A conversation with Member of Parliament Gaurav Gogoi

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PHOTO: ARKADRIPTA CHAKRABORTY

YFFP: Sir, tell us about this recent visit to the MP delegation team to the US and what was the main agenda behind this team’s visit to the US?

Gaurav Gogoi: Recently I was part of a delegation called the India-US forum of Parliamentarians. This delegation’s objective is to discuss and debate issues of strategic importance, both of concern and importance to India and the US, was formed close to 13 years ago by a group of parliamentarians across various political parties, to at that point of time bring some more depth into the relationship between our two governments and since then it has been a very successful and largely informal initiative, it is not a government body or it is not a standing parliamentary forum. It is an initiative taken by the parliamentarians on their own, it’s an individual and independent initiative. Over the last few years it has been supported by FICCI, Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry and it has visited the US and hosted delegations from the US.

YFFP: So you met the US counterparts as well?

Gaurav Gogoi: Yes, so, the objective of this delegation is to meet senators, meet congressmen, meet representatives from commerce and business, from think tanks and academia, meet with the Indian diaspora over there, also with our Indian diplomatic community in Washington DC and at the United Nations in New York.

YFFP: So since it’s about strategic interests and basically about the business forums, so how do you think India and US relations regarding these strategic and the commerce related issues have flourished over the years?

Gaurav Gogoi: Well.

YFFP: Do you see any change?

Gaurav Gogoi: Well I think there has been a massive change at various intervals in the Indian-US relationship. Definitely one major interval was at the end of the cold war. During to the Cold War era, without meaning to, India and US were on positions which were contradictory to each other or in opposition to each other or in conflict with each other, that changed after the end of the Cold War and then with the economic liberalization reform in 1991, a lot of American companies got their chance to enter into the Indian market and participate and that really boosted the relationship. Going forward, America’s interest in India took another turn after the nuclear deal because that was an initiative both by the then former Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh and former president George Bush, to clearly take the India us relationship to the next level and they put a lot of personal effort into the relationship and as a result both the Indian policy makers and the American policy makers worked very closely with each other and understood what was each other’s economic and strategic interests are and that really opened up the door for more American investment to come into India for more Indian business to work in the US and now with Asia being such an economically important region and so many Asian countries which are an important market for the US, it becomes very important now for these two countries to develop a commercial relationship and business relationship that is mutually beneficial to the business and commerce interest of organizations and institutions in both countries.

YFFP: So then we were talking about the nuclear deal. So in the nuclear deal, recently, we have seen that US has been in talks with Pakistan regarding their nuclear deal, so what is your take on the growing connection between US and Pakistan in terms of their nuclear deal?

Gaurav Gogoi: Well, firstly, we think to oppose US military aid to Pakistan till the time it doesn’t dismantle the support networks of all terrorist organizations and groups in Pakistan. I feel personally that continued nuclear US aid is only detrimental to the objectives of assuring peace and stability in the region. I think, there has been global concern and that concern has been shared by the US as well, as to Pakistan’s ability to safely manage its nuclear facilities and secure them and protect them from falling into the wrong hands. So any understanding between the US and Pakistan should be only related to ensuring of safety of security of nuclear facilities in Pakistan so that it doesn’t fall into the hands of anti-India organizations.

YFFP: I would like to focus towards the recent, Modi’s Digital India Plan. So, we have seen that recently he visited US and there has been, his reach out in the Silicon Valley which shows the world that Indian leaders having an unwavering support and belief in the power of technology to transform the country. So, do you think this is a positive change, which will bring about investments in India, which will encourage the start-ups or innovations? So, what is you take on the entire Digital India initiative.

Gaurav Gogoi: I think what would really change the economic and investment scenario in India is substantive policy changes within our country and not announcements. We need to understand that domestic as well as global entrepreneurs are struggling to start-up businesses in India, struggling to get permits, struggling to understand, the various tax regulations. So, it is even difficult for Indian IT entrepreneurs to come back from California and set up a business here. So, while we outline the clear vision, the devil now lies with the details.

YFFP: (speaking simultaneously) the implementation…

Gaurav Gogoi: As how we will achieve, what is the roadmap to achieve that vision because the failure of any such announcements will create a massive ripple effect where the global community and the investor community and the entrepreneurial community will lose faith in India’s policy and infrastructure. So you should set the expectations very carefully… and first of all manage…uh, both the taxation issues, our legal issues and so many of our companies, uh, even IT companies are finding it difficult to do business with the US because of US visa policies. So, these are all like, the nuts and bolts that we must address first before announcing grand vision statements which are hollow in details.

YFFP: So, I’ll be focusing back upon the ministerial level forums that take place between India and US and how do you think, because I’ve read in one of the Indian embassy statements regarding these forums, that they’re saying that these kinds of dialogue like the ministerial level economic and say, financial partnership or the ministerial representation in trade forum, how are they actually helping to strengthen the bilateral relations between the two countries?

Gaurav Gogoi: See, it’s a good question. First of all, there has been a change in the recent structure of our dialogues where India and US earlier used to have discussions around the strategic dialogue. Recently, we’ve added a strategic and commercial dialogue, which means that, boosting India’s economy and trade in the world is strategic to India’s interests as well as boosting America’s trade and commerce in Asia is strategic to America’s interest. So, we must understand how our regulations related to commerce can synergize with each other and can help each other instead of acting as a stumbling block. So, these ministerial level delegations will really help unpack some of the complicated structures of Indian laws and American laws and find out a way so that both American businesses working in India and Indian business working there can operate more simply. Case in point is that India exports a lot of food to the US. It exports Basmati Rice, exports mangoes, exports other kind of uh,

YFFP: pulses….

Gaurav Gogoi: Horticulture, pulses products. Now, due to different standards, for packaging and labeling and pesticide content, a lot of Indian exports are not reaching American markets and are rotting in American warehouses just because they have different standards. We’re both complying to standards. American are asking us to comply to American standards, we’re complying to Indian standards. Because the standards are not uniform… as a result, our trade and commerce suffers, the Indian farmers suffer and the State’s revenue suffers. So strategic commercial dialogue will help us understand how can we have uniform standards, or standards which are compatible with each other. So, therefore, tomorrow this problem of Indian food exports to US getting stuck does not, you know, does not arise.

YFFP: like we have seen in the case of mangoes, which was, France, that was… they didn’t allow us to import our mangoes to France because of the pesticides.

Gaurav Gogoi: Exactly, because each country follows their own standards and we’re not figuring out a way of how making sure standards are inter-compatible.

YFFP: A global sort of standards.

Gaurav Gogoi: A global consensus for standards and I think that’s something is very important. Only through dialogues can we achieve that. Secondly, it is being said that, for American companies, who want to, you know, work here, they want to look at a the passage of the GST Bill as a sign that Indian economic reforms are taking place and… where with respect to the GST Bill, what we’re seeing now, is that, the GST Bill when it was introduced, was introduced as a major economic reform. But subsequent amendments which have crept into the GST BILL has ensured that instead of being a Big Bang economic reform, it will only be a very minor reform and that will defeat the purpose of GST. So, conditions like 1 percent every state can offer, conditions like, uh, certain commodities being outside of GST, having no ceiling, keeping a ceiling, which is so high. So these are amendments which are, you know, defeating or diluting the original purpose of GST and therefore it is getting stuck in an economic argument as to what is the best GST version we can come out, but the delay is definitely sending out a signal to the global community that our government is not doing enough to kind of build a consensus within Parliament.

 

YFFP: Since we are talking about GST at this I want to go off-track and ask you about the rising prices of pulses in India and I recently read somewhere that in a way the academic world and most of the people are blaming that in India, agriculture research has failed the farmers because they have not been able to provide high yield pulses or cost effective methods for the farmer to help evolve various kinds of technologies like the western counterparts like US, Canada or Mexico who are producing vast amounts of pulses and who are exporting and importing it to India. So what is your take on that? Has research really failed agriculture?

Gaurav Gogoi: Well research in agriculture has been very limited, that is without a doubt a statement of fact. Secondly, the rise in price of pulses has to be seen from two angles, from the farmer’s angle and from the consumer’s angle. You would assume that if the prices of Dal are rising in the market then Dal farmers or Dal producing states are becoming richer but that is not the case. So therefore there is some flaw in the way we in this correct system where the rise in prices is not helping the producer. If you look at from last year there were several indications relating to the fact that there is a drought, there has been unseasonal rainfall, there have been farmers suicides so there are many factors which are crippling the production of Dal and therefore any proper estimate would have told you that following year’s Dal output would not be enough to satisfy consumer demand in India. Such a case is not new, this has happened before as well a government, which is using foresight, would have calculated how much would be the deficit of Dal in the following year and that deficit would have been met by imports. If my production is going to be small for next year then by importing Dal in time from other countries I would ensure that at this point of the year there is enough Dal to satisfy the demand. You would see that these import orders are only going right now which means there has been a mistake by this government to allow prices of pulses to reach an astronomically high level before you are sending out your import orders. By this delay neither have the producers benefited nor the consumers. The only people who have benefitted are the middlemen, the traders and even if you look at now there is been some effort which has come to release Dal from hoarders but that is too late and too miniscule amount to actually meet the demand. So I feel there have been a lack of coordination management and a lack of priority given to this given that we saw the warnings of this last year itself.

YFFP: So in this sense can India learn from other countries which are doing better in terms of producing pulses in terms of managing their productions because these countries we see like Canada they are sending back to India so they must be doing something with their farmers and their production function which we are lacking?

Gaurav Gogoi: Definitely, India has to learn in terms of not neglecting agriculture and this perspective that agriculture has failed us and therefore we should move to manufacturing is a wrong perspective. Agriculture has not failed us, we have failed agriculture and if we put in the right amount of reforms needed in terms of production or market access or in terms of value addition food processing aggregating producers then we will ensure that farming is a sustainable livelihood for many of our people and it is one of the areas along with other areas such as manufacturing and services which employs India’s youth. But the perspective has been agriculture has failed India and therefore is something to be neglected.

YFFP: Now I would like to focus back into the Indo-US relations. So currently we are seeing new presidential elections that are happening in US. So do you think there will be a progress reversal in the key areas in which India-US or do you see a kind of a further take over from this from the Obama administration, whatever it has achieved do you think if Hilary Clinton or if a person like Donald trump who is a hardcore business man coming into power will we see a change in the commercial aspect or ties between India and US undergoing drastic change?

Gaurav Gogoi– One, experience that we have gained from our evolution post-independence which is of building a democratic society is the respect for law and rule of law and the respect for institutions because that is the way India has managed to build a society which is extremely diverse but it is united by certain principles such as rule of law and held together but institutions such as the Supreme Court or the Election Commission. So, therefore we must ensure that these principles must translate within each. Now there is a rule of law ,we know what the law is and have a common understanding of the law, we understand that the law is enforced and second we build certain institutions which all the nations is Asia understand and are able to work with and these institutions eventually should lead to the development of our economies.

 

YFFP– My last question would be, how you see this government’s sustainable growth in terms of power emission and in terms of climate change echo with the thoughts of U.S who is planning to cut down its emission, who is giving a kind of leeway to India in terms of India achieving its economic goals.  So, how do you see this sustainable growth thing play out or how is this dynamic being played out in the Indian scene?

 

Gaurav Gogoi– Well, there are two things. From an environmental point of view, I think there is a global confidence in the fact that each country has given up INDC, which is a nationally determined contribution. So, that shows that every nation is committed towards reducing emissions and every nation has outlined a roadmap as to how they would reduce their emissions. In India, we have outlined a roadmap which will focus heavily of renewable technology and will focus a lot on afforestation. I think this INDC target of ours has been welcomed by the U.S. They also understand that it’s really ambitious but again it’s a huge step and the entire world, both domestic and the global community, while we appreciate large vision statements we all want details. So, we all are hoping that the Paris Conference will kind of outline more details as to how India will achieve its INDC targets. But this also opens up an interesting area, when we are focusing so much on renewable technology , to look at energy reforms within our own country .So many parts of our country don’t have access to electricity, so many state electricity boards are bankrupt and they are not able to even buy electricity and our transmission networks are aged. So if we are looking at making a major reform to our energy demand by shifting from coal which supplies 60% of the energy to renewable energy which currently provides 2-3% but as per INDC will provide 40%, this target gives a good impetus to look at the energy scenario within our country and kind of reform the distribution and transmission. And also who is going to reduce this renewable energy, it’s not going to be the state owned companies, it will the private companies who will invest in this. So, the government must create certain policies and incentives for the private companies to produce renewable energy and these private companies can be both domestic or American and therefore, this comes back to how America’s interests are also aligned for us to switch from a coal based to a renewable energy based portfolio. But coming back to the fact again, that we must not get lost by lofty goals and remain grounded in reality. If 60% of our energy is produced by coal technology and again this technology really old and highly polluting, from 60% it will not come down to below 40% in a flash, it will happen gradually and in the process we must ensure that our coal gasification technologies also becomes more modern, so that even while we are using coal we don’t emit as much of carbon as we are doing right now.

 

 

YFFP-So, basically you are trying to say that India, on its own needs to initiate steps to reform its archaic models of energy policy like the Indian energy sector needs to change its archaic policies to meet the new demands.

 

 

Gaurav Gogoi– Yes, We need to change the energy sector as well as ensure new technology within coal and ensure that policies are there for businesses to start producing renewable energy.

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