The real drivers of employment and growth in India are not the exalted corporates, but MSMEs, its time to stop giving them a raw deal
The clock is ticking fast for action by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lead government's action on job-oriented growth. The BJP manifesto also focused on what needs to be done to go beyond the appointment of committees for the Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) sector as the driver of ‘Make in India’ campaign launched during the first six months of the new government.
“Not all the perfumes of Arabia will sweeten this little hand,” goes the old adage. Over the years, a number of committees were set up to strengthen the micro and small enterprises sector. From the times of Puri and Thombe Committees of 1970s to the Dr KC Chakrabarthy Committee of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and the recent PMO Committee of the previous government. None of these failed to mention MSMEs as engines of growth of the economy.
Currently there are 32 national level funds which are in some way related to small enterprise development. Based on the Interim Report of the Committee on Financial Inclusion, the Union Budget- 2007-08 created two Funds of Rs500 crore each called: (a) Financial Inclusion Fund; and (b) Financial Inclusion Technology Fund, both with NABARD. Out of 32 existing Funds, 15 Funds were maintained/ implemented by NABARD and 7 by SIDBI. However, only 13 Funds were related to the MSME Sector.
The Dr KC Chakrabarthy Committee appointed by the RBI itself failed to give the required impetus for rehabilitation of a number of sick units. In fact, several bankers say that there are sick enterprises and healthy entrepreneurs driving Mercedes cars.
This sector employs on average of 4 persons for every one crore of rupees invested while for the same 4 persons a larger enterprise invests Rs50-100crore.
SIDBI, a specially created institution for the SSI/MSMEs, did not change its legacy as an outfit carved out of IDBI, dedicated to work for the large sector. In fact, the MSME ministry did compensate with several rightful interventions at different points of time both for entrepreneurship development and clusterisation as a panacea for several ills of the MSME sector.
Even today no bank branch displays the terms and conditions of financing MSMEs; no bank branch lends money without asking for collateral, save exceptions, notwithstanding the agreement with the Credit Guarantee Fund Trust for Small and Micro Enterprises (CGTMSE) that allows a Rs10 lakh loan without collateral or guarantee. Several Prime Minister's Employment Generation Programme (PMEGP) targets are either not met at all or half-met. This is in spite of relatively lower NPAs in this sector, when compared to all the other priority sectors and endemic NPA-hold of the corporate sector.
There are three distinct categories in the MSME sector that deserve careful inquiry and out-of-the-box solutions:
• The Micro enterprise sector consisting of artisans, village craftsmen, micro entrepreneurs and small service operators: These operate from cultural domains and inherited skills and locally available raw materials. These are all built on inherited skill-sets and keeping the artists and craftsmen barely on subsistence incomes. These are all treated as unorganized and high risk ventures by the lenders, which needs to change.
• The second category is the manufacturing sector in the micro segment: These include the carpenters, the cobblers, the blacksmiths and copper smiths in villages. Several of these categories are in the proven inefficient Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) umbrella. KVIC as intermediary financier is the biggest single NPA holder in the MSE lending portfolio of the PSBs. KVIC is the implementation window of PMEGP schemes. The targets were met to the extent of 30%-40% on an average and several evaluation studies revealed a list of benami borrowers that hurt the banks. The sooner this expensive outfit is reformed the better would it be for the country.
• The third important category is Manufacturing SMEs: In the event of a large enterprise failing due to market forces, inefficient management or lower growth of the economy, the supply chain is broken and the small and medium enterprises are hit. While the Debt Restructuring mechanisms work for corporates, it doesn't for the SMEs. SMEs should get access to these tools of debt management like larger corporates.
Grave injustice has been done to the sector in clubbing the first two categories with the third category. In fact, if one were to look at the lending mat for the sector one would realize that 85% of the MSME lending categorised as such under the priority sector took place in just 12 states in the country.
District Industries Centre, the delivery outfits of the state governments, save exceptions are working with outmoded ideas and support systems. The industrial extension officers hardly provide extension support. Some states like Tamil Nadu have revamped but much more is needed.
The task before the present government is huge but has to be attended with a sense of urgency if the ‘Make In India’ and Made in India have to move into high growth hemisphere. The first, of course, as the Finance Minister rightly identified is redefining the sector. The second is making guarantee mechanisms really work for the sector. The third is making the financial institutions leave off the hypocrisy while appraising the needs of the sector. Exceptional problems require exceptional solutions. India has tremendous opportunity to build a brand image around the MSME sector like never before. Acting in time is the essence.
(Dr Yerram Raju Behara is a former senior executive of SBI and former Dean of Studies at Administrative Staff College of India (ASCI). He is presently visiting Professor at Institute of Small Enterprise Development, Kochi and Advisor, KESDEE Inc, the E-Learning Centre at San Diego. The views expressed in the article are his personal.)
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