The reference books, following visits and subsequent boosting of trade in Iraq and Saudi Arabia, were of great use to Indian exporters. The 57th part of a series describing the unknown triumphs and travails of doing international business
The construction activities in Iraq and Saudi Arabia caused builders and other merchants to look for new and guaranteed sources of supplies. Among Indian merchants, one of the most dynamic was MS Dewan, a pioneer in marketing a great number of products to Saudi Arabia.
As all his buyers were looking forward to increasing supplies of bathroom fittings, etc, he was shrewd enough to open an office in London; his eldest son began to make inroads in Italy and soon they were one of the leading suppliers to Saudi Arabia.
In case of Iraq, however, there was hardly anything that was left in the private hands. Almost every item relating to building materials were imported by the government-owned companies, with whom suppliers had to register and only actual manufacturers were given orders. From time to time tenders were floated; government offices closed by 3pm and the main banker, government-controlled, would open the Letters of Credit.
Thanks to the continuous support I received from NK Nair, the former commercial attaché in Baghdad, I had made a few trips and cultivated a number of contacts in various departments. At this point of time, we had a bright Iraqi named Khalid George Talia in the Indian Embassy, who was not only bright, but had spent a few years in New Delhi as a student and knew the Indian conditions. Most importantly, he was fluent in Hindi and could understand a little Punjabi as well. He was an invaluable asset to the Embassy.
Another regular visitor was Krishnan from the leading steel and pressure vessel exporter, VD Swami & Co of Madras. I would say that Krishnan spent almost six months a year in Baghdad and as many in Beirut. He was kind enough to pass on many of his contacts for promoting Indian goods in the region.
I remember that one of the most important features was the Baghdad International Fair, held in September each year. There was great demand for participating space and for displaying goods in the Fair, because this gave an opportunity not only to exhibit the products, but also sell them at the end of the Fair. Most of the exhibitors also got orders for goods displayed. There were, of course, complaints of favouritism for getting the quotas on these orders; and, for the first time, as I was present during the fair, we organized a meeting of all the exporters at the Ambassador hotel, invited the commercial secretary to join the deliberations and in the end, everyone appeared to be happy with the quota distribution.
It was during this fair, we had the pleasure of being exposed to an important and yet luxurious delicacy called 'masgoof'. Actually, it was on the banks of the river Tigris, where one could walk around and find, many restaurants, with live fish (3 to 5 kg each), swimming in the bathroom tubs! The buyer would choose the fish, and in a few moments the fish would be killed and vertically cut, like opening a banana leaf, with basically some salt and pepper, and exposed to fire in a bon-fire like circles. Only beers and onions will be served along with khubbas (Arabic bread). It was my first experience, but, the next Friday, I managed to get a masala made with garlic, chilly, pepper and onions etc and even the restaurant owner enjoyed the fare!
The Market Survey Report of Iraq, after my submission on my return to Beirut, was actually published as a handy reference book in January 1974. It became a popular seller for the Council.
Once again, my services were required by exporters, which this time, involved supplies of galvanised steel pipes to a customer in Jeddah. The supplies were delayed and the ship had short-landed the goods in the port, part of which were still lying in Bombay. This fact was unknown to the exporter, and the importer on receipt of documents, had been to the port only to find that popular items like 1/2 to 2 inch sizes were missing! He refused to accept the documents because of this serious lapse and discrepancy. Ghulam Masood of Indian origin, who had settled down in Jeddah, was a regular visitor to Indian Embassy.
Though the courtesy of Bijli, the commercial attaché, I was introduced to him earlier. I did find him to be frank and straight forward in his dealings. But because of the circumstances in the market, he was not in a position to clear the goods, pay for the full consignment and wait for the balance to arrive, which was not guaranteed. Any amount of assurance by the shipping company would not pacify his anger, and for a businessman it was the question of making money at the most opportune time, when the market needed the goods! Meantime, the goods were incurring demurrage, and he demanded that this be paid first and sought an agreement that he was willing to pay the money to the bank but not release it until his balance of goods were delivered!
The exporter had approached the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) for permission to effect the remittance for demurrage, but this was increasing by the day. On approaching the Council, they authorized me to resolve the issue, provided the exporter met my travel expenses.
Due to my contacts with the Saudi Embassy, I was able to take a visit visa to Jeddah, after discussing the issue with the embassy, I went to the port and spent several hours, spread over two days, walking up and down the port, only to discover that the goods actually had been dumped in different lots and got mixed up with some other importer's goods in another part of the port.
With a great amount of persuasion, I managed to get the demurrage charges reduced considerably, arranged for payment, by selling the goods to a third party, and had the matter resolved in about a week's time. I think, the market price had turned favourable in the interim period and we were able to settle the issue, and effect the payment to the exporter, thanks to the support from the embassy.
But after settling this dispute, I took a quick trip to Riyadh and Dammam also, and having been a regular visitor, was able to compile a great deal of information on this country. While exporters from the Muslim community took the opportunity to visit the country and take the privilege to visit the holy sites, other exporters, particularly vegetarians tend to avoid the visit or make it as short as possible, though, in my own experience, everything was available and vegetarians should not have any such preconceived notions. I found Saudis also friendly but stricter in dealings and would not tolerate delays.
After this visit, on my return, I submitted my "Market Survey Report on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia", and this, as a handy reference book was published in November 1974.
In the meantime, many political upheavals took place in the region. Nasser's death was a shock to most. King Saud was assassinated in the palace itself; King Hussain had the worst of clashes with the PLO; Yom Kippur War in 1973, in which Anwar Sadat had the Egyptian
Army crossed the Suez Canal on the holiest day in Judaism, which also happened to be during the Ramadan period were important events that we witnessed. And, of course, in the Indian sub-continent it was the creation of Bangladesh in December 1971 that really brought about the change in the area. The UAE was formed, thus united seven sheikhdoms into a union, with Abu Dhabi Sheikh as the president.
The Lebanese government changed, with Suleiman Franjieh taking over as president and Rashid Karami as premier. The Palestinian refugees continued to live in Lebanon, and get into trouble with the law once in a while, breaking the peaceful coexistence, at the cost of hospitable and friendly Lebanese people.
(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce and was associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts; and later to the US. He can be contacted at [email protected])
Kala Committee, which was supposed to conduct a field visit of the bauxite mining areas of Visakhapatnam, in fact did an aerial survey by a helicopter, apparently sponsored by mining companies!
EAS Sarma, former secretary to the Government of India (GoI) is angry with the ministry of environment & forests (MoEF) and its officials for hesitating in rejecting a clearance report. He is also angry with the expert committee appointed under the chairmanship of JC Kala for studying the impact of bauxite mining in and around Visakhapatnam and the committee's report.
Mr Sarma, in a letter to Jayanthi Natarajan, minister for environment & forests, said, "I had pointed out in my letter of 3 February 2012 how Kala Committee failed to visit the bauxite mining areas of Visakhapatnam as the local tribals organized a bandh against its visit. The only visit that was made by it to the area was in a helicopter, that too funded by the mining companies from whom the committee was expected to maintain an arm's length distance! It was the mining companies which provided hospitality to the committee who summoned the tribals from their villages to meet the committee at Visakhapatnam. I requested MoEF to scrap the committee and not to entertain its recommendations for these reasons."
According to Mr Sarma, the committee, which was supposed to do a field visit to the bauxite mining areas near Vishakhapatnam, failed to do so. "The committee had apparently mentioned about its "field visits" to the bauxite mining areas. It is factually incorrect as the only visit that the committee made was by a helicopter which would not have afforded it an opportunity to understand the local environment. Even the helicopter was financed by the mining companies which affected the credibility of the committee's intentions," the former secretary alleged.
In fact, according to information sought under the Right to Information (RTI) Act by Captain J Rama Rao, the Kala Committee, during its visit to Vishakhapatnam, stayed at a star hotel spending about Rs3.88 lakh for lodging and boarding alone. The total expenditure of Rs19 lakh incurred by the committee was paid for by Andhra Pradesh Mineral Development Corporation (APMDC). This includes Rs13.78 lakh for chartering a helicopter to enable the committee to do an aerial survey the bauxite mining areas instead of field visit.
"The aerial visit made it difficult for the committee to speak with the girijans (tribals) from the mining areas and instead the committee called these people to Vizag. The girijans were rightly reluctant to travel outside their forest habitat. Not many of them could therefore meet the committee at Vizag. We suspect that a few who finally turned up at Vizag were those who were provided transport by the mining companies," said Mr Sarma in his letter.
According to the former secretary, the committee, in its report has apparently concluded that "...mining is far above ground water level and provision of garland drains and other measures will contain surface runoff and in turn stream pollution, no direct displacement of people, no vegetation in bauxite areas because of rocky out crop and adverse, no significant eco-sensitive areas, no threat as such to any primitive community and no historical or cultural monuments affected".
"When the committee never visited the area and never interacted with the tribals, such a sweeping statement should not have been made. Apparently, the committee merely echoed the words of the mining companies involved. None of its members had the professional qualifications to make such a statement," said Mr Sarma.
Even, Kishore Chandra Deo, Union minister for tribal affairs and the local Member of Parliament (MP) has requested the governor of Andhra Pradesh, to invoke powers under Clause 5 of the Fifth Schedule to the Constitution and cancel the bauxite mining franchises give in Visakhapatnam. According to Mr Sarma, Mr Deo is a senior MP and is fully familiar with the concerns of the local tribals and legal infirmities in the mining franchises.
Another shocking aspect of the Kala Committee is it mentions the name of Dr SK Rao, director general of Hyderabad-based Administrative Staff College of India (ASCI) as one of its member. However, Dr Rao, in a letter to Dr Tishya Chatterjee, secretary, MoEF, has clearly expressed his dismay for mentioning his name in the Kala Committee report.
"In my letter of 19 December 2011, to the MoEF, I indicated clearly that I would not be able to join the committee after becoming aware of the terms of reference for it. Despite this, I am disappointed that I was listed as a member of the Kala Committee. Would you therefore issue a clarification to all concerned including the media that I was not a member of this committee and I had no role whatsoever in regard to this report," Dr Rao said in the letter.
Mr Sarma, the former secretary of power and finance, requested Ms Natarajan, minister for environment & forests to reject the report of JC Kala Committee review the clearances given for bauxite mining and cancel it in the interest of the tribals.
The plane coming from Abu Dhabi to New Delhi was landed in Nawabshah in Pakistan after detecting a problem with its hydraulic system. All 122 passengers and crew members on board the plane are safe
Lahore: A New Delhi-bound Air India airplane made an emergency landing at Nawabshah in southern Sindh on Monday after developing a technical problem with its hydraulic system, an official spokesman told PTI.
All 122 passengers and crew members on board the plane are safe.
The captain of the Airbus aircraft, going from Abu Dhabi to New Delhi, contacted Pakistani authorities and sought permission for an emergency landing after detecting the problem with the hydraulic system, Civil Aviation Authority spokesman Pervez George told PTI.
The plane landed at Nawabshah airport in southern Sindh province at 3.37 am.
In New Delhi, an Air India spokesperson said: "The aircraft was flying over Pakistan air space when the pilot saw a warning light in the cockpit and sought permission to land at the nearest airport which was Nawabshah."
The captain preferred to have the passengers remain on board the aircraft though Pakistani authorities had offered to allow them to disembark, George said.
George said Air India could send another aircraft to take the stranded passengers and crew to India.
It was also possible that the private Shaheen airline, which has a tie-up with Air India, could provide an aircraft to ferry the passengers and crew to the nearest Indian airport, he said.
A release plane with material and men will be shortly leaving Delhi for the spot to take the passengers.