Kalraj Mishra, Minister for Medium, Small and Micro Enterprises (MSME) tells Aditi Phadnis how he plans to revamp the sector, how the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) plans to return in Uttar Pradesh and more.
You are Minister for MSMEs, one of the most important focus areas for the government. What have you done in one year and what are your future plans?
Just as India is addressing issues related to the ease of doing business for foreign investors, in my Ministry I have tried to make it easier for the small scale entrepreneur to do business and cut through the red tape.
We have introduced online registration. People used to worry when starting a new small business because registration was a complex exercise. We have simplified it and introduced self-certification.
When you have a small business, access to technology is hard - it costs money and often you don't even know what is out there in the big, wide world. I have introduced a programme for machine upgrade called SFURTI (Scheme of Fund for Regeneration of Traditional Industries).
Of the 100 Small Scale Industry (SSI) clusters, I have already covered 70 with this programme and aim to cover all 100 in the next year or so. ASPIRE (A Scheme for Promoting Innovation, Rural Industry and Entrepreneurship) is another programme where we offer training and skill upgrade for boys and girls who have cleared Class 10 examination.
My aim is to foster the spirit of entrepreneurship - something that really hasn't happened in India till now. Most people want a salaried job, preferably with the government.
I am telling young people that there is more to life than just a nine-to-five job working for somebody else.
Work for yourself: Nurture and believe in yourself, develop self-confidence and self-respect. Udyami manasikata ko vikasit karen (encourage an entrepreneurial mindset). The Prime Minister's Employment Guarantee Programme (PMEGP) dovetails neatly into this.
What is the biggest challenge for those who start out in the MSME sector?
The first and biggest challenge is capital. India has no shortage of skill. The problem is collateral-free capital.
For a micro unit, the limit of collateral-free capital is Rs 25 lakh. For a small sector, it is Rs 1 crore. Banks make it very difficult for borrowers from the MSME sector.
From a certain point of view, they have a point - after all, they can't do risky lending.
So, we have launched the Credit Guarantee Trust Fund Scheme where we, the Ministry of MSME, will take guarantee for the money borrowed from banks. The National Small Industries Corporation (NSIC) is of course, our own public sector undertaking (PSU).
The second issue these entrepreneurs face is marketing. From April 1, I have made it mandatory for PSUs to procure 20 per cent of their annual procurement budget from MSMEs.
There is also the problem of raw material and skilled manpower. We have launched programmes for both.
Sometimes we are not successful in life. This could be because of a hostile external economic environment or an abrupt change in policy or other reasons.
For an MSME owner, who feels he is about to default on a loan, we have cleared standard operating procedures with banks. If he contacts the banks, they will try and restructure his loan and sit with him to work out where he is going wrong.
We encourage meetings between the bank, the state government, the centre and our representatives. All parties can discuss when he will be able to pay the loan back.
Of course, we keep a hawk's eye out for willful defaulters - and we are not innocent, we know who these are and they are penalised. We are also working with the Indian Institute of Science Bengaluru for a programme of assistance in technological upgrade.
I notice that you were born in 1941. So you must have been special for the Prime Minister to make an exception to his below 75 age limit for ministers…
(laughs) I don't think there was any such age limit. In any case, I was not 75 when I became a minister…
Bakre ki maa kab tak khair manayegi? (how long can you postpone the inevitable)
(laughs) You are right. But I have been a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh pracharak. So, these things don't bother me. I am a disciplined worker of the party. What the party and the Prime Minister ask me to do, I will do.
I am not a student of science. Yet I got this job. I am not that fluent in English. Yet, I give speeches in English and industry bodies say, I understand issues better than them.
There are people in our party who value English a great deal but I have been to Europe and have observed the pride Europeans take in their own language. So I don't think I need to feel apologetic about my English.
You have been president of the BJP in UP for four successive terms. Under your leadership the BJP won 212 seats out of 425 seats in the UP elections of 1991. How can the party be revived in UP?
Uttar Pradesh has caste-based parties - the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). They are strong in their own castes. BJP pitches itself as a party that seeks to attract everyone.
We don't believe in class, caste or region. So, in comparison to the appeal of SP and BSP, we lag a little. However, this has to be made up both organisationally and through our agitational programme. Everything depends on how much we can mobilise.
I am not saying it is easy. Both BSP and SP are effective. They do attract their castes. But their appeal is limited. The BJP relies on its organisation network - we have formed committees at every booth - and its agitational strength, like focusing on absence of law and order in the Akhilesh Yadav government.
But I concede that it is not easy.
Your Lok Sabha performance in UP surprised even the BJP. But months after that, you bombed in the by-elections. Why? Did Mahant Adityanath's campaign backfire?
It has nothing to do with Mahant Adityanath. He was just one of the many leaders who campaigned. In the Lok Sabha, people were looking for a strong leader. Narendra Modi communicated with people and became the strong leader they were looking for.
He told people, the world called him communal but that he was not one; that message went right down. He explained to them, how the Centre had tried to come between him and the people of Gujarat, and yet he managed to do a lot for the state. The people saw the results and believed he would do the same for India. And he is doing it.
But in the by-elections the issues were different. In state politics, the feeling is still about 'he belongs to our caste/community so let's stand by him'.
Two of your most important leaders - Sushma Swaraj and Vasundhara Raje - have been embroiled in issues that could qualify to be conflict of interest….
I can't understand what the fuss is about. Political people have connections with a lot of people across a range of areas. I don't know why Lalit Modi is being called an absconder/fugitive. He has said that he is ready to appear in Indian courts but there is a threat to his life, which is why he cannot come back here. He has said he has friends in the Congress as well as the BJP.
So, if he is not some kind of international dangerous criminal and Sushmaji and Vasundharaji had some dealings with him, how is that such a big issue ? Sushmaji did something for him out of compassion. If he has violated laws, the law will catch up with him.
When we raised the issue of telecom, it was on the basis of what a government authority, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) had said about losses. This is somebody making statements abroad. I don't think it is such a serious matter.
A lot of leaders in your party are saying that the PM is inaccessible, that he is surrounded by a group of people and that he listens to them and them alone…
I don't think that is the case. The PM talks to everyone. During the earthquake, he called me twice. Yes, he may be busy but if you have something to say to him, he will always listen.