New Delhi — In a dank basement on the outskirts of New Delhi, two dozen university students pore over the statistics and fine print of corporate reports, transferring data into a computer that then sheds some light - and creates some heat - on India's biggest companies.
This band of board-room snoopers is led by S. K. Goyal, a professor of economics at the Indian Institute of Public Administration, who has been called the Ralph Nader of India.
Their mission, which began two years ago, is to build a file on Indian corporations within five years, using a grant from the Indian Council on Social Science Research.
''I want to put the information together for the common man,'' Mr. Goyal says. ''It will raise the debate on the private sector and make the government think.''
The project ambitiously tracks the finances and foreign dealings of 10,000 companies, while keeping financial tabs on 37,000 of India's ''corporate elite.''
For instance, the Goyal group was able to quickly issue a report detailing the impact of a new government policy on industrial licensing last April. It showed how the policy was biased against small companies.
For over a decade, Mr. Goyal has been a thorn in the side of India's large industrial houses, especially the Tata enterprises. In public speeches, they have tried to counter his statistical conclusions on such topics as ''concentration of power'' and the loss of foreign exchange through collaborations with multinational corporations.
A leader in the drive for bank nationalization in 1969, Mr. Goyal says his political bent is towards a ''planned economy with clear social goals.'' His views were shaped early on, when his father was jailed in colonial days by the British, whose East India Company helped create an antiforeign, antimonopoly climate in India.