ASSOCHAM chairman explains role in uplifting commerce in the region

Priyanka Chakrabarty

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Guwahati: The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) was established as the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India and Ceylon in 1920 by a group of chambers of commerce led by the Calcutta Traders Association. In the present day, it has emerged as an influential non-governmental trade association and advocacy group based in New Delhi, India. The group, which has over 4,50,000 members, focuses on strengthening the Indian ecosystem through its network of over 400 associations, federations, and regional chambers. Business North East conducted an exclusive interview with the chairman of its Assam Chapter, Dr Sanjive Narain. Below are the excerpts:

Business North East: What has ASSOCHAM done for the economic growth of Assam in the past year? 

Sanjive Narian: ASSOCHAM is an organization that puts forward the policies, suggestions, or options in the policies. It cannot directly help in the growth of the economy. Like the Indian Chamber of Commerce, ASSOCHAM shares its opinions with the government. They can, in turn, implement or make a policy, hoping that it helps the masses and, at the same time, develops the economy of this state. ASSOCHAM is an organization which gives suggestions to the government; whether they are implemented or not depends on them.

BNE: How is the ASSOCHAM working with the government of Assam to improve business conditions and attract investments? 

Narain: See we work very closely. In fact, a few days back, we went and met the chief secretary and shared our opinions on various policies that are supposed to come up, like the new industrial policy, and EV policy. A lot of other things are also coming up. We have put in our suggestions. How they are going to take our suggestions and incorporate those depends on them.

BNE: Are there any other reforms to improve the condition of the industrial sector in Assam? 

Narain: Time and again, we suggest, we give different opinions, as experts. We have experts sitting all across the country as we are an all-India organization. They share opinions with almost every government in India so that we can get good policies. We share our knowledge of this market. What is there in this market, what is there in this state, what policies, if implemented in Assam, will work for the development of the economy - things like that. So we tell them and then take these experts’ opinions from various states. 
And then we make a chart out of that and then provide it to the government. Once the businesses and the industries are developed, the state economy automatically goes up.

BNE: Tea is an important sector in Assam. Has ASSOCHAM provided any advice to the government for improving its quality and global competitiveness?

Narain: We have suggested a few things because we understand the quality of our tea is deteriorating. Few gardens have very good quality of tea but others are deteriorating day by day. And, there is a steep competition now with other states. [West] Bengal and others are doing quite well in the tea sector. So we have suggested a few things to the government. We have suggested a few things to the tea garden owners also, which they should implement. They should increase the production of the tea, production of the tea leaves, etc. Yes, of course, the government has come up with a new policy giving 5% of the land for different usage which will also help them sustain themselves. But at the same time, we have told them the pros and cons. So you need to be very careful and a big study has to be done on what plants should be planted in the tea gardens which will not affect the tea plants. Good care has to be taken now of the tea plants because we can see that the rainfall has been very low this time. So there are a few precautions that we suggest, based on what our experts tell us.

BNE: Like tea, we also know that Assam is a reserve for oil and natural gas, and they must be facing challenges. What are those challenges and how is ASSOCHAM helping?

Narain: In the oil and natural gas sector, the departments have very qualified people. Whether it is Oil India Limited or ONGC, they have their resources. If they ask for our advice, we can get some expert opinions from other countries as well, since we are connected worldwide. We can inform them what is happening in other countries, how they are developing the oil and natural gas, etc. However, we have not been asked for our advice

BNE: What suggestions have been provided to improve tourism in Assam given its rich cultural heritage and natural beauty? 

Narian: We have to improve the connectivity, and the infrastructure. We have suggested that a good number of 5-star hotels needs to come up. We have asked the government to provide some subsidy to these hotels in Kaziranga, Manas, and Pobitora as these will attract tourism. But tourism will only increase when the connectivity is good and the infrastructure is good. Now, with tea gardens allowing 5% of the land to be implemented for other use, a lot of resorts are coming up in the tea gardens. These resorts that are coming up in the tea gardens are very beautiful and will also attract tourism. We have a very high potential for tourism and once the road opens to Thailand, people from around the world will come to see tea. I believe tea tourism has a very big potential in Assam, which will help increase tourism as a whole. 

BNE: Recently, we have heard about the startup 'Mahakumbh' which was organized by ASSOCHAM and NASSCOM. How did Assam benefit from it? 

Narain: ASSOCHAM was associated with Mahakumbh in Gujarat. Similarly, our state government is planning to host Advantage Assam sometime in November, or December. So we have given them a proposal of what we can do. Now it's up to the government to call us and ask us to implement that. We will ensure that we get all the investors from the world, not only from the country. We will show them the potential that is there in the Northeast and in Assam in particular.

BNE: What is ASSOCHAM’s next five-year plan and what are the milestones it wants to achieve? 

Narain: We don't have a plan for five years right now. As of now, we are planning to support the government in their next trade event. We are looking into that and we are working on it already, although we don't have any official confirmation. We are also in contact with people abroad. We are in contact with people in the country including big industrialists. And of course, along with that, we will help the government develop policies.

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Priyanka Chakrabarty