He is no nonsense, down to business and hardworking first generation entrepreneur. A chemical engineer by profession, he began his career at Rallis India Ltd as Area Sales Officer promoting sales of fertilizers, pesticides in western Odisha. Thereafter, he joined as a management trainee in the state managed Industrial Promotion and Investment Corporation of Odisha Ltd [IPICOL], where he got exposed to the nuances of development banking. After working at Chennai as a Project Manager in Cholamandalam Fibres (P) Ltd for quite some years, he launched his own enterprise in the name of Cholamandalam Nets (P) Ltd, which is now chanted to Magnum Polymers in Bhubaneswar. Today Mr. Mahapatra presides over a number of industries from sea food export to aquaculture, contract prawn farming, feed and pesticide distribution, ice plant and pre-processing plant, High-Density Polyethylene Pipe HDPE, Polypropylene Ropes and twines manufacturing to medical transcription to real estate business.

Having associated with the industry for more than three decadesMr. Ramesh Mohapatra, UCCI, he got elected as President of Utkal Chambers of Commerce and Industries (UCCI) in 2010 and 2012. Ever since, he has been instrumental for a marked makeover of UCCI to a more pro-active industry body and a real conduit between policy makers and the entrepreneurs. Meet Ramesh Mahapatra, 65, who in a free-wheeling interview with BizOdisha.com, says that the ease of doing business is key to Odisha’s prosperity in the next decade.

Odisha is rich, but Odias are poor. How do you look at this paradox and what needs to be done for the image makeover of the state in the country and abroad.

Indeed Odisha is rich under the ground but we are poor above the ground. We do not have a visionary leader who can lift the state from the present morass. Frequent natural disasters, poor infrastructure, neglected social sector and above all general despondency among the denizens of the state impede the state’s development process. Worse still is the alleged involvement of some important leaders in various scams and corrupt practices. There is also dearth of capital and entrepreneurship. All these factors bloc capital formation in the state and slow pace of industrialization. Besides, Odisha has not adopted modern methods of farming for which the state has to import most food products barring rice.

The approach of top echelon of the state government towards the industrial community is very positive. But the weak link is the approach of middle level and low level officials. They need to be trained and motivated to be positive and help grow enterprises and particularly the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises [MSME] sector.

What are some of the crucial aspects of policy engagement with government for the industrial development of the state, particularly in MSME sector?

Fundamental to the growth of enterprise is the ease of doing business and fast clearances of the projects. A conducive industrial policy draft providing higher incentives to employment intensive industries should be brought to the public domain by the state government for proper discussion among all the stakeholders. The policy should ensure greater linkages of small and medium enterprises with large industries through development of ancillary and downstream industries. By developing special industrial parks, the government can boost the growth in the MSME sector. Government should work with the 4Cs – convergence, co-ordination, cohesion and concerted efforts. There should be cluster development approach for enhancing competitiveness among small and medium scale industries which will enhance their growth and development.What are the roadblocks and bottlenecks you see to the development in the next couple of years?

Redtapism and Babu culture. I sincerely believe that the primary task before the government is to ensure ease of doing business in a transparent manner so that people will be interested in starting their own business. Needless to say, infrastructure development is key to the state’s overall progress. Even to-day, IDCO doesn’t have many industrial estates in and around major cities like Bhubaneswar, Cuttack, Balasore, Rourkela, Berhampur etc. Single window should truly be single window and should not lead to many doors. The budgetary provision for industry and MSME department is very low and needs to be hiked.

Some big ticket projects, like Posco, Vedanta, Mittal etc are in trouble. Even the steel manufacturing units are not in good shape. Do you see any hope in the coming years?

Yes, there is a hope that big projects and manufacturing units will be in good shape as the government has started allocating mines and renewing them. Multi-nationals [MNCs] have not really failed in Odisha. Quite some of them like Tata, Jindal, have already started their production. Some MNCs have failed due to the faulty land acquisition policy that did not take the land losers into confidence.

Emphasis on MSME is important as it contributes 45% of the total industrial output and 40% of export and employs 7.3 crore people in the country. Similarly, Odisha ranks 10th position amongst all state of India in providing employment in MSME sector. Fifteen lakh MSME units provide employment to more 33 lakh people. Our government should give maximum emphasis on growth of this sector. Odisha is expected to soon come out with a progressive and attractive IPR and MSME development policy improving upon the deficiencies in the present MSME Development Policy, 2009 and IPR-2007. The draft policies should be placed in the public domain before it gets legal.

Nevertheless, I certainly see a good period for industrial growth as our state government has excellent policies on tourism, food processing, entrepreneur development, youth etc. I say this with confidence because there is concern all around about ease of doing business as the inter-state competition is becoming tough to attract investment.

What are some of your plans as one of the longest serving UCCI presidents?

The longest serving president is Late Shri Sukumar Sen, who served UCCI for nine years. I am humbled by the popular mandate making me the president for third time. My priority as before would be to work for the development of trade, commerce and industries in the state with a view to strengthen and expand economic activity in the state, by fostering just, equitable and globally competitive business environment compatible with free enterprise of the new millennium. Serving the society through proactive initiative and further socio-economic and cultural causes, providing proper analytical inputs for policy guidelines, coordinating with the government for smooth implementation of the policies is my motto. Besides, we need to promote entrepreneurship and skill development in the state in a big way. Most importantly, I endear to make UCI as an important platform for voicing the concerns of the industry, trade and commerce and branding the state to merge as the most favoured investment destination.

What are the industry expectations from the state government?Odisha

Atmosphere of trust, quick decisions and clearances, respect from bureaucracy, as industries create wealth and employment and generate revenues for state and centre.

Odiya youths are interested to begin their careers as entrepreneurs. How can youths in the state be drawn to launch firms on their own?

It is not true that Odias generally prefer jobs than to be an entrepreneur. Youths in our state are keen to start their own enterprises. Industry bodies like UCCI have an important role to play. The government and association can join hands to motivate engineering and management graduates to start their own enterprises and the youths in colleges should be educated about the various schemes and incentives of the government. Institute should interact with successful entrepreneurs and request them to share their experiences with budding entrepreneurs who should be facilitated by government and association like UCCI. All engineering and management colleges should have a course on entrepreneurship.

You have been an entrepreneur for long years. Can you share your sweet and bitter memories in charting out this career?

I forget bitter memories and proceed forward to achieve my future goals. An entrepreneur should have the determination to overcome roadblocks and not be dithered by setbacks. An entrepreneur should have a dream and should be passionately determined to fulfill it. If he doesn’t fulfill his dreams somebody else will hire him to fulfill theirs. To survive as an entrepreneur in Odisha is definitely a tough job. Instead of brooding, one must accept the follies of the system and try to overcome them while putting up an industry in Odisha and also the entrepreneur should be prepared for bureaucratic hurdles and delays in various government clearances.

What, in your view, are some of the key sectors in terms of global expansion for Odisha based firms?
Some of the important sectors where Odisha best firms can expand are agro and food processing particularly sea food processing, IT and ITES, metallurgical and mineral products and even downstream products of various products like cables, conductors etc.

Prime Ministemsmer, Narendra Modi is giving a big push to Make In India movement. Can Odisha position itself to take leaf out of it to start Make in Odisha campaign?

Of course Odisha can surely make “The Make in Odisha campaign” successful by providing a conducive environment for industries particularly with emphasis on ease of doing business. Entrepreneurs should be welcomed in a dignified way and should be respected as important member of the society. I will go a step further to say that let us make the campaign “Make from Odisha” because the entire country as a whole and the world should be the market for products made from Odisha.