Nagpur: As I walk into Heritage complex looking for Dipen Agrawal’s ground floor apartment a young man dressed casually in a yellow T shirt and carrying a bouquet of roses welcomes me saying ” Aaiye madam, is taraf” (Welcome, come this way).
I follow him along a longish corridor into a well appointed living room thinking he must be one of the guys come to congratulate Mr. Dipen Agrawal, famous city industrialist on his appointment as President of Federation Association of Maharashtra FAM.
The ‘young man’ I have followed directs me to a sofa and sits next to me. There are some others already present, clearly come to offer congratulations.
It is then I realize that the person sitting next to me is Dipen himself! He is so genial and unassuming and so simply dressed you know instantly that this is NOT a man who has been placed in an important and crucial business leadership position because of his “political connections” or cozying up to the right people at the right time. He does not have the air of that assumed self importance such people carry.
It’s been a day since his appointment as President FAM for all of Maharashtra became public knowledge. It puts him at the apex of all traders’ associations of the state. Another Nagpurian will now sit in a position of power in the state capital Mumbai.
NT has a free wheeling chat with Dipen Agrawal on a number of subjects. Excerpts:
NT – What are the major concerns of traders and businessmen of Maharashtra today?
DA – GST, which we hope will come about soon, should be uniform and simple to calculate and collect. If it comes in a three tiered form – state, central and integrated, it will only add to the paper work and headaches of businessmen.
( It is worth mentioning here that Dipen was at the forefront of the Nagpur traders’ long shut down last year and campaign to have LBT abolished. There were many hurdles and hardships but unity was maintained. With the desired results. Now we learn that Octroi will soon be abolished for Mumbai too and also for industries with a slab of over Rs. 50 crore turnover.)
NT – How will the state make up for the loss of revenue?
DA – VAT will be increased by 1%. This is definitely on the cards.
NT – What are the other issues plaguing traders?
DA – Unfair competition from online marketing conglomerates is a big issue. There is a rough estimate that because of cheaper prices, they have taken away 30% business from large retailers.
There was a case of a big store like D Mart collecting LBT from its dealers, which is clearly illegal. Other methods should be used to check tax evasion by online sellers. Courier companies that make these deliveries should be screened for instance. Also payments made by credit/ debit cards while making online purchases can be scrutinized for checking tax payments.
Competition is good, but it should not be at the cost of taxes not being paid ( which some of these portals are accused of) and unreliable quality. In fact the issue of faulty quality has already sent 10% of customers who had strayed coming back to shops they have dealt with for many years.
Business is always better when it has a human face to it! Online will never beat that.
NT – But isn’t e commerce the way of the future? Why is FAM not undertaking training of traditional business’ so they can also venture in to this?
DA – Yes, the beginning has been made already. e – lala was one such endeavor. But at the same time, even government should understand that adapting to computers is not easy for everyone.
Digitalizing tax collections, or filing returns on net etc, should not be made compulsory at once. Traders should be given at least a one year’s window when both manual and electronic will go on together.
Dipen also felt strongly about Western laws and rules also being applied to India when situations and circumstances are still so different.
“Take the Food Safety and standards rule for instance. It could take away business from small food vendors like the chat and pav bhaji sellers. These people sell fresh eatables to poor people who cannot afford fancy restaurants. The small profits they make enable them to support their families,sometime 2 – 3 families at a time. Being very quality and safety conscious will come with time; we have to get more developed first. We are still a poor and backward nation and cannot afford luxuries right now.”
We also discussed other matters like how 2015 was for Indian business and commerce since Dipen Agrawal is a successful industrialist and businessman in his own right too. He heads a family conglomerate that spans across sectors like Steel, Mining and Power. (They are into non conventional energy).
How was 2015 for Indian industries, we asked.
“It was the worst year possible” Dipen says without mincing words. “UPA 2 had seen a paralysis of both government and bureaucracy because of all the corruption charges they were battling. A lot was expected from the new Modi government. In fact, because of all the pre poll promises he had made, some unreasonable expectations were also sky high. After back accounts were opened for all Indians, many people in rural areas began asking their bank managers ‘when are our Rs. 15 lakhs coming in? We were promised we would get it in 100 days.’ Gullible people had made plans of how to spend that money – they had bought stuff against credit; were planning to build houses even. In some areas, I have literally seen Banks put up signs saying ‘ Please do not make enquiries about the Rs. 15 lakhs deposits’ ”
Because of these expectations, the new government hardly had any honeymoon period when they could take harsh, but necessary liberalization decisions.
“Also one hears, not much power is vested in the hands of individual Ministers so things are not moving at the speed at which they should.”
About the Prime Minister’s foreign visits to get funding for Indian projects he opines
” all the MOUs signed will not be implemented unless conditions on the ground change. If foreign investors do not practically experience ‘ease of doing business’ they will not pump money into India.”
But unless things change fast, 2016 could bring gloom and doom to an already embattled country, says Agrawal.
If non performing assets keep on piling up like this, banks will themselves collapse. This could lead to a great catastrophe. India could go the way of Greece, cautions Dipen.
“Running a business in our country today is so tedious and hard that every industrialist and businessman who has managed to survive should be given a Padma Bhushan” remarks Dipen.
But he also acknowledges that the Maharashtra government under the leadership of Devendra Fadnavis is doing the best it can for the state.
To make for a more level playing field, entry tax is being levied on long steel products coming into the state, specially Nagpur, from neighboring Chattisgarh and M.P.
A decision has been taken to reduce power tariffs in Vidarbha by at least Rs. 1.5 per unit.
“This government headed by our own Devendra is very sensitive and reciprocates fast to our concerns. This is heartening. A silver lining at least” concludes Dipen Agrawal.
As told to Sunita Mudliyar- Associate Editor