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CEO pay in India: "Vulgar and indecent"

What's Hindi for fat cat?

Leading industry trade group Assocham’s members said that India could only become an economic power by consistent high economic growth. “An essential ingredient for high growth is employing the best talent and paying them salaries matching the best across the globe,” the chamber said in a statement. The statement resulted after a survey of its members.

Assocham said only market forces could determine salaries, which it says is the only means to attract talent in a highly competitive market.

Despite such reasoning, the salary debate is a delicate one in India where the contrast between the rich and poor is enormous.

The highest-paid CEOs in India took home salaries touching a billion dollars in 2008. That was several thousand times the multiple of the average per capita income in the country.

While the salary may not seem a big deal compared with pay in the West, that money can go a long way. Many here find the contrast downright shocking in a poor country where millions subsist on a dollar a day.

The biggest pay checks are drawn by promoters themselves in India’s family-run companies such as Reliance Industries, the petrochemicals conglomerate, and Bharti Airtel, the largest mobile services provider.

Ostentation has been a recent trend in corporate India and its business families, with multi-million dollar homes, extravagant weddings in exotic locales, yachts and executive aircraft.

Even the usually-soft spoken Prime Minister Singh was hard put to remain silent in the face of such brazen displays. He warned two years ago that such widening inequalities could spawn social unrest in India.

In the land of Gandhi, the world’s foremost ascetic, a debate over austerity and simple living is raging on with no resolution in sight.