyles of the Western world," Singh said. "It is socially wasteful and it plants seeds of resentment in the minds of the have-nots." "India has made us - we must make" India, he said.

Singh decried "ostentatious expenditures," and said rising unchecked inequality could lead to social, environmental and economic problems if left unchecked. He urged executives to resist giving themselves and their colleagues large salaries, and accused "cartels of groups of companies" of conspiring to keep commodity prices high. "Even profit maximization should be within the bounds of decency," he said.

Singh said the business community should create "an environment in which all citizens feel equally involved in economic growth, an environment in which each citizen sees hope for a better future."

Singh, India's finance minister in the early 1990s, is widely credited with setting off its economic transformation.

On Thursday, he issued a 10-point plan for the corporate sector to create "a more humane and just society" with workers' benefits, affirmative action and the need to invest in environmentally friendly technology.

New Delhi, Friday, AP

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