Gandhinagar: The Vibrant Gujarat summit has come a long way since it was first held as a regional investment fair, Dr J.N.Singh, chief secretary to the Gujarat government, said in an interview. The summit has evolved into the biggest platform for enabling business as well as for knowledge sharing in the country, he said, adding that in terms of investment opportunities and thought sharing and scale, the event is bigger than any other in the country. The summit is the brainchild of Prime Minister Narendra Modi who first organized the biennial event in 2003 when he was Gujarat chief minister. Singh dismissed talk about the low conversion rate of MoUs signed during previous summits and also the unemployment concerns raised by a few groups. He said after autos, the state is now focusing on becoming the service hub for the defence sector in the country. He is also confident the summit’s eighth edition will lay to rest concerns that demonetisation has slowed down investment. Edited excerpts:

How is the eighth edition of the Vibrant Gujarat summit different from the ones held in the past? What are the key focus areas this time? There was once talk of making this event ‘Davos of the east’, how do you see that idea?

Vibrant Gujarat has been a pioneering event for the country and other states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa have taken a leaf from it. Far from being the regional investment fair that characterized the first summit, Vibrant Gujarat has today evolved into the biggest platform for enabling business as well as for knowledge sharing in the country. In terms of investment opportunities and thought sharing and scale, the event is bigger than any other such event in the country. Thought leaders as well as practising administrators from across the world will participate in this event and topics like GST, smart villages and cities and International Finance Service Centres (IFSCs) would be discussed.

An event involving Nobel laureates is a novelty and would take the summit to the next level of knowledge sharing. Another first of its kind event in India would be the Action Seminars (?) that engage multiple stakeholders to build policy consensus and value for all.

We are different from Davos. The Davos event does not focus on investment. Our focus remains investment and with more than 17 countries and other Indian states participating, I think Vibrant Gujarat in 2017 will be an “investment ++" event.

What would be the impact of demonetisation on the event? Will its success in terms of investment proposals or memoranda of understanding be testimony that demonetisation has not slowed down business?

The impact of demonetisation has been short-term. The investors at Vibrant Gujarat look at a long-term scenario. Much of the cash issue has been eased, and if you look at attendence or participation, then over 74,000 people have already registered for the event. Earlier, there was some apprehension as this is one of the most important events post-demonetisation. However, looking at the interest shown in terms of investment proposals, it lays to rest any such apprehension. Demonetisation is a thing of the past as far as investments in Gujarat and Vibrant Gujarat are concerned. Furthermore, Prime Minister Modi has made great efforts in building Gujarat as a big brand and today the state is seen as a gateway to Indian and international business. With the theme of ‘Connecting India to the World’, we have extended formal invitation to other states to participate in Vibrant Gujarat Global Summit 2017 and they can also benefit from the event. Chief ministers from about 4-5 states have confirmed their participation so far. Close to 60 corporate leaders from across the world and India are expected to attend the Global CEO Conclave (to be chaired by the prime minister).

So will it be PM Modi’show all the way at Vibrant Gujarat?

Certainly, because the prime minister is keen to build the image of India and Gujarat will gain a lot from it. There is no other platform in the country that could match the Vibrant Gujarat summit in terms of branding, knowledge sharing, space, etc. Most states are talking only about investments. We have moved beyond that.

There have been concerns about the low conversion rate of MoUs signed at the summit. In the past seven summits MoUs of at least Rs80 trillion have been signed.

Let me tell you in all the seven editions so far, two-thirds of the projects are either implemented or are on the path of implementation. This is a very successful rate of conversion.

Also, the state government has selected as many as 100 industries that have implemented their projects for which they signed agreement pacts in the previous two summits. To prove our point, we are going to showcase these projects at the upcoming Vibrant Summit.

- Youth leaders Alpesh Thakor, Hardik Patel and Jignesh Mevani have joined hands and are protesting against the issue of unemployment. Their claim is that 60 lakh youths in the state are unemployed today and all the promises of employment made by the government at various Vibrant summits remain largely on paper.

Everybody in a democracy has a right to express their views. In the last five years, about 13.5 lakh direct employment has been generated in the state. If you take into account indirect employment in sectors like ancillary and other service sectors, the employment generation is two and a half times more than direct employment. Gujarat and Vibrant Gujarat brand has been built on employment generation. It is the brand image of the state.

Any new areas or sectors where special focus would be laid this time around? In the 2015 summit, investment proposals of Rs25 trillion were committed. Do you expect to cross this figure this time around?

Manufacturing has always been the strong base, it would naturally be our focus area. In the past we have laid focus on the automobile sector and the state has emerged as a hub for automobile (manufacturing). With newer opportunities lying in the defence sector, which is in a nascent stage today, it would be a key focus area for Gujarat as we want the state to be the next defence hub of the country. At Vibrant Gujarat we would be signing MoUs with some major Indian companies as well as some big foreign companies. The financial services sector will be another key area for the summit.

For Vibrant Gujarat investment the calculations are still on so I would not like to comment at this point. What I can say for sure is that in terms of MoUs we have crossed 24,000 as compared to 21,500 in the 2015 summit.

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