Jaffna, October 3 (The New Indian Express): Indian entrepreneurs who participated in the Jaffna International Trade Fair held here between January 27 and 29, have suggested strategies to industrialize Jaffna and the rest of Sri Lanka’s Tamil-speaking Northern Province making use of local resources and talent.
Amandeep Azad of Azad Engineering Company of Gaziabad, who manufactures small and medium sized machines to process coconuts and make coconut based products, said that with coconuts being available aplenty in the Northern Province, coconut based industries which can even be run by housewives in their homes have a bright future.
He delineated the wide range of products which can be made out of the coconut tree which includes a method of using a particular coconut product for water retention in agriculture. This is will be useful as water is scarce in most parts of the Jaffna Peninsula.
Azad regretted that a coconut, which is available in Jaffna at LKR 34 ( as against LKR 4 in Colombo), is sent to Colombo for oil extraction and sent back to Jaffna for sale at a high price.
“We must follow the Chinese practice of locating factories at the source,” he suggested.
The Gazhiabad entrepreneur, who is one of the 65 Indian entrepreneurs brought to the Jaffna Fair by ASSOCHAM, said that India can supply machines of various sizes and capabilities.
“I have a coconut processing machine which can be operated at home by a housewife. This will turn women into income earners without leaving their homes,” he said.
Azad’s ideas fully tally with the approach of the Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran, who has been seeking the establishment of small and medium industries in place of the big ticket and large scale industries planned by the Sri Lankan government.
According to Wigneswaran, a region like the Sri Lankan North which was battered by war and is lacking in livelihood opportunities, needs projects which can provide a large number of jobs to people with minimal skills.
“Jaffna today looks like the India of the 1970s. India changed because government put money into the development of small and medium industries,” Azad said.
Rajneesh Mehrish of Sindhuri Biotec of Palam, New Delhi, stressed the importance of acquiring language skills if Jaffna is to come out of its shell.
“Few local businessmen were able to communicate with us. We knew no Tamil and they knew no English. We tried to recruit some bilingual people but this is no substitute for having a common language of communication between the seller and buyer,” Mehrish said.
He cited his experience at the Guanghou Trade Fair in China where the local government gave each foreign stall, two trained Chinese-English translators.
Harish Singla of Goyum Screw Press of Ludhiana, which makes oil extraction machines, joined Azad in highlighting the absence of the entrepreneurial spirit in Jaffna.
“In our interactions with local businessmen at the Jaffna Chamber of Commerce we found that they were traders and not manufacturers .Therefore there is little we can do in terms of setting up Joint Ventures to manufacture products here,” Singla said.
Indentifying the roots of the problem, the Indian entrepreneurs pointed to a lack of exposure to the outside world and non-availability of micro and medium scale finances in Jaffna.
All of them said that opening of a road ,sea or air link between Jaffna and India will lead to the flow of ideas and open locals to the immense possibilities of entrepreneurial development in their own areas.
R.Vignesh, the President of the Jaffna Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said that the basic problem in the Northern Province is the apathy of the administration. A disconnect between the government and the private sector prevents the development of entrepreneurship.
The other problem is the easy availability of credit for buying consumer goods which encourages imports from other parts of the country and overseas and discourages local manufacturing.
“There are 350 financing and leasing companies in Jaffna district. People getting remittances from their relations overseas go for consumer goods. And the lifestyle they exhibit becomes the norm for others,” Vignesh said.
The Northern Provincial administration and the Northern political parties focus on political rights and some economic rights such as those relating to land seized by the Sri Lankan military. But they do not take note of the absence of industrial development.
“The provincial administration does not realize that economic development will strengthen the people’s ability to secure political rights,” Vignesh observed.
He pointed out that the Industrial Estate at Achchuveli has not developed to the extent it should have because of a lack of infrastructure. Vignesh laid responsibility for this lacuna at the door of the provincial administration.
(The featured image at the top is that of Rajneesh Mehrish and Amandeep Azad)