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Published on: Dec. 15, 2020, 9:43 a.m.
Mission ‘Engage Maharashtra’
  • Podar with IMC officials at the Mission Engage Maharashtra online event: working closely with the administration in helping revive the economy

By Sarosh Bana. Executive Editor, Business India

Despite the dethroned Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) unflagging efforts to pull it down, the tri-party Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government of the Shiv Sena, Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) in Maharashtra completed its first year in office on 28 November, while reaffirming confidence of lasting its full five-year term, till 2024.

The government is, however, simultaneously battling on another front, as Maharashtra has an unprecedented crisis on its hands as the state most afflicted by Covid-19. Its tally, as on 4 December, of 18.32 lakh coronavirus cases far surpasses the next state Karnataka’s case load of 8.88 lakh, and accounts for a fifth of India’s total cases of 95.72 lakh as on 4 December.

Mindful of the grim situation, Mumbai’s 113-year-old Indian Merchants’ Chamber (IMC), the country’s oldest business chamber, with an affiliation of 150 trade and industry associations, is reaching out to the government with an offer of help in building capacity and resilience for future shocks, and in working closely with the administration in helping revive the economy.

Commending the state government for its “resolute fight” against the pandemic and for maintaining a fine balance between life and livelihood, the Chamber has embarked upon ‘Mission Engage Maharashtra’ as its focus objective this year. To give shape to this initiative, IMC president Rajiv Podar invited Maharashtra Chief Minister and Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray as the Chief Guest at an online event on 24 November to inaugurate the Mission and release the Mission charter. Maharashtra’s Industry and Mining minister Subhash Desai was the Guest of Honour.

The Mission Engage Maharashtra charter documents the objectives and roadmaps for growth in sectors such as Industry & Trade, Agriculture & Food Processing, International Business, Health, Ease of Living, Knowledge, Digital, Start-ups, Hospitality & Tourism, Infrastructure, and Real Estate Development.

“IMC has 26 industry-specific committees of experts through which it provides policy inputs and recommendations, and organises interactive activities where business and government leaders engage with its members on a range of issues to lead to sustainable economic development,” mentions Podar.

The Chamber’s Health Committee is, for instance, working on ways and means to provide accessible and affordable healthcare and medical infrastructure, the Agriculture & Food Processing Committee has planned an online exhibition-cum-conference to boost the sector, the Industry & Trade Committee has proposed to work closely with the Industry ministry to address problems, explore finance and provide mentorship to MSMEs, and the International Business Committee seeks to actively involve itself with the state government’s ‘Magnetic Maharashtra’ initiative to attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). Additionally, the Ease of Living Committee is preparing a white paper to improve quality of life in the state, while the Digital Committee is launching ART, a platform to Audit, Recommend and Train MSMEs in the new digital world.

‘Unstoppable Maharashtra’

The government claims that “despite the pandemic, the state leads in investments, employment, health and every other sector”, and has publicised these and more accomplishments under the catchphrase of ‘Unstoppable Maharashtra’ to commemorate its first year in office.

Thackeray says the MVA government has adopted a pro-industry policy to attract investment in the post-Covid era and has simplified the process of setting up industries in the state. In an earlier interaction with private equity (PE) firms through video conference, he told them: “Just like coronavirus has taught us to stay home, stay safe, you (PE firms) advise investors to invest in Maharashtra; their investment will be safe here.”

Thackeray says that, industries that do not require many permissions can start operations immediately, and they can start in green industrial zones and benefit from the single window system for clearances. Desai adds that the number of permissions needed to set up ventures in the state has already been brought down from 76 to 25.

According to the government, the state has received investment proposals worth Rs66,595 crore, it has unified development control and promotion regulations (DCR) for cluster development, slum rehabilitation and other redevelopment schemes across the state, reserved 40,000 acres of land for new industries, launched Maazhi Vasundhara (My Earth) for environment protection and conservation, declared 808 acres of land in Mumbai’s Aarey Milk Colony as reserved forests, set up a Mahajobs portal to bridge the gap between industry and employment, introduced Shiv Bhojan Thaali at Rs5 through 907 centres that is availed of by 2.5 crore people, and enunciated an agri-tourism policy to stimulate the rural economy through the creation of agri-based business opportunities.   

In May, Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Central government signed a $177 million loan to upgrade 450 km of highways and major district roads in Maharashtra. The state now has 12 special economic zones (SEZs) with in-principle approvals, 48 SEZs with formal approvals, and 31 exporting SEZs and 42 SEZs with notified approvals.

On the agriculture front, the state government maintains it has disbursed Rs19,643 crore to 30.77 lakh account-holding farmers, set up a district- and crop-wise value chain to advise farmers on demand-driven crop selection, introduced a new policy for electrical connections for farm water pumps, disbursed 27 per cent more kharif crop loans this year, made a 10-year record purchase of cotton from farmers at minimum support price (MSP), apart from a record purchase of grains and coarse grains and, for the first time, purchase of coarse grains in the rabi season.    

 With an area of 3,07,713 km2, Maharashtra is India’s third largest state, as also its industrial and economic powerhouse, with its capital city of Mumbai also being the country’s financial, commercial and banking capital. The state’s population of 12.5 crore has a literacy rate of 82.3 per cent. With its key industries of Banking, Financial Services and Insurance (BFSI), pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, IT and ITeS, electronics, engineering, auto & auto components, oil & gas, food & agri-processing, gems & jewellery, and textiles, Maharashtra’s nominal Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) of Rs26.32 lakh crore accounted for 13.9 per cent of the country’s nominal GDP in 2018-19.

Maharashtra is also credited with a well-developed social, physical, and industrial infrastructure. Apart from 16 airports, there are two major and 48 minor ports, a well-developed power supply grid, and an ever-increasing number of industrial clusters and public private partnership (PPP) projects. According to the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT), cumulative FDI inflow into the state reached $137.93 billion between April 2000 and March 2020, while total merchandise exports totalled $74 billion in 2018-19 and $49.94 billion during April-December 2019. Maharashtra besides accounts for 35.1 per cent of the country’s automobile output by value.

‘Reboot, reform, resurge’

According to Podar, with the global economy being jolted by the Covid pandemic, India’s slowing growth momentum has been aggravated further. “Against this backdrop, Maharashtra’s aspiration of attaining a $1 trillion GDP by 2023-24 has received a near-term setback,” he notes. “While the state government is pursuing short-term measures to unlock and restart the economy, it is in the process of creating an ecosystem that will enable the state to regain its lost growth momentum and pave the way for a sustained high growth path that it aspires to achieve.”

Podar hence deems it imperative that IMC’s Mission Engage Maharashtra helps ‘Reboot, Reform, Resurge’ the state’s economy post-Covid and assists in attracting investments, supporting MSMEs, boosting agriculture and lending support to reform policies. Indicating that Maharashtra has an edge in attracting foreign and domestic investments in areas like financial technology, water management, smart cities, renewable energy, entertainment technology, air and sea ports, metros, and agro-processing and dairy industries, apart from manufacturing, he says IMC has requisite expertise and capability to host programmes that highlight opportunities and conduct in-depth analyses.

The MVA dispensation regrets, however, that ever since the BJP, which had previously ruled the state in partnership with the Shiv Sena, fell out with its longtime ally during talks on government formation over a year ago, it has gone well beyond just restating that the coalition will collapse under the weight of its own internal contradictions. It charges the BJP for all along indulging in vendetta politics and striving to pull the government down, instead of constructive criticism and even purposeful cooperation at this time of Covid-19.

During post-election government formation, the BJP had sought to engineer defections from the NCP so as to secure the numbers to return it to power. Citing Supreme Court and Bombay High Court orders in the cases of the Maharashtra government against Republic TV anchor Arnab Goswami and actress Kangana Ranaut, former BJP Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis declared that the “breakdown of law and order and abuse of power” by the MVA government made Maharashtra fit for President’s rule. This was possibly the first time in Indian history that President’s rule was suggested as retaliation for action against private citizens considered close to the ruling party at the Centre.

The MVA regime has nevertheless managed to hold itself together, and is intent on pushing through its agenda for the state’s development, while repulsing all offensives from its detractors from the Opposition.

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