Sucheta Dalal :The Quiet Success Story (1 Dec 2003)
Sucheta Dalal

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The Quiet Success Story (1 Dec 2003)  

For a long time now, Andhra Pradesh’s CEO Chandrababu Naidu, has been the poster boy for the Confederation of Indian Industry to showcase progressive state governments.

But Mr Naidu is struggling to cope with the recent attack on his life and missed the recently concluded World Economic Forum. So, the CII settled for the savvy but controversial Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi. One person who could have traded places with Mr Naidu had backed out at the last minute. He was Goa’s CM Manohar Parrikar. It is not clear why Mr Parrikar accepted the invitation in the first place, because he is quite emphatic that his development plans for Goa do not require him to shop around for industrial investment. “We are a small state and we need only certain kinds of businesses. We will invite only those”, says the CM.

Mr Parrikar is clearly a man of very definite ideas and many contradictions. In a state with strong Christian traditions and a clear religious divide, which is exacerbated by its notorious political flammability, he is a card-carrying member of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. But if the VHP appears communal and regressive, Mr Parrikar is an IIT graduate, at a time when IIT has become a globally recognised brand

Mr Parrikar has succeeded in managing these contradictions by putting aside his personal predilections and running an efficient administration. “As a chief minister, I have no religion”, says Parrikar explaining Goa’s focus on restoring its rich Catholic-Portuguese heritage of fabulous churches. This expands his support base beyond the Saraswat-Brahmin community and reflects the hardheaded realisation that a world-class tourist destination must preserve its heritage. Mr Parrikar recently explained his vision to a small group of journalists and IIT alumni in Goa. What struck the group was that his entrepreneurial and technical skill, combined with a powerful grasp over numbers and details. From power, tourism, horticulture to pollution problems, or the Right to Information Act - Mr Parrikar had all the data on his fingertips. And the bureaucracy, led by chief secretary Dev Singh Negi, seemed to fully support his effort. Here is a snapshot of Mr Parrikar’s many initiatives.

Skybus Project: Mr Parrikar has the courage to back the Skybus (a dream project of Konkan Railway Corporation’s Managing Director B Rajaram) when states that need it more are reluctant to do so. He firmly believes that Mr Rajaram must be given the opportunity to test what will be a global first. Mr Parrikar earmarked a mere Rs 50 lakh for the Skybus pilot project, but a large group of companies have chipped in with free inputs to help realise the dream. If the 1.6 kilometre pilot run is successful, Skybus will see a worldwide demand as an economical and extremely feasible mass transport project that is entirely ‘Made in India’. KRC hopes to reciprocate Mr Parrikar’s faith by converting the Madgaon site, which is a joint venture with the Goa government, into a revenue-generating Global Research and Development Centre and testing facility.

Education: It may be a co-incidence that Mr Rajaram is an IIT alumnus, but Mr Parrikar seems to rely on many IITians. IIT Mumbai is helping upgrade the Goa Engineering and Technical Colleges and plans to have an off-Powai campus at Goa. Mr Parrikar’s advisor on higher education is Prof GV Prabhugaunkar (a distinguished metallurgist at IIT Mumbai). Mr Parrikar plans to set up an Education Development Corporation and has already earmarked 300-hectares of land, which will be equipped with support services and infrastructure for easily establishing education campuses. Apart from IIT Powai, BITS Pilani and the Institute of Cost Accountants of India are set to have campuses in Goa. All this seems to tie in with Goa’s status as the second most literate state in the country.

Tourism: Mr Parrikar knows that tourism will remain Goa’s mainstay and is trying to bring in value addition through event related tourism. One such initiative is government backing for the International Film Festival for which Goa has been made a permanent venue. Panjim is being spruced up for the Film Festival to the point that even villas that have remained closed for years are being restored and painted and their owners persuaded to open them up for festival related events. Some ugly government buildings of the cement-shortage era are being knocked down to maintain architectural continuity. The state will play host to at least 12 international sporting events, a UNESCO Conference, the 21st International Oracle Meet, India Fashion Week and other events. The massive restoration of Goa’s architecturally beautiful buildings in Panaji such as the secretariat is also part of the effort. These gorgeous buildings now sport the traditional blue and yellow colours of Goa.

Power: For a state that produces no electricity of its own, Mr Parrikar has made some interesting moves. He first reduced transmission and distribution losses from a high 46 per cent to 21 per cent and improved the performance of the state electricity board. He then re-negotiated the Reliance-Salgaonkar Power Corporation’s agreement to force a substantial reduction in tariff by sacrificing some tax revenue. The state is now power surplus with a 320 mw availability against a peak demand of 270 mw. An agreement with Power Trading Corporation for sale of surplus power allows Goa to sell 70 mw round the clock to power deficit states and generate revenue. It now boasts of the lowest electricity tariff in the country, which have been frozen for the next five years.

While an efficient and forward-looking administration certainly helps in politics, controlling aspiring rivals and the opposition has been the biggest challenge for Goa’s politicians. How does Mr Parrikar manage? He first bought himself some room with the unorthodox decision of dissolving the house and seeking a fresh mandate. Having obtained a better control, he believes that the key is to rise above the rabble by running a clean government and consistently delivering results. Tax collections are up 58 per cent and non-tax revenue has soared 200 per cent over the last three years, which is going to fund infrastructure development and agriculture. Clearly, a savvy CM can provide able administration and accelerate development by focussing on the state’s inherent strengths to attract investment and generate employment. But it needs clear vision and gutsy leadership.

-- Sucheta Dalal