In life and living, as well as in work and governance, nothing is over, without a spill over. In Goa, the demise of the mining sector is a living reality and the last post is being played out, as the ground breaks for those who controlled not just what was extracted from the mining pits, but what was put into the government treasury. And as the dirge is sounded as mining, as we know it, gets over, the government is, very interestingly shifting the burden of job losses and employment demands to the private sector.
At the same time, the actual and projected losses due to the downturn is being sought to be recovered from industries like casinos as well as small to medium scale indigenous industries. And the jury is out on whether that is fair.
The hike in fees of casinos by 4.5 times has naturally not gladdened the hearts of the casino industry lobby. Goa has six offshore casinos and nine land-based casinos, and this will boost revenues by Rs 150 crore. It is because of the tenuous relationship that the industry has with people in Goa, that there weren’t any questions asked about this hike. But an unplanned out of the blue decision to raise fees by four and a half times, its justification or otherwise apart, isn’t the right business etiquette. It is a sign that the government is passing on the burden of its self made mining crisis, due to the manner in which it has recklessly governed the mining sector, to other sectors.
And this is not restricted to casinos alone. Where it begins to hurt is when Goan industries and companies are left facing increased lease rents for plots and never ending difficulties and hindrances in running businesses in industrial estates, not to speak of issues like power and water.
The angst in Goan industry over the multiple fold hike in lease rents for industrial plots, immediately after the mining shut down, amidst fears of an economic downturn, has resulted in industry, for the very first time, openly articulating its trust deficit with government, with the Verna Industrial Association and the Goa Chamber of Commerce and Industry, going to the press crying foul. The Goa Small Industries Association is likely to follow suit.
For the past ten years, Goa’s industrial estates have done little to promote the setting up of industry. These estates have become trading centres of plots which are bought, sold, sub-let and transferred, flouting every possible rule in the book with the blessings, connivance and participation of those running GIDC including some of its illustrious past Chairmen. Verna and Pilerne are shining examples of this trend.
Speaking of Pilerne, the estate has literally been handed over to the marble tile makers of Rajasthan who do no manufacturing. Yet they have got plots at Rs 1000 a square metre, when the commercial rates for plots are ten times the amount. Do they add to jobs for Goans, do they manufacture, do they bring any kind of revenue to the State? And yet as genuine industries are penalized or sent notices for participating in job fairs outside the state, (more about that later) the marble traders from outside Goa flourish with gay abandon.
Industrial Estates have become the home of political squatters, where political bosses and their acolytes in GIDC, have made a killing transferring or allotting plots in the name of their relatives or close associates. One former GM of an industrial estate managed to get a plot allotted along with permissions to install two mobile towers on it (no manufacturing industry with jobs for Goans mind you), all in a span of 72 hours.
“The situation is so suffocating,” one prominent industrialist from Pilerne told this columnist, “that Goan industrialists have to pay bribes to get plots and then you have ad-hoc lease increases during the pendency of an existing lease.”
Industry clearly feels that while they are getting squeezed, they get precious little in return. For instance, when a company in an industrial estate applies for a business loan an NOC is needed from GIDC. Members of industry bodies have confided that on many occasions, in such situations, changes are forced upon by GIDC to alter lease agreements to the detriment of the company, in order to get an NOC from GIDC to get the loan sanctioned. On the other hand, when it comes to benefits for industrialists, these examples are sufficient. The main connecting road in the Verna Industrial Estate reels in darkness, inspite of repeated representations by member industries to install street lights. In the Tuem Industrial Estate, in some places street lights have been installed but with no power connections. Some industries are running by drawing power lines from elsewhere or running on gen-sets.
Senior captains of industry are more than willing to confide that the current actions borne out of the financial hit coupled with job losses in the mining sector, to add to the joblessness problem. But the result is that it also includes transferring the burden of providing jobs to the private sector.
We indeed have an unforseen and hitherto unimaginable situation where the government is planning to, vide a notification, make it mandatory for companies in Goa to inform the Labour Department of vacancies before looking elsewhere. The department (government) will then offer candidates to be interviewed and in the event of them not being selected, the private sector company will need to give reasons for refusal to the government.
Labour Minister Rohan Khaunte actually said, “The department will sponsor certain candidates and then they have to be interviewed. If the company decides not to hire them, they will have to give it to us in writing why the people cannot be hired.”
While the intention to protect Goan jobs cannot be doubted, it must be understood that this situation has arisen due to two factors 1) The promise of creating 50,000 jobs in about five years, by encouraging investments in labour intensive manufacturing industries is proving to be a very tall order 2) Government departments are full of political appointees who were doled out jobs by the dozen before each election. Mostly unskilled and many inefficient, the government is carrying a heavy burden, where 21% of its budget is going in paying salaries. It is simply in no position to absorb Goan youth who are skilled and talented and deserve jobs on merit. Years of following the jobs for votes approach has resulted in an obese, inefficient government work force, where there is no space for new infusion of merit.
The pressure therefore is to divert job seekers to existing private companies, through what can be termed as arm twisting. It wouldn’t have been so, if the recent adhoc decisions were avoided and the same objectives could have been included in a draft policy on employment, which could have been debated and passed in the Assembly, giving industry a very clear way forward.
Companies like Cipla Limited, Blue Cross Laboratories Pvt Ltd, Manipal Health Enterprises Pvt Ltd, Zuari Engineering Services, Bosch Ltd, Hindustan Coca Cola Beverages Pvt Ltd, Deltingroups, Casinos and Hotels; DNA-GOA, Pai Kane Group, Alcon Victor Group, Shriram Transport Finance, Magsons Group, and others had taken part in a private job fair hosted by a consultant in Sawantwadi, last week. They were promptly served show cause notices by the government.
Creation of employment is a process which will bear fruit. It is the same process which will bring meritocracy in government recruitment which will also benefit Goans. And it will also allow private companies to fill their vacancies on merit, and also structure their recruitment to get more Goans in. But this has to be a shared process with a common objective. The government has to play the role of facilitator without forcing employment from private companies, when it is under severe pressure because of job losses in the mining belt.
One mustn’t forget that home Goan industries, including a couple or more companies which participated in the job fair at Sawantwadi, have had a long track record of employing Goans, often as families across generations. Isn’t it also ironical that on one hand the government is working on a policy which will not allow Goans to visit casinos but wants casinos to employ Goans. The point being underlined is not whether this is correct or incorrect. The point is that there is no clear policy on recruitment because of which ad hoc announcements and decisions are being taken.
If the spillover effect on mining closure is not handled sensitively, the government stands the risk of alienating industry, which ideally should be an ally. The folly of ad-hocism, therefore will do long term damage to the economic landscape of Goa.