New Delhi: Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Monday defended the Centre’s record on openness to criticism after leading industrialist Rahul Bajaj blamed the NDA government for creating an “atmosphere of fear” that he said deterred businesses from criticizing state policies.“To say that this government does not listen to criticism is unfair,” the minister told the Lok Sabha during a discussion on taxation after Bajaj’s comments, made on Saturday evening at an event in Mumbai, went viral on social media.Sitharaman said industry leaders often approach the government and that ministers travel around the country to listen to them.The debate on the administration’s receptivity comes at a time the economic downturn in Asia’s third largest economy has deepened in the second quarter, with the growth rate spluttering to 4.5%—the slowest since March 2013. The slowdown has made the government vulnerable to questions on its management of the economy. In recent months, a host of steps have been announced in consultation with the industry. The government’s structural changes aimed at cleaning up the system, including bankruptcy reforms, investigations into errant business tycoons, tax reforms and efforts to root out corruption, have shaken up the industry.“We are a proactive government. We have heard everybody in different parts of the country. Ours is a government that hears and responds,” Sitharaman said, adding that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other ministers “respond with positivity” despite being constantly pilloried.The minister said that there were suggestions that she should have taken the advice of former finance ministers on matters of the economy, although she met Manmohan Singh and Pranab Mukherjee, former Prime Minister and President of India respectively, both of whom had served previously as finance ministers, before she presented the Union budget for FY20 in July.The concerns expressed by Bajaj were also answered by home minister Amit Shah from the dais at Saturday’s event. Also sharing the stage with Shah were Sitharaman and commerce minister Piyush Goyal.“I want to say there is no need for anyone to fear… The government has not done any such thing that it needs to get concerned about anyone speaking against it. The government has been transparent. If there is criticism, we will try to improve ourselves based on the merits of the criticism,” Shah told the Bajaj Group chairman at the Economic Times award event.Bajaj had said, “My concern is that there is an atmosphere of fear, no friends from industry will speak about it. In spite of your good work, we do not feel confident about criticizing you.”“The state of our economy is deeply worrying but today, I will argue how the state of our society is even more worrisome and that is a fundamental reason for the precarious state of our economy.”Biocon chairperson and managing director Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw later said she hoped the government would reach out to India Inc. for working out solutions to revive consumption and growth.