GCCI takes pandemic head-on to revive industry ecosystem
The 113-year-old organisation, Goa Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI), has new challenges post the pandemic. VIKANT SAHAY interviews the newly elected President Ralph de Souza and explores what GCCI is doing now to improve industry ecosystem in Goa
HERALD: It has been a month since you took over as President of the Goa Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI). What immediate steps and measures have you undertaken?
RALPH DE SOUZA: The managing committee of the Chamber is structured to ensure the continuity of work undertaken. The immediate past president is the de facto member of the executive committee, and this ensures the continuity of the work in progress and the long-term projects undertaken by the Chamber.
The immediate steps that the new committee has undertaken are – container service resumption at the Mormugao harbour which was threatened to be stopped but thanks to the intervention of the Chamber, the continuation of the same is assured by the Chairman of the MPT. Here we acknowledge the system given to us by the Union Minister for Inland Waterways and Ports Shripad Naik.
The havoc committed by the recent floods that were witnessed in Goa got the Chamber moving and we have had interaction with the Government to assure the cooperation of the Chamber in such situations. A disaster management blueprint is on cards and the same will be submitted to the Chief Minister once completed. The Tourism season is knocking on the doors of Goa and as these are sensitive times the Chamber is working to ensure that the safety protocols are in place in advance before we experience the influx of visitors in Goa.
The basic infrastructure in the industrial estate is another area that is looked into by the Chamber. The managing committee will address these issues and help upgrade the various infrastructural deficiencies experienced by the industrialists.
Serious attention will be given to health and wellness as this is the need of the hour. Any assistance from the Chamber that may be required to preempt the third wave is assured to the health authorities.
HERALD: You have also restructured the different 15 sub-committees. What is it all about and what was the need for it?
RDS: GCCI has 15 sub-committees and we go beyond business. The education and wellness sub-committees are an example to mention. Names of the 15 sub-committees are (1) Agriculture & Food Processing Committee; (2) Basic Infrastructure Committee; (3) Education Committee; (4) Industry Committee; (5) IR & HR Committee; (6) IT & Startups Committee; (7) Logistics Committee; (8) Membership Development Committee; (9) Real Estate & Housing Committee; (10) Retail Trade Committee; (11) Taxation Committee; (12) Tourism Committee; (13) Women’s Wing; (14) Mining Committee and (15) Healthcare & Wellness Committee.
These subcommittees are pillars on which the Chamber rests; they are driven by professionals from the respective industry segments that the sub-committees represent. The chairmen of the sub-committees are given the task to identify and address two major issues that are nagging the industry and sort them to the point of dispatch with the Government authorities. The chairman and the managing committee will back and support these initiatives to ensure their success.
This year we have added two new subcommittees. One is mining as it is now at crossroads. As the talks of auctioning and formation of Mining Corporation is on cards. The aim is to keep the control and the generated wealth in Goa and use it for the development of Goa and this is the path taken by the Chamber.
In keeping with today’s scenario, Health and wellness is the need of the hour. Chamber was in the forefront to aid and donate equipment and to render life-saving initiatives during the pandemic under the tireless and able leadership of the IPP Manoj M Caculo and his team.
HERALD: MSMEs and traders do need attention and it was realised lately during the pandemic. What steps are you taking to help them?
RDS: Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) and traders are some of the worst-hit during the pandemic. They do not have large reserves to lean on or deep pockets to sustain the long periods of shutdowns. Traders take home their earnings to their families. Chamber’s initiatives with the City Corporation of Panaji (CCP) on the plights of the traders resulted in the waiver of local taxes like garbage and commercial tax levied during the shutdown period.
Chamber has representation on Investment Promotion Board (IPB) and Goa Industrial Development Corporation (GIDC) boards and works closely with Goa State Industries Association (GSIA), Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), and Travel & Tourism Association of Goa (TTAG). Some of the initiatives taken are to address and come up with solutions for modifying the hydrant issues which are waxing the industries functioning within the industrial estates. The Chamber obtained an extension of the term for the use of furnace oil and pet coke for another 6 months, thus avoiding the MSMEs using this form of energy, from coming to a grinding halt. Six months is a breather that gives the industries time to migrate to other forms of alternate energies. The Chamber has helped structure the guidelines for the screening committee that allows IDC plots intending to introduce greater transparency and fair play. A subcommittee on taxation addresses the difficulties faced by the members as far as GST is concerned. The Chamber has also played a premier role to get IMC clearance for the Bali container depot.
HERALD: Agriculture and creation of value chain in Goa will help the State from dependency on other neighbouring States. What measures is the GCCI undertaking to boost these sectors?
RDS: Agriculture is the primary sector and the Chamber has a strong committee to aid and address the challenges faced by it. The demand for the produce is huge and yet we depend on imports from other States. The hospitality industry is a premier consumer of farming products. Having a ready local market, we need to boost and encourage produce which is readily consumed by the local communities as well the tourists. This will ensure the prosperity of the farming community. Knowledge, innovations, and scientific methods for respective crops are studied and imparted to the farming community and there is a new interest in farming that has emerged during the pandemic. Multi cropping and rejuvenation of khazan lands are in the chambers cross heirs.
HERALD: Hospitality industry has suffered a huge setback during the pandemic. How can GCCI help them?
RDS: The hospitality industry is the first to get affected and the last to recover. It has faced many challenges before but this pandemic is unprecedented. It is now three years that the industry is in recession and it has led to the near-bankruptcy of many small and medium-sized tourism enterprises.
Goa depends on international as well as domestic visitors and to attract international tourists we have to extend the foreign tour operators the discounts and facilities that our competitors offer. These are waiver of landing fees for charter aircraft, waiver of taxes on aircraft fuel, reduction of visa fees, conducting joint promotions with the charter operators and larger tour companies as well as incentivising the players that bring international tourists into Goa.
The international cruise liners are looking at India as they want to give China a miss, and are focusing on Goa as a port of call. We have to come up with world-class facilities at the cruise terminal at the Mormugao harbour and capture this golden opportunity that is staring down at our face.
The Goa Tourism Board has to be put in place with professionals from the industry with a proven track record. This Board should take the responsibility to promote Goa in the international as well as the domestic market in a focused manner and bring the required tourists into Goa.
A large number of visitors from across India are waiting to take the vacation in Goa and only a focused and the forceful campaign will capture the market and bring the quality tourists who contribute to the revenue of the industry and State, into Goa.
HERALD: The migrant labourers have also left the State and their return date is not very clear as yet. How are you planning to tackle this issue and develop the industrial sector overall?
RDS: Migrant labourers were protected and looked after, with meals and shelter provided. In many cases, passage to the native places was arranged and paid for. As the industry is limping back, though slow, the return of labourers has started and is increasing by the day. Many units are in touch with their labour in their respective States and are making arrangements to bring them back. The misery that we saw on the TV during the lockdown exodus, was not seen or experienced in Goa, and this is bringing the labour willingly back to our State. The industrial units have arranged for vaccination programmes where their labourers are duly vaccinated. Accommodations are provided by many units. As there is a shortage of local labour, the industry is dependent on migrant labour and it takes care of them. This ensures high morale and productivity of the labourers, which in turn helps to upscale the production level of the industry.