September 30, 2013
‘The level of insecurity is very high in Gulf countries. It is sensible to have some business base back in our homeland. This will strengthen our roots.’ Sachin’s father had emphasized the vision when he was alive. Unfortunately, his death three years back ended his dream. His father had owned Carton converting plant and soon after his father’s demise, Sachin took over the responsibilities of family and business.
Settling down with marriage was not in his immediate plans. Taking care of mother, younger siblings, a brother and sister was the priority. Whenever insecure phenomenon bothered him, Sachin too thought of owning a business venture back in his home country. Soon after his brother’s graduation, he trained him to manage their Dubai operation and worked on his plan ‘B’. A feasibility study was done at his homeland. The evaluation suggested potential and prospects for success. He consulted his family members and decided to open a corrugated converting plant in country’s special economic zone.
The project report together with application form and bank draft were submitted to SEZ Development Commissioner’s office. He had a brief meeting with Development Commissioner.
“Nothing to worry.” Commissioner energized him. “Our procedures are very simple. After submitting proposal, if everything is in order, you will be called for interview by approval committee within next 2 weeks. You will be given ‘Letter of Permission’, that would be valid for 3 years, by then you will have to commence production.”
“My friends have cautioned me. They say initiating business project in this country is like surrendering to a deadly evil. There is no escape route from trap of corruption. I was tensed. Now I feel a lot better.” Sachin’s enthusiasm was stimulated.
“Don’t worry. Situation is no more the same in this country. It’s changed.” Commissioner gave him hope and confidence.
While stepping out of SEZ office, a helper accompanied him on his way out. He introduced himself as ‘Ranga’ and assured to help Sachin whenever in need. While parting Ranga folded his hands and pleaded for some incentive towards ‘Chai-Paani’. Sachin rewarded him with some cash.
He waited a call from SEZ approval committee during next couple of weeks. The approval committee remained in silence for over 30 days. He tried commissioner’s appointment without success. Ranga came to his rescue.
“Your file is missing from main tray. Mr. Chakravarthy, a member of approval committee can trace your papers.” Ranga disclosed Chakravarthy’s cell phone number only after his ‘Chai-Paani’ incentive was paid. Sachin called Chakravarthy and requested him to expedite the approval.
“This can be decided only after the meeting of approval committee.” Chakravarthy showed no consideration.
“When is your next meeting? I have been waiting for last one month. It is unfair. I am wasting my time.” Sachin expressed dissatisfaction.
“How much do you plan to invest in your project?” Chakravarthy inquired.
“It must be in the range of 80 million.” Sachin replied.
“Very well. Let us meet at Venus Café at 5:00 pm. I will try to help you.” Chakravarthy assured.
The preset meeting took place at Venus Café at 5:00 in the evening. Sachin earnestly advised to speed up the process.
“Your project is worth 80 million.” Chakravarthy cautiously conversed. “Obviously returns must be very high. I hope you will not complain if you end up in spending few thousands more.”
Sachin had no other option. Time was precious. It made sense to pay few thousands and clear up obstacles. Chakravarthy gave his word to trace missing file and specified his fees. Project approval committee called him for an interview soon after payment was made. The meeting concluded with assurance to process ‘Letter of Permission’ at the earliest.
Sachin walked out with newfound relief and joy. However, his contentment was short lived. Unforeseen hurdles prevented the progress of LOP. Additional payoffs turned obligatory for approvals of lease agreement, inner-outer construction drawings and civil work. As frustration intensified, at time times he felt like calling off the project. Dubai was always much better place for business. He had invested time and money for new venture. Quitting was not a solution. Winning in adverse situations was challenge.
Finally LOP was released by SEZ office. Consequently, he opened bank account, obtained sales tax and excise duty numbers. Eight months had passed. He tried to find contentment in believing the worst was over. By then his brother informed that indiscreet transfer of funds had caused ‘cash flow crunch’ in their Dubai operation. Sachin advised his brother to seek credit advances from bank.
In next 6 months, the building was erected. Sachin focused his mind on machinery installation, hiring workforce and purchase of raw materials. Electrical work contract was given to a registered supplier. Contractor quoted a budget of one million and ended up in spending 4 million. Over and above work was completed after considerable delay. Electrical connection was arranged after additional shell out. He was about to run the trial run. However, SEZ office informed that pollution department approval was mandatory to commence production.
Sixteen months had passed ever since the date of submission of application. Regular flying back and forth between Dubai and homeland had left him exhausted. Credit advance was arranged by their bank in Dubai.
The official from pollution department quoted a sum to provide clearance certificate. Sachin was left with no choice. Under the table settlement was done. He believed that he crossed the final hurdle by obtaining pollution clearance certificate. Sachin was proved wrong by system. He was advised to procure permission from Boiler committee. His plan of production was stalled by this new obstacle. Boiler Committee conducted tests ceaselessly for next 3 months without any result. Thwarted by the situation, Sachin sought Chakravarthy’s help.
Chakravarthy mediation helped in organizing a meeting at the Coffee shop with an influential member of the boiler committee. The boiler committee member demanded a million to process permission within one week.
“I have already burnt my fingers in this project. I am facing severe cash crunch.” Sachin protested.
“You have spent well enough. It is not the time to step back. You are close to triumph.” Chakravarthy bolstered his dwindling spirits.
“Do you mean I can begin production after boiler committee approval?” Sachin naively asked.
“One hundred percent.” Chakravarthy put his hand on Sachin’s shoulder.
Despite the vulnerable condition, he was step closer to finish line. His business model was solid. He knew, he could thrive and survive soon after commencement of production. A million was paid to obtain permission from Boiler committee. He had overcome most of obstacles. His newfound redeemed state was cut short. Commissioning of machinery was further postponed indefinitely in absence of energization order.
The assigned contractor had done electrical network, cabling and installation. By then he had conveniently forgotten to arrange ‘Energization Order’ from Electrical Authority. Electrical contractor did not respond to his repeated calls. He approached concerned authority and requested for document. Electrical authorities visited, inspected and reported faults in network. A notification was issued to him to redo cabling and to change transformer.
Sachin was exasperated while confronting exceedingly great number of roadblocks. He had taken infinite pressures over it. Now it seemed continuing on and on, unlikely ever to stop. Before any more payoffs, he thought of meeting SEZ development commissioner. Taking an appointment was not easy. Ranga helped him after paying an incentive towards usual ‘Chai-Paani’.
“How is your project going?” Development Commissioner enquired.
“I am caught up in a web of deadly evil.” Sachin feebly replied.
“Why do you say so?”
“It is two years now since I initiated this project.” He sounded helpless. “I constructed plant, installed machinery and hired the required manpower. Projected investment was 80 million and I ended up spending 180 million. I was running a stable company in Dubai that funded this project. Now it is facing financial difficulties. You have hidden barriers that prevent access for solution. I had heard of the magnitude of corruption in this part of world. However I had not imagined that it could deplete me to this extent.”
“You should be brave while working on a project of this size.” Commissioner cajoled him. “Tell me your problem. I will try to help you.”
Commissioner’s words prompted Sachin to trust him. He seemed like man of ethics. Sachin narrated his two years of saga, obstacles, difficulties, hardships and shocking bribes. Commissioner stayed deep in thought for a while.
“It is a shame to nation.” Commissioner let his breath out. “Excessive regulations, complex licensing systems, numerous government departments, bureaucracy, lack of transparent laws etc. are causes of this disgraceful state of affairs of this country.”
“You should have met me earlier. I would have saved your preventable time and money.” Commissioner shook his head.
“Can you rescue me from this evil trap?” Sachin eagerly asked. “I can recover and regain my losses if production is in place. Can you make it happen?”
“Why not?” SEZ Commissioner continued while tilting back in his chair. “I can make it happen in less than a month. You may have to spend some extra money. I hope you will not complain.”