Ignoring its fundamental responsibility of providing marketing support to local small scale manufacturers and promotion and development of small scale industries, the Jammu and Kashmir Small Scale Industries Development Corporation (SICOP) has been, of late, taken for a ride by a group of select businessmen for promotion of their own trading and construction businesses.
Sources having access to information revealed to STATE TIMES that senior SICOP officials, allegedly hand-in-glove with some inter-State traders, have kept the public service undertaking at their disposal against hefty ‘commission’. Rather than collecting supply requirements from different government departments and organisations and distributing the same among registered SSI unit holders, the SICOP officials have begun promotion of trading and service sector under the garb of industrial promotion.
According to these well-placed sources, both SICOP and Entrepreneurship Development Institute, which have been created by the Government for promotion, marketing and training of local entrepreneurs have procured Chinese modular furniture worth crores of Rupees for their own offices at Sanat Ghar (Udhyog Bhawan) and EDI complex in Srinagar.
SICOP has picked up two particular furniture manufacturing unit holders who have their headquarters at Khonmoh and Rajbagh and allotted to them orders for supplying Chinese synthetic furniture for over Rs 10 crore for different offices to be set up at Sanat Ghar, Bemina, that has been lately vacated by subordinate courts in Srinagar.
“While as furniture and furnishing worth crores of Rupees is being procured through these traders for make-shift office chambers of Industries Ministries, Commissioner-Secretary Industries, MD SICOP, Director Industries and other senior officers, modular tables and chairs worth lakhs of Rupees are being procured for clerical staff. This is only to benefit the two traders who actually import entire furniture in pieces from outside the State and just assemble it with nuts and bolts here.
This is clearly illegal trading and not promotion of local production of which Vigilance Organisation and Crime Branch should take cognizance and break this nexus”, complained a local furniture manufacturer.
“With the advantage of being in good books of some Ministers and bureaucrats and their families, SICOP officials, who are in control of things since years, have turned the corporation into their own fiefdom. They least care about public criticism and reports in media as they are well-connected across the regimes”, said another manufacturer wishing anonymity. He pointed out that the MD, who had been picked up by Omar Abdullah’s government over five years back, was continuously at the helm of affairs in SICOP.
“SICOP definitely is not for promoting inter-State trading of hand-picked businessmen. If you manufacture for example furniture worth Rs 10 lakh, it provides livelihood to the local entrepreneur and 20 of his skilled and unskilled workers. On the other hand, if you import modular synthetic furniture worth Rs 20 lakhs from Delhi, it takes just one worker to assemble it. SICOP has no business to promote this trading under the garb of promotion of local manufacturing”, said leading furniture manufacturer and former President of Federation of Chambers of Industries of Kashmir Shakeel Qalandar said.
“Yes indeed it’s a gross violation of the mandate by SICOP if it has started promotion of trading rather than providing marketing support to local furniture manufacturers. Even as Small Scale Industries (SSI) has been converted into Micro Small and Medium Enterprises at national and subsequently State level, SICOP cannot restrict itself to promotion of service sector like assembling of imported furniture”, Qalandar added.
According to Qalandar, procurement of modular imported furniture made of synthetic and particulate material unlike the local wood work was particularly objectionable in view of the fact that not a single item had survived in the September 2014 flood. On the other hand, furniture made of timber at local SSI units had endured all natural calamities and remained intact and serviceable.
While as there is possibility of profit and loss in manufacturing, there is only profit in the trading promoted by SICOP. This is why the incentives specific to local manufacturing cannot be extended to inter-State trading. It has been noticed that the SICOP officials sometimes float tenders but only one or two chosen bidders fill in all quotations after “setting” with the particular vendors. If insiders in SICOP are to be believed, this practice has been witnessed in dozens of procurements in the current year.
Inquiries by this newspaper revealed that many items, other than furniture and furnishing, were being procured through traders who sell their own manufactured furniture and other productions to private clients.
While as cellphone of Managing Director of SICOP, R.L. Tickoo, was switched off for hours in the evening, Director EDI Dr Mohammad Ismail Parray admitted that his organisation had not purchased any furniture item from the State manufacturers. EDI required bulk of furniture supplies for its offices, training halls, auditorium, hostel and other offices which suffered extensive damage in two militant attacks last year.
“We went for open tendering and set a condition that the bidder must have turnover of Rs 7.5 crore in each financial year of 2013-14, 2014-15 and 2015-16. We also set a condition that the participant bidder must have completed one work of identical nature to the tune of Rs 1.25 crore or two works of Rs 75 lakh in the three previous financial years. But the local entrepreneurs complained that their business had been devastated by flood in 2014 and subsequently by the political strife in Valley. Thereupon Commissioner-Secretary Industries intervened and we waived both these conditions for the local manufacturers. Unfortunately still none of them participated in the competition”, Dr Parray told STATE TIMES.
He said that three of four manufacturers of international repute participated in the competition and the supply order was allotted to Godrej. “We were keen to help the local manufacturers but they didn’t come forward. Godrej in fact manufactured the items specially according to our requirement and specifications”, Dr Parray said.