02 September 2015 14:06:49 IST

How Odisha bureaucracy hopped on to tech bandwagon

Plans mobile app for investors to track file movement

I had fixed a meeting with Sanjeev Chopra, Principal Secretary, Industries, Odisha. As I was on my way to the secretariat in Bhubaneshwar, I got an SMS.

It said that my “request for meeting” with the senior bureaucrat had been registered, and the text included a request number. Then, a second SMS popped just as I reached the reception at the gate of the secretariat. I had to quote the number and show my PAN card at one of the counters to get the gate pass. At the gate, a guard checked the pass, while another screened my bag and within five minutes, I was in the building. I was there at the bureaucrat’s office a couple of minutes after the given time of 11 am. And in another five minutes, I was in his room.

I found this experience very impressive. An official said that the new system was introduced a year ago. I’ve spent five years in Delhi and getting an appointment with bureaucrats and executives of public sector units was never smooth. Many a time, I have had to wait for more than two hours to meet the person, and more than once, the meeting has been cancelled after that long wait.

Chopra, who is also the CMD of the investment promotion agency IPICOL, now wants to give the same seamless experience to investors coming to Odisha. He realises he is up against a very poor track record.

The investor climate

Till now, investors in Odisha have had a mixed experience. While a few firms, such as Essar and JSPL have seen their projects in the resource-rich state take off, others have not been as lucky. Vedanta Resources set up its alumina refinery in Lanjigarh, but is yet to get bauxite mines after being mired in the Niyamagiri mining imbroglio.

The worst hit, though, has been POSCO. After 10 long years, POSCO seems to be giving up on its attempts to set up a steel plant in the state. In search for an alternative, the South Korean company has tied up with Uttam Galva Steels to set up a plant in Maharashtra.

But it is not just the POSCO fiasco that has hurt Odisha’s perception among the investor community. As I had written earlier this week, the state has seen a decline of 55 per cent in investment proposals in five years from 2004. And the share of the manufacturing sector in its GDP had fallen from 11.08 per cent in 2012-13 to 9.61 per cent in 2014-15.

Now, armed with the new Industrial Policy Resolution, 2015 and Odisha Industries Facilitation (Amendment) Rules, 2015, the Naveen Patnaik-government has set an ambitious target of attracting investment proposals worth ₹1.73 lakh crore by 2019, when the next state elections are due. Interestingly, the target is much below what the state managed in 2004-09 (₹10.23 lakh crore) and 2010-2015 (₹4.58 lakh crore). But then, the biggest investment of all, that of POSCO, didn’t materialise. Not only that, MoUs with 50 projects, promising investments of ₹2. 58 lakh crore, have expired.

Diversifying

While the share of the manufacturing sector in the state’s GDP has declined, the government is keen on diversifying. As part of the recent initiative to improve investor climate, it has mandated KPMG to identify five sectors, other than manufacturing, that could be developed in the state. The consultancy is also expected to recommend policy changes and strategies to develop the five sectors.

The most interesting part of the new drive is the use of technology. Probably for the first time in the country, Odisha will launch a mobile app that can be used by investors to track their files in several departments. The entrepreneurs would also get information on policy and incentives. Similar to my experience, they will get a registration number and can use it to track the file movement, much like the way we track a couriered package.

While I had a seamless experience at the Secretariat, Patnaik, Chopra and rest of the Odisha government will be keen that the investors too have the same opinion.

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