New Delhi: The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) is working on increasing its interactions with political parties, given the general election scheduled for 2014, to have them incorporate some of its demands in their election manifestos, S. Gopalakrishnan, newly appointed president of the industry lobby, said in an interview on Monday. He takes over from Godrej Industries Ltd chairman Adi Godrej.

The CII is focused on working with state governments to push policy reforms and launch plans to support small and medium enterprises and entrepreneurship, said Gopalakrishnan, also co-chairman of Infosys Ltd.

Enhancing the ease of doing business in India will be a key agenda for CII this year, he said. Edited excerpts:

What are some of the specific reforms agendas that CII has outlined for this year?

We are hoping that the GST (goods and services tax) will be implemented and will be put on an accelerated track.

We will work with the government on some of the Bills that are pending like land reforms, the Companies Bill, etc.

We need to look at what we call ease of doing business. Many of the infrastructure projects are held up through clearances, etc.

Some of them are not reforms but implementation of those reforms—how it is being executed on the ground.

Government has announced the CCI (cabinet committee on investment). How is it actually helping? Can we do a better job? Government has also announced National Manufacturing Investment Zones. Now they have to implement it on the state level. Starting with GST, there is a series of reforms that we need to see whether we can accelerate and implement.

In 2013-14, we will interface with various political parties, we will present our request so that we can try and get them included in their manifestos and things like that. And we will also work with states.

The current financial year is an interesting one with the upcoming general election in 2014, and organizations like CII being increasingly used by political parties as platforms for dialogue with the industry.

It is important for industry to engage. We are happy that they (political parties) are engaging because through their interaction, both will understand. The political establishment and industry must work together and understand each other. We must understand what compulsions they have and what their priorities are. We also need to present our priorities. We are happy about it and look forward to more of such engagements. Only through this dialogue we can create a common agenda.

Though industry has always demanded a greater dialogue with the political establishment, when such opportunities come not many tough questions are asked by industry leaders. Can we expect CII’s pitch to get shriller?

In terms of agenda, it is very sharp and focused. But in a public platform we have to be constructive. We have to talk about where we are engaging and how we are working together. Are we impatient? If you ask anybody, I don’t think they will say that they are not impatient and they are happy with the pace of things.

Even political leadership today will say that they want pace to be increased. Nobody is happy with 5% growth. We want to achieve the potential. So are we impatient? Yes. Do we want to keep shouting about that? No. We have to look at what we can practically make happen and what we can do. And here we have a clear agenda. We have a road-map and we will work with the government and continue to push our agenda...We want to create a platform for our members to meet and discuss with the leaders and we need a platform for leaders to present their priorities to our members.

Even though there has been some talk about the economy coming out of the woods, the market sentiment hasn’t picked up much. What is your reading of the economy?

Things take time. It doesn’t happen overnight. But definitely, if you look at what has happened in the last six months, especially with the budget and putting on hold some of the things like GAAR (general anti-avoidance rules) etc., sentiment has improved.

We have arrested the negativity to some extent. Now the hard work of 5% (growth) moving to 6.2% or 6.5% needs to happen. And we are optimistic. If we work together, it is possible to do that and over the next three-five years we can get to 8-9% growth. If possible, we would like to accelerate growth to 8% in the next two years. That is what we mean by impatient.

If you had to list three top priorities for the industry right now, what would they be?

GST is number one. Second is accelerating the infrastructure projects. Third is ease of doing business. We have to improve that.

Ease of doing business has been on the agenda of industry bodies for a long time. Any specific plans to address the issue?

We are looking at setting up two task forces—one on ease of doing business, second on coordinating state-level reforms.

A lot of reforms are going to happen at the state level and this year we are going to focus a lot on states. When it comes to things like land acquisition, labour reform, so when you look at the ease of doing business, many of the reforms are under the states and then it flows into the centre. Similar is the case with micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs).

In the case of GST, it is about working with the states in convincing them that it is something that they need to support across all parties. CII last year worked with Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh to convince them.

You also mentioned that this year CII has a big focus on innovation and entrepreneurship. Can you elaborate on these specific plans?

It includes the MSME sector. We will work with the top 50 MSMEs and see if they can become large-scale enterprises. We have to look at 100-200 small-scale companies and then see if they can migrate to medium-scale. So, we are launching a programme to handhold these select companies and mentoring them, giving them the tools and the techniques necessary to migrate. So we can actually draw on the experiences of large companies, on how have they progressed on this journey and what is the support, which is necessary for them. For instance, a small (or) medium enterprises will need advice on financing, how to go for a public offer, or scaling up, etc. So we will bring in the support...

We are also looking at entrepreneurship and incubation in rural areas. People talk about innovation and entrepreneurship only in the technology sector, but there is an opportunity for it in all the sectors, and this year we are looking at agriculture and agri-products.

If you have to create rural employment and prevent migration to cities, you have to create opportunities in the rural areas. There is a need to create food processing industries in the rural areas, we need to create market linkages. Everybody talks about cold chains, etc., but that requires entrepreneurs to come forward and create those. So we are looking at entrepreneurship in rural areas, innovation in food processing, and creating jobs.

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