Saturday , 17 November 2018
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Ease of Business: Goa Has To Do A Lot

BINAYAK DATTA

A past senior bureaucrat friend of mine said ‘the biggest fright these days in the corridors of power at Delhi is not terrorism, not sanctions, neither draughts nor Doklams but it’s the sudden surfacing of new rankings and ratings in the morning papers.’

The two reports in quick succession on ‘Ease of Doing Business in Indian States’ – one from the World Bank in April and the recent one from the Union government, Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP), last week, were very interesting. To those who are ‘willing to learn’ that is! (Casting aside our famed denial mode)!

And the message is clear – the ‘Croatias’ of Telangana, Andhra, Jharkhand, Odisha and Chhattisgarh are seen trouncing the ‘Argentinas’ of the likes of Punjab, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu. Goa, however, seems to be holding steadfastly to the 21st-19th band for the last three years; not much of headway. We could have rubbished these indices very much the same way we did to Assocham on ‘Goa’s Economic and Investment Scenario’ a couple of years back had these reports not come from our very own DIPP.

Parameters

Let’s first go to the overall rankings and the parameters behind them. In the overall analysis as is known, Andhra comes first with an overall score of 98.42 per cent, followed close on heels by Telangana at 98.33 per cent. I will now benchmark Goa (19th with 57.34 per cent) against Rajasthan (9th with 95.68 per cent). Incidentally, the April World Bank report showed Bengal emerging as the dark horse – the topper with 99.73 per cent, Rajasthan at 5 with 99.19 per cent and Goa still a faithful 19th at 60.94 per cent. Why benchmark Rajasthan? Because the activities (forget the scale) are similar and the core industries viz travel and tourism and mining have significant intrinsic weightage on the respective State-GDPs. I will first look at the scores, make sense out of them and then try and look at the road ahead.

There were two main cornerstones i) Reforms Evidence Scorecard and ii) Feedback Scorecard. These have between themselves the following five parameters: a) Access to Information and Transparency b) Single Window Assistance c) Availability of Land d) Construction Permit Enablers and e) Environmental Registration Enablers.

Where Goa stands

In the Reforms Evidence Score Card, although we did improve over last year, (19th up from 21st last year), we have a long way still to go to catch up with Rajasthan 9th with 95.68 per cent or say Jharkhand 4th with 97.99 per cent – not to talk of Andhra with its 98.42 per cent. And where all are we lagging? We are way behind in all five parameters – but the biggest deficits come in construction permits enablement and environment registration enablement. And I can well imagine each of these areas, why we are, where we are.

In transparency of information for example one of the toughest exercises here, as I have often cribbed, is to get reliable, consistent, updated and user-friendly data from the state government portals. You can’t for example, get data easily for unspent budgetary allocations of last year or say number of government employees in the state or say yields per hectare for Rabi last year. Yet we maintain a huge establishment (costing no less than 32 per cent of our total incomes) and we boast of a state-of-the-art IT infrastructure. I think we need to simplify our information – update fast and make them easily accessible to citizens. The Goa-DPSE indicators for socio-economic development in Goa were last updated in April of 2017.

Similarly, in ‘single window assistance’ whereas we are 7 per cent compared to others at 10 per cent, we need to do a lot more and see that ‘single windows’ where available are manned with adequate quality of resources – there are gaps there. In terms of ‘availability of land,’ we know our constraints but I can say with alacrity that reduction of widths of buffers to the high tide lines can never be a solution. By that we further mess up our sensitive ecological balance. Where are we for example in the SEZ lands case? What are our plans for conversion of fallow lands into arable tracts?

In case of Construction Permit Enablers, I was honestly, pleasantly surprised, that we are still in the doghouse, given the rampant constructions on, all around – sewer-water-electricity, environment infrastructures not known. As for Environmental Registration enablers, a lot of our sluggishness, I am sure, stems from our activism, often logical and often quite illogical. I think the air of lack of trust in very many pockets where development activities are proposed is a root cause. But take projects where there are no delays at all on account of any activism – even they run months and years behind schedule.

Take the airport car park and grade separators project for example (re-revised to last December). The Zuari bridge inauguration was scheduled for January 26, 2019. The Prime Minister, I read, was once even invited to inaugurate the Mandovi bridge, due for completion in April 2018. I think the cynicism on ground has to be cleared first.  Positivity has to be ushered in.

“Faith is the bird that feels the light when the dawn is still dark,” writes Gurudev Tagore in a letter to a contemporary and we need just that. Unfortunately, the ball is in the state government’s court. This is glaring in the second cornerstone of the report – the ‘Feedback Score Card’ where we stand 20th with a score of just 14.12 per cent where Rajasthan is 11th with 64.44 per cent, Jharkhand comes 5th with a whopping 81.67 per cent and, of course, Andhra topping with 86.5 per cent. I have said many a time ‘ease of doing business’ comes only next to ‘ease of living.’ With the state of power cuts, local transportation, garbage dumps all around, our plates are full.

More than a decade ago, the 11th Finance Commission had lauded our state for its infrastructure. The National Commission on Population adjudged us toppers on quality of life. I think we have all the positives in us; it’s only the ‘early bird’s faith’ as Gurudev puts it that is awaited.

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