Laxmikant Parsekar, 59, took charge as chief minister of Goa last year at a time when the state’s economy was going through a crisis due to a Supreme Court ban on mining.
Since then, the ban has been lifted and mining activity has resumed, but the state is looking to diversify and encourage investments into sectors such as information technology that will create jobs for its youth.
In an interview, Parsekar shares his vision, prospects and concerns for the state.
What is your vision for the state?
My target is to get better investors to the state and creating maximum number of jobs. We are careful to ensure that we welcome environment-friendly projects to the state and those projects that suit the requirements of the people of the state. Goan people are a little white-collared. Whatever is their job, they want a chair and a table.
We have 22 industrial estates in Goa, which is a very good number for a small state like Goa.
But while these estates were coming up, no care was taken to see whether the industries that are coming up would really meet the requirements of the Goan people. A large number of workforce from adjacent states migrated to Goa.
Over a period of time, the pressure on all aspects has increased on a small state like Goa because of this influx of population. More than 75% of the workforce employed in these industries is non-Goan.
My problem is that local youth are unemployed as they are not willing to work in these industries. Past governments should have considered encouraging those industries where local youths would have been willing to work.
How is your government planning to address this?
We are insisting on IT (information technology)-related projects now. We have identified two sites—one at Tuem in Pernem taluka and the other at Chimbel near Panjim.
We are proposing an electronic city for ESDM (electronic system design and manufacturing) at Tuem, where assembling will take place.
The idea is that even matriculate, non-matriculate and ITI (industrial training institute) students can do this assembling after some training. At Chimbel, we are looking at an IT park.
There are around 2,000 youths who get degrees in IT and allied sectors every year.
Most of these people are compelled to go out of the state to Pune, Hyderabad or Bengaluru looking for jobs.
We should be able to stop this brain drain once this takes off. Else, if this trend continues, Goa may become a land of senior citizens.
What are the other strategies that you have in mind to generate jobs?
Besides IT, we are focusing on tourism, agro-processing, horticulture and floriculture. We have come out with a large number of schemes.
In the modified Kamdhenu Yojana, we pay 75% subsidy to the farmers for purchase of animals. They are also given an additional loan amounting to 20% of the cost. So, effectively, farmers can buy cows without facing any financial difficulty.
Even for the milk that is sold, we give them a support price of around Rs.10 per litre. The milk yield in Goa was 25,000-30,000 litres per day, whereas our requirement was about 300,000 litres. Now, because of these schemes, the regular yield has increased to 75,000 litres. Still there is a lot of scope.
In the agricultural sector, equipment is subsidized to the extent of 75% to 90%. For floriculture in particular, the green houses or the polyhouses that are being built are being given a subsidy of up to 90%. We are on the verge of exporting our floriculture.
How did the ban on mining affect Goa’s economy? Now that it has been lifted, when do you expect mining activity to resume?
There was a blanket ban on mining for three years. It was a huge challenge for the state since mining was the backbone of the state’s economy and the main source of income for a large part of our population.
Now all procedures have been adopted and complied with and mining is gradually starting. Vedanta has already started. The Salgaocars and others are also planning to start by mid-October. So, legal mining will definitely start.
How is the falling global commodity prices impacting you, especially given that a majority of the low-grade iron ore mined in Goa is exported?
Global prices have collapsed and, therefore, people are worried. Mine owners, in particular, were a bit reluctant. But they forget that the rates in 2006-08 were similar to what is prevalent at present. It was only during the intermediate boom period that prices zoomed. Mine owners are forgeting this.
How will they get the same rate prevalent in the boom period all the time?
The government has done what it could. The central government has reduced the export duty to 10% from 30% after we pushed for it.
Also, as per the verdict of the Supreme Court, it was not binding on us to renew the licences. We could have auctioned. Auctioning would have been more beneficial for the state. But, inspite of that, we opted for renewal because mine owners had an existing structure. Their workforce and machinery were in place.
We were more worried about the serious unemployment problem that was being created and, therefore, we opted for renewal.
So, when the government has taken two steps forward to help address unemployment and help mine owners, I think it is the responsibility of mine owners also to take some steps forward. They have done so and I am very happy about it.
What kind of land law is Goa looking at?
We have tenancy law here. But it has its own limitations. We have reached a stage where the name of the owner and the tenant is there on the land deed. Both of them can’t make the best use of this land.
We are thinking of encouraging contract farming so that the fragmented lands which are uneconomical for taking up cultivation on a large scale could be utilized by using the concept of contract farming. People are not ready to give their farms fearing that it will attract tenancy laws and they will lose ownership. This contract farming will be exempt from tenancy laws. This will solve this problem of land lying idle.
One more area that was neglected over the years is our khazan land (saline floodplains). We have rivers all over in Goa. Due to high and low tides, there has been a constant pressure on the bunds, which have over the years disappeared or broken. Because of this, the salt water has entered the fields leading to high levels of salinity which has destroyed crops. We have 22,000 hectares of khazan lands that are unused in Goa.
If we take up on priority the construction of these bunds, these fields can be converted back into agricultural lands or for alternative crop and fisheries.
What about land for industries?
We have a challenge there. We have 60-65% of forest cover. Rest of the land is covered under CRZ (coastal regulation zone). So, we are left with hardly any land. So, whatever is possible, we are taking care of that.
As it is, we have 22 industrial estates. We have formulated an industrial investment policy wherein we have constituted an investment promotion board. We have started giving single-window clearances to environment-friendly projects, particularly those that generate jobs. In the field of tourism, we have approved a number of projects.
In six sittings of this board, we have cleared 46 projects that will provide employment to around 9,000 youths. But we are very careful in sanctioning these projects.
What about business tourism? Are you looking to create some institutional set-up to encourage this?
People like to come down to Goa for conferences. Some infrastructure is needed. We need to develop proper facilities for this. We need to have one or two good convention centres.
We are proposing one in Dona Paula. It has a unique location surrounded by the Arabian Sea, river Mandovi and river Zuari on three sides.
You are also looking at a new airport?
The present airport, though it is an international airport, is managed and controlled by the Navy and has its own limitations. It cannot cater to the large-scale tourist arrivals and cargo. It does not have the facilities for parking of aircraft.
Therefore, we were in need of an additional airport. This is a greenfield airport which is coming up in Mopa in Pernem. We are on the verge of finalizing the contractor now.
Probably, by this year-end, we should be able to give the work order also... Five companies have been shortlisted—three from Delhi and two from Mumbai.
What will be the impact of the goods and services tax on Goa? Do you expect revenue to dip in the initial few years?
I think there should not be any impact on revenue. It is better to have a uniform tax structure across India and I support the tax reform.