The Annual General Meeting 2017 of The Bengal Chamber of Commerce and Industry was held on 12th September 2017, at the Chamber premises. The Chief Guest was Dr. Amit Mitra, Hon’ble Minister-in-Charge, Finance, Industry, Commerce & Enterprises & MSME and Textiles, Government of West Bengal. Shri S. S. Mundra, Former Deputy Governor, Reserve Bank of India was the Guest of Honour at the Public Session of AGM 2017.
The AGM commenced with an Audio-Visual Presentation to showcase 2016-17: The Year That Was.
Addressing the 163rd AGM of The Bengal Chamber of Commerce and Industry, The outgoing President, Mr. Sutanu Ghosh, delivered an insightful speech which looked back on Bengal as well as the Indian Economy during 2016-17 and also the areas and issues the Chamber worked in and addressed during his Presidential tenure. Mr. Sutanu Ghosh also observed that in the past year, the Chamber had launched numerous mega activities and had worked closely with the State Government, largely towards enabling a healthy pro-business environment.
Dr. Mitra, in his speech, presented statistics about the fall in GDP, GVA, Bank Credit Growth and various other parameters at the national level in fiscal 2016- 17.
Referring to demonetization as one of the main causes for the decline in different growth parameters, Dr. Mitra stated that the GDP growth in the country had declined from eight percent in the fourth quarter of 2015-16 to 7.1 percent in 16-17. The GVA has also fallen from 8.7 percent in 2015-16 to 5.6 percent in 2016-17. Bank credit growth he stated had been the lowest in the last 20 years which was a clear indication that the small traders had to bear the brunt of the effects of demonetization. Bank credit growth at 10.3 percent in the 2015-16 fiscal, had abruptly declined to 1.7 percent in 16-17. NPAs of PSU banks had also risen to a disturbing level during 2016-17. NPA which stood at 5.17 percent in 15-16 had gone up to 11.97 percent in 16-17. Dr. Mitra said that economists had predicted that the GDP in the next fiscal viz 2017-18 will fall further and will be in the range of 6.8 to 7.3 percent. He maintained that former Reserve Bank Governor Raghuram Rajan had said that the short term loss due to demonetization had been so high that it could overshadow the long term gain.
Dr. Mitra emphasized that West Bengal has witnessed a major jump in export during Mamata Banerjee's two terms. He mentioned that export from Bengal was Rs 30,644 crore in 2010-11 when the new State Government assumed office. The peak export was Rs 63,731 crore, which was achieved in 4 years after the new Government took charge. "It shows that there is a huge potential of export from our State," he added. The main export items include leather, software, jewellery along with others. He said surge in lending to micro, small and medium enterprises was one of the reasons behind this growth. The State has witnessed compounded MSME lending of Rs 1.30 lakh crore during 2011-12 to 2016-17. The target of the State-level bankers committee for MSME lending was Rs 31,000 crore which had been raised to Rs 38,000 crore for this year.
Dr. Mitra urged the Bengal Chamber to form a separate cell to look into the problems of the MSME sector and also keep a tab on the credit link of the banks to ensure a smooth flow of funds for the self-help groups. “We had the State Level Banker’s Committee (SLBC) meeting recently where they had proposed to provide credit link of Rs 3.50 lakh for self-help groups up from Rs 2.50 lakh in the fiscal 2016-17. I will urge the Chambers to form a cell and assess which district is registering a shortfall in credit flow and what has been the credit disbursement of the banks. This would ensure pushing up of things,” Dr. Mitra said. According to the Finance Minister, the quantum of agri-loan given to the farmers of the State had increased substantially which was evident from the rise in Kisan Credit Cards (KCC) given to them by the banks as well as loans extended to them. Banks had agreed to handover 45 lakh in 2017-18 fiscal. In 2016-17, the figure of KCC was 16.34 lakh. This is good for the State’s economy, he said, adding that this will be a ‘game changer’.
Former Deputy Governor of RBI, Shri S S Mundra who was the Guest of Honor at the AGM, however, differed on the State Finance Minister’s views on terms of agri loan. “This is all good. But this can’t be a game-changer. This is all incremental and not a great leap forward,” Mr. Mundra said. He added that credit extended to fragmented land holdings would not become productive. “What is required is aggregation of land holdings and introduction of contract farming and establishment of chain linkages,” he maintained.
Shri S. S. Mundra, also said public sector banks (PSBs) needed a focused approach towards long-term agricultural credit and attempts must be made to finance the entire agro-value chain to improve the current state of affairs in this sector. According to Shri Mundra, the agro sector is plagued with lack of new capital formation, as the share of long-term credit declined to 32 per cent in 2013-14, from 74 per cent in 1990-91.
The North and South zones together account for 62 per cent of the agro-credit, with the Southern Region alone accounting for 41 per cent of the total disbursement. Also, the credit in the sector is heavily concentrated, as only 15 districts of the total 600 districts in the country accounted for 21 per cent of the total credit. Shri Mundra asked the PSBs to take a hard look at their approach in rural areas. He said the banks and the country’s policy framework needed to be friendlier towards micro, small and medium enterprises. This sector has the potential to create jobs at a time when it is estimated that around 69 per cent of the current jobs in India might be lost on account of automation.
The Incoming President, Mr. C S Ghosh, set the theme and focus for the year 2017-18 with his very engaging deliberation. Mr. Ghosh said that The Bengal Chamber’s constant effort is to bring the stakeholders together and create relevant forums for the members and the industry at large to discuss relevant contemporary issues as well as issues of concern. This year, one of the main focus areas of the Bengal Chamber would be Finance and Banking. The objective is to address the critical issues of the nation’s financial sector through the Chamber’s various forums.
There are three issues particularly on which the Chamber would like to focus in future –
» Financial Inclusion
» Bad loan problem for the banking industry
All three are related to India’s future growth. While financial inclusion was mandatory for growth that is being aimed at, technology will help achieve that. We need to address the twin balance sheet problems of banks with bad loans and over-leveraged corporations if we want to lift the credit off take and fuel India’s growth.
He also announced that for Bengal Chamber this year would be the 'Year of Going Beyond the Boundaries'.
Even though BCC&I is the oldest Chamber of Commerce, typically till date almost all programmes are held in Kolkata. Mr. Ghosh announced that this year the Chamber would like to go beyond the East, and hold a seminar and round-table discussion on critical and contemporary issues in Mumbai and Delhi. For this, he sought the help and co-operation of all concerned.
Subsequently, the names of the new office bearers and members of the Managing Committee were announced in the Business Session, with the new President being Mr. Chandra Shekhar Ghosh; President Designate, Mr. Indrajit Sen; Senior Vice President, Mr. B B Chatterjee and Vice President, Mr. Deb A Mukherjee. The first Managing Committee meeting was held immediately after the Business Session.
This was followed by the Evening Annual Reception at the ITC Sonar.