The Covid-19 affected the small and medium enterprises in the country the hardest. So much so that the sector is still fighting with its back to the wall to regain its pro-Covid business. Also, there are various policy issues that are nagging the SMEs. The sector has quite a few expectations from the government to overcome these challenges. Satwik Swain, Secretary General of Odisha Assembly of Small and Medium Enterprises speaks to Orissa POST on the difficulties being faced by the OASME. Excerpts of an interview with him.

What was the impact of the pandemic on MSME sector?

The year of 2019-20 and 2020-21 are two worst years for the MSME sector in Odisha. First came cyclone Fani and then the pandemic. The entire sector is going through a bad phase now. General public has lost many things so has the economy. Raw material prices are at a all-time high. Demand is at an all-time low and the fixed expenses are increasing. Some sectors see the pandemic as an opportunity for them but the temporary. pandemic brought unexpected challenges to this sector.

How did OASME tackle the situation?

Except for a few weekends, OASME office was open throughout the lockdown period. Our entire team was there to coordinate with people. I can cite one example here. One of our members who is into apparel manufacturing got an order of patients’ gowns from east coast railways but her factory was inside the containment zone. She called us & I requested Sanjay Kumar Singh, IAS, Secretary, Skill Development, government of Odisha to help the entrepreneur by opening Bhubaneswar ITI. He immediately instructed opening the ITI, And the entire order was executed by the ITI students. During the lockdown, from March 26 to April end every day we distributed 300 plus meals to migrants with collaboration with CMC & DCP Cuttack. We have distributed more than 3 lakh masks through our district chapters. This step gave jobs to nearly 50 workers and 12 units. As far as our efforts with the government to assist MSMEs are concerned, I have personally discussed our issues with Union minister Nitin Gadkari twice on a virtual mode. We have suggested for automatic loan, waiver of interest & many other things which were reflected by a package declared by the PM. We have also discussed many times with the state inter ministerial committee & chief secretary regarding our demands to support the sector.

What are the steps taken to encourage young entrepreneurs?

The most important thing which the OASME has done is a single point facilitation center. Anyone can come & get all types of support from here like preparation of DPR, PAN, GST, IP facilitation & many more. We also give ideas to them. We have made infrastructure to support young /budding entrepreneurs who can use the office space free of cost. We are in the process of making Odisha’s first engineering cluster & common facility centre at Chaudwar where anyone can use the facilities & machines for manufacturing products by paying a very minimum charge. We are also coming up with an incubation cum production centre at Mancheswar, where budding entrepreneurs will take training on apparel and food processing simultaneously and use the equipment for one year after training for their own production.

What are our expectations to boost the MSME sector?

Only one expectation from the government’s: A clear stand and implementation of its vision to develop the sector.

What are your suggestions for the upcoming MSME policy?

There are many suggestions. The government is keen for new MSMEs but there is a big question on the sustainability of the new & existing MSEs.  Finance can be arranged but marketing is always a challenge. The government should set an example for others by buying its own MSME products. Each & every project, procurement of government must be from the state MSEs. We have a lot of expectations from the upcoming procurement policy by MSME department.

How can it be smooth to bring transparency in procurement system?

The Centre brought GeM for transparency in procurement but it doesn’t  give priority to manufacturers. Only traders are getting benefits from this. There is no inspection system which is a big question on quality. I would like to suggest to the Centre to promote manufactures in GeM. I understand there are many filters. Yet it is going to be a big place for tender fixing & open corruption. I can cite examples. As far as the state government is concerned they must come out their own procurement system like e-tendering system in works. It can be Omart or OGeM where MSMEs, Start-Ups, SHGs, weavers & all other sectors can get a platform to sale their products with a robust inspection mechanism like RITEs for Railways or PDIs by DEPM office in a time-bound manner.

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