Calcutta Chamber of Commerce: the oldest chamber of commerce in IndiaCalcutta Chamber of Commerce: the oldest chamber of commerce in India

A look at the year gone by 2010-11  
  August 04 2011, The Conclave
Talk & Interactive Session on

The Session was addressed by Shri B.K.Chaturvedi, Hon’ble Member, Planning Commission.

Member Planning Commission Shri B.K.Chaturvedi has supported the strict monetary policy being resorted to by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) in view of the inflationary pressure in the economy. Shri Chaturvedi said that generally the economy expects inflation at the rate of 4 to 5%. However, at present the rate is 7%. As inflation subjects the poor to a kind of taxation, it is necessary to hold the price line in their interest. “The Reserve Bank by pursuing a strict monetary policy including high interest rates is trying to do that although there is no denying that high interest rates pose difficulty for the time being to small and medium industries particularly,”he said.

Responding to a question on population growth in India the Planning Commission member said that as of now dominance of the young people in the country’s population is a demographic dividend and it need be looked in that perspective. Expressing satisfaction at the agricultural growth rate during the eleventh Five Year Plan, Chaturvedi said that it has been pegged at 4% in the twelfth plan. He also described water energy and environment as the major thrust areas in the twelfth plan. In order to prevent wastage of food grains, emphasis will be laid on creating storage facilities both at the consuming as well as the production centres in the next plan he added. He identified poor management in public distribution system as one of the reasons for food grain waste.

The Planning Commission member said that in terms of reducing number of people below the poverty line and other inclusions, the next decade would see a major change. “At the current level, the poverty is likely to come down to 20% – 22% by 2020. It may also gradually further reduce to single digit in the following decade. Most of the states in the country have clocked more than 6% rates of growth in their GSDP. This would help us in improving their per capita levels. States like Bihar, Rajasthan, Uttarpradesh, Chhattisgarh, Madhyapradesh and West Bengal who have low per capita incomes have started growing at a faster pace,” he observed.

Having noted that there has been an improvement in social indicators, especially in education in the last decade, the Planning Commission member expressed confidence that the literacy rate in 2020 would go up to 85% and ‘we would thus be able to have full literacy by 2030’. The level of gap between male and female literacy rates would also come down at that point to around 13%, he said. Chaturvedi was also confident that there will be a positive impact on other help indicators like IMR and MMR. He is also optimistic that infrastructure like power, roads, ports, airports and railways will also improve with the share of investment in these sectors growing up further with increased emphasis on them. The number of connections of LPG and telephone / mobile connection would also show a huge jump, he said.

  July 09 2011, Customs House, Petrapole LCS
Interactive Meet on

The Session was addressed by Dr. Anup K. Pujari, IAS, Director General Foreign Trade, Govt. of India, Shri B.V.T. Prasad Naik, additional commissioner of Customs (Preventive), Govt. of India, M. Hafizur Rahman, Commissioner of Customs, Custom House, Benapole, Shri Bhaskar Sen, Chairman & Managing Director, United Bank of India, Kolkata, Shri Salim Gangadharan, Regional Director, Reserve Bank of India.

Dr. Anup Pujari, the director–general of foreign trade, said, “Overall, Indian exports grew 46 per cent last year. There has been a substantial increase in trade between India and Bangladesh over the past few years. However, there has been concern over the delay in payment of receipts, lack of infrastructure and problems with the management of vehicles.” The governments of both the countries have advised their customs department to look into the issues, several of which are likely to be settled as the Prime Ministers of the two countries meet this year. Petrapole is the largest trade gateway between India and Bangladesh, accounting for 60 per cent of the total trade volume. The land customs station handled trade worth Rs 6,608 crore in 2009–10; this is expected to go up to Rs 8,086 crore in 2010–11.

On complaints of theft and improper handling of cargo at the Petrapole and Benapole borders, Hafizur Rehman, commissioner of customs, Benapole, said, “Several initiatives have been planned from both the countries to bring about more transparency. We are introducing a new car pass system at Benapole from July 23. We are also planning to introduce a web–based catalogue of goods entering Bangladesh from India. This is likely to become operational by the end of this financial year (July–June).” B.V.T. Prasad Naik, additional commissioner, Commissioner Customs (Preventive) of Bengal, said India was working on developing integrated checkposts that would act as a single window for export cargo and travellers between the two countries. The checkposts will give clearance to goods, services and people.

Shri Bhaskar Sen, chairman and managing director of the United Bank of India, said, “We are considering the possibility of building border haats at Petrapole. Further, to facilitate free movement of currency between the two countries, 86 franchisees have been licensed to permit hassle-free buying and trading of currency between the two countries.”

  July 05 2011, The Park Hotel

The Celebration was inaugurated by Dr. Prof. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, Hon’ble Former President of India.

Speaking at the 180th annual celebration of the Calcutta Chamber of Commerce, Kalam said a prosperous Bengal would economically empower the nation. The litmus test for Bengal’s development, according to the father of India’s missile technology, would be the fulfillment of the following criteria by 2020 – Bengal’s per capita income must treble from Rs 40,000 to Rs 120,000; the literacy rate has to rise from the current 75 per cent to 100 per cent; Bengal should become a polio, leprosy and tuberculosis–free state; unemployment in north Bengal and the Sunderbans should be minimised.

Bengal’s per capita income in 2010 stood at $1,077 (Rs 47,926 by the current conversion rate), according to the ministry of statistics, programming & implementation. According to the state school education department, literacy in Bengal now stands at 77.08 per cent.

“How do you attain these goals?” Kalam asked the gathering and went on to provide his answer: “Work on areas of Bengal’s core competence.” “The need of the hour is sustainable development of Bengal’s villages which would result in inclusive growth.”

For Bengal, he provided a specific actionable list. “For Bengal’s villages, you must provide physical, electrical and knowledge connectivity. This would lead to economic connectivity.” He explained a key component of his vision – the concept of providing urban amenities in rural areas, which he calls Pura. “Create delta Puras for the socio–economic development of the deltaic regions.” The enrolment rate at the primary school may be a healthy 98 per cent according to the state school education department but Kalam wants the school drop–out rate to come down to zero. Education, he said, should be geared towards production of skilled manpower. For the healthcare sector, he suggested reinforcements through telemedicine and mobile medicine vans. He called for focus on production, processing and marketing of agro-food products. Desilting of rivers and water bodies also figured on his list.

Noting that Calcutta has emerged as a key address of the IT industry, he set a target of $30 billion in IT exports by 2020. The 2010–11 figure is Rs 6937.87 crore ($1559 million by current conversion rates) for the software technology parks and special economic zones in Calcutta and Siliguri combined. He also urged for the transfer of information technology to knowledge products. “IT is not an end by itself. Also Calcutta must look to spread the benefits of IT to the tier II and III towns.” All–weather roads in rural areas are on his wish list as are “evolution of enlightened citizens”. For the chambers of commerce, he spelt out a five–pronged initiative: analyse the power scenario – for example, the Sunderbans need solar power, he said – focus on business to create livelihood, form strategies for education–industry partnership, identify core competence sectors of the state be it tourism, agro food–processing or special craft and skills and study profile of skill in the youth.

  May 30 2011, The Park Hotel
Talk & Interactive Session on

The Session was addressed by Shri Gurcharan Das, Renowned Author & Management Guru.

Elaborating on the topic, Shri Gurcharan Das remarked “my decision to go to the Mahabharata was largely driven by the government failure that I saw around me. I was interested in exploring the moral dimensions of this failure of governance, and the Mahabharata seemed the perfect place to begin. The Mahabharata is unique in that it is obsessed with Dharma or doing the right thing. It is a rich repository of thinking about right and wrong, and I went to it to understand the biggest failure for our country today – the moral crisis. The Mahabharata is a place that can help us understand the ethical dimensions of our life. Today, our governance needs significant reforms – reform for the police, the judiciary, the political system. We cannot have criminals contesting elections and making the decisions of governance”.

He further added that the government's job is ultimately to govern. This means it has to ensure there is education, health, water and other services. It does not mean that the government has to produce these public services itself. It could do so by outsourcing to corporations and non–governmental organizations. A private company built the airport in Delhi, and it was one of the few items in the Commonwealth Games delivered on time and on budget. The same could happen with education and health. The government needs to redefine its role. Instead of trying to do everything through old bureaucracy, it could do it through public–private partnerships. There would be a lot more accountability if that happened.

  May 27 2011, The Conclave
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The Session was addressed by H.E. Sheikh Humaid Bin Ali Bin Sultan Al–Maani, Ambassador of Oman to India.

While dwelling on the India – Oman Trade Co–operation H.E. Sheikh Humaid Bin Ali Bin Sultan Al–Maani said that Oman offered lot of opportunity for investors in a variety of sectors including chemicals, education and health. Interacting with the Calcutta chamber of commerce members, Al Maani said sectors like tourism, plastics, metals and food processing also offers great potential for the investors. The trade relation between India and Oman goes back to centuries and bilateral trade between both the countries had shown steady increase over the years. The main items that are imported in Oman are textiles and garments, tea, coffee, spices, rice and seafood, while Oman was exporting Urea and lubricating oil to India. He mentioned that ‘be it GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) investors or Indian investors, the bond of friendship will help both sides. Trade Association GAFTA (Greater Arab Free Trade Area) makes it easier to access 17 other countries without tariff barriers. Low cost of factors such as land and power promotes its participation in key industries like engineering, food products, building materials and automotive batteries.

The Oman Ambassador invited members of the Calcutta Chamber of Commence to visit Oman and said this would pave the way for mutual understanding for bilateral trade in view of the vast potential Oman offers and to locate the areas of common interest after interacting with the Oman Chambers of Commence.

  April 16 2011, The Conclave
Talk & Interactive Session on

The Session was addressed Smt. Manika Datta, Insurance Ombudsman, West Bengal.

Smt. Manika Datta while explaining the role of Ombudsman mentioned that Insurance Ombudsman is the grievance redressal machinery, whose working is similar to judicial procedure. It resolves disputes and complaints from the aggrieved insured public.

The advantages to the insured are: a) Speedy disposal, cost–free and without litigation, b) Scope of face–to–face interaction with insurer, c) Scope for approaching other forums or courts, d) Ex–gratia award. Ombudsman’s powers are restricted to insurance contracts of value not exceeding INR20 lakhs. The insurance companies are required to honour the awards passed by an Insurance Ombudsman within three months

The complaint may relate to any grievance against the insurer i.e. (a) any partial or total repudiation of claims by the insurance companies; (b) dispute with regard to premium paid or payable in terms of the policy; (c) dispute on the legal construction of policy wordings in case such disputes relate to claims; (d) delay in settlement of claims; and (e) non–issuance of any insurance document to customers after receipt of premium. Generally any problems beyond the above five issues are not addressed by Ombudsman. She advised investors to read the fine print of policy papers. In the case of medical insurance one should give more emphasis to what facilities are excluded from the policy.

Smt. Manika Datta also warned that ignorance cannot be an excuse for accepting a wrong policy. If a policy was accepted on wrong underwriting decisions, then the ombudsman is also helpless. Sometimes the insurers furnish wrong documents and deliberately suppress facts. During investigation, these things come out and the award goes against the insurer.

There are cases where the insurer’s representative is not well equipped with the facts of the case or did not communicate it to the claimant on time, then also, the verdict goes unfavourably against the insurer. In the case of health insurance, repudiation is solely on the basis of TPA (third party administrator) report, Conflicting opinions from doctors increase complications. However, if the insurer is careful while taking a policy and discloses facts properly, then a policyholder can feel really insured.

  March 22 2011, The Conclave.
Talk & Interactive Session on

The Session was addressed by Shri Himanshu Kumar Renowned Human Rights Activist & Social Worker.

Himanshu Kumar pointed out that the model of development and the structure of governance had caused resentment among tribals. According to Kumar, the entire concept of development in the country, including West Bengal, is to annex land from the tribals and to set up industries. He said, "There is a basic problem in this concept of development as the rich become richer and the poor get poorer. The tribals who do not fall into the trap of money know that they have the power of natural resources. They would not give up their houses and land without a fight if threatened with violence". Kumar also said that the government was funded by corporate houses. The entire model of development has been made by imitating western countries.

The Gandhian said "Throughout the country, including Lalgarh, the tribal people’s land is being taken forcefully in the name of development. If the country does not want violence, it should carry forward its developmental work without the threat of the gun. Singur and Lalgarh in the state have established this fact". The Gandhian social activist also said that by shunning Binayak Sen and him the government had only aggravated the situation as Naxalites were coming to the fore and influencing the tribals to take up arms. "The government refuses to understand the root problem to this internal security threat. If the government sends more health workers and teachers rather than sending forces who rape women and kill the aged and children, then the government can actually find a way to woo the tribals,".

Thank you.

  March 02 2011, The Conclave.
Talk & Interactive Session on

The Session was addressed by Dr. Abhijit Sen, Chairman, Sanlam Mutual Fund Trust Company & Former President, Bengal Chamber of Commerce & Industry, Shri Sanjay Bhattacharya, Senior Chartered Accountant and Smt. Shivani Shah, Senior Chartered Accountant.

Elaborating on the economic issues of the Budget Dr. Abhijit Sen pointed out that the Finance Minister announced that the fiscal deficit has improved. However, a closure examination of the figures reviews that the fiscal deficit has not reduced; it has, in fact gone up. Because of inflation the GDP on current prices has soared by 20%. It is due to this inflationary effect on GDP that the ratio of deficit to GDP appears to reduce, without any improvement in the real fiscal deficit. The Finance Minister mentioned the huge inflation in food items. It is not that the high food prices are at all increasing the incomes of farmers. On the contrary, they remain steeped in poverty and farmers suicide continue apace. In India, there is a huge gap between the prices realized by farmers and prices paid by consumers.

On Black money, he observed that this has been a topic much in the news, especially following a series of scams, where it is suspected that huge sums have been salted away in various tax haven abroad. In response to this the budget proposed wide ranging powers of investigation, whenever an Indian entity has any transaction with entities in the tax haven countries, a list of which will be not notified. This stringent provisions will mean that those with black money in the tax haven countries will not dare to utilize this black money for any transaction in India. However, it will not by itself stop generation or salting away the black money; rather, it will stop utilizing the black money in many Indian entities.

Speaking on how the tax structure is going to affect common people, Shri Sanjay Bhattacharya remarked that in the Finance Bill the Finance Minister said that certain procedures will be implemented about tax e-filing but he has not mentioned anything except that there is a central processing centre at Bengaluru apart from three others. We found that when some assesses go to IT office they are discouraged from filing electronically. There is conflict between what the ministry is asking to do (e-filing) and what IT officials encourage (paper filing). Due to this reason, 50% assesses go for paper return but my experience is that e-filing of tax is done in a much faster way. Secondly, though the basic concept of income tax is not going to change entirely, there are some harder amendments introduced in the proposed DTC. Those who are thinking of taking advantage of the tax system are going to have hard time because in DTC there is special option called general Anti avoidance rule. IT controller is empowered to dishonour any deal if he finds that it is done with the sole aim of reducing IT liability.

Smt. Shivani Shah said that in so far as service tax provisions are concerned, there will be far reaching effect on trade as well as industry. GST that is perhaps the biggest ever tax reform that our country would actually face. Under the GST as it is proposed to be was actually a culmination of all the taxes at the State level and central level under the single umbrella of GST.

She pointed out that all the interests payable under the Customs, Central Excise and service tax have been hiked from 13% to 18 %. Why the interest payable by the Government for delayed refunds are still maintained at a meagre 6 %. With the levy of service tax on diagnostic tests and increase in another 5% increase in the hospital charges, health care is going to be very expensive. Point of Taxation Rules is a very impractical provisions. For professionals who maintain books on a cash basis the problem is even more grave.

Trading is included in definition of exempt services - Though, the term trading activity has been included in the definition of the exempted services; yet it is not explained as to what will be counted as a “trading activity”. In common parlance, trading activity is the sale of goods in the same form as they are purchased. Thus, if any goods that are purchased are sold as it is, it will be termed as trading activity. So, whether the removal as such of inputs will also come under the trading activity? What will be situation when the inputs/other goods are sent to the sister concern or to another unit of the assessee? Whether such clearance will also come under the trading activity? What will be situation when those goods are traded which are not inputs at all for the assessee? Since these are not inputs, credit is not available at all, so where comes the question of reversing the credit? These are the questions which are required to be answered before the litigation starts.

Thank you.

  February 16 2011, The Conclave.
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The Session was addressed by Dr. Prajapati Trivedi, Secretary, (Performance Management), Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India.

Addressing the members of the Chamber on the importance of efficient business leadership, Dr. Prajapati Trivedi said, "It is seen that the Government agencies are not perceived to be an organisation of efficiency. The reason for this is that such agencies need to face multiple principles and goals and the ·not me syndrome·. All experts agree that performance depends 80% on the system and 20% on the people. In a bad system, good people can never survive. When the system is good, efficient people can work better. Actually it is very important to reduce quantity on Government and Increase quality of Government to churn in the best results. When there is accountability at the top, it tends to tickle down to other systems, sub-systems as well. In India, we have formulated our own RFD i.e. Results Framework Document. The quality of an efficient Government cannot be lower than that of its clients- specifically the private sector. For a perfect performance management system, it is important to have a good information system, a good performance evaluation system and a performance incentive system."

Thank you.

  January 28 2011, The Park Hotel.
Talk & Interactive Session on

The Session was addressed by Lieutenant General Bikram Singh, General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Eastern Command.

In his narration Lieutenant General Bikram Singh remarked that large companies need proven chief executive officers who can handle a fiercely competitive business environment – and candidates with military experience may well fit the bill. Military training offers lessons in leadership that can prove invaluable in the boardroom. He indicated the major traits that characterize ex-military CEOs and suggested that deft management of stressful situations in the real–world setting of military operations may well enhance performance in a corporate environment.

According to Lieutenant General, the army understands diversity and appreciates people for the talents they bring to the table. It teaches people to take all of the good characteristics of every soldier like integrity, dedication of purpose, selflessness, knowledge, skill, implacability and determination to achieve the objective. Learning how to work as part of a team is another trait. The military’s continual emphasis on teamwork corresponds closely with the daily requirements of the business world. Something that you learn in the military that is fundamental in business is a sense of mission. You get very, very focused on your objectives. It was clear what the objective was and what constituted success and failure. One of the essences of a being a CEO is risk management. Hardly anything you do is without risk, and the military makes you more comfortable in taking risk.

Thank you.

  December 24 2010, The Park Hotel.
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Speaking at an Interactive sessions jointly organized by Bharat Chamber of Commerce, the Calcutta Chamber of Commerce, Indian chamber of Commerce & the Merchant´s Chamber of Commerce, Lok Sabha Speaker Smt. Meira Kumar said that she was "pained" by the long standoff in Parliament over the spectrum scam but hoped matters would be "sorted out soon".

The winter session witnessed business being stalled for 22 days in a row over the Opposition´s demand for a JPC probe, while the United Progressive Alliance government stood fast on a probe by the Parliamentary Accounts Committee. Ms. Kumar said, "All the warring parties, including the ruling party as well as the Opposition, should come together and find a solution. Dialogue is the only way to get solution. Democracy means to bring mid-path and find solution. The MPs should also be self-regulatory." She said while interacting with members of four business chambers in Calcutta, "In democracy, contradictory views exist. We have to find a middle path. Parliament is for that. Discussions are the only way out. Talks are on. Like you all, I am also concerned about the disruptions,"

Smt. Meira Kumar said she expected more discussions on Finance Minister Shri Pranab Mukherjee´s proposal for a special session on the spectrum controversy. "The government and the opposition have two viewpoints. I expect them to discuss and reach common ground."

She reminded MPs about their responsibility as elected representatives. Pointing out the peculiarity of Parliament, which functions through representation from as many as 37 different parties, she said, "Democracy doesn´t always have tailor-made situations. Meeting grounds sometimes don´t seem to exist. It is the duty of the MPs to find a way out".

Thank you.

  November 26 2010, BCCI, 6 Netaji Subhas Road.
Talk & Interactive Session on

The Interactive Session was addressed by H. E. Mr. Thomas Matussek Ambassador of The Federal Republic of Germany

I am happy to be amidst you this evening for the Prabha Khaitan Puraskar presentation function organised by the Calcutta Chamber of CommerceGerman Ambassador Thomas Matussek said it is a good policy to go for liberalisation step-by-step and slowly. There are same areas which if opened up can be mutually beneficial, like the insurance sector. The foreign direct investment (FDI) in insurance should go beyond 26 percent. He said "We do not believe that the market should say it all. You need a set of rules binding on all of us". The Ambassador remarked that The Indo-German Chamber of Commerce has conducted a survey among 800 German companies operating in India. The feedback is positive. Most of them are confident about future prospects in India, and very few said they are disappointed.

I commend the Prabha Khaintan Foundation for initiating an award of this nature reflecting the great vision of the late Prabha Khaitan. It reflects a keen interest in ensuring the betterment of society, by inspiring others to emulate those who have reached the pinnacle of achievement and secured an award of this nature.Thomas Matussek further said with 2011 being the 60th year of the establishment of Indo-German diplomatic relations, a German Year under the motto & Infinite Opportunities - Germany and India 2011-12? - is being organised in various parts of India to mark the occasion and strengthen future relationship. It encompasses all facets of urban development including mobility, migration, water, energy, sustainable development and social issues. The key feature of the event series will be a mobile, modular event venue that will travel through seven Indian megacities - New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bangalore and Chennai, Pune and Hyderabad - and six tier two cities.

He said, "We offer full transfer of technology and nobody can match that". Asked about the problems faced by German companies in India, he mentioned sluggish legal procedure and lack of transparency in the implementation process. German investors find other Sates more attractive than West Bengal to invest in because of problems over land acquisition. Certain facilitation has to be done in the case of land acquisition process.

Mr. Matussek also stated that Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, will meet representatives of the European Union (EU), in December at Brussels to finalise the framework of the free trade agreements between India and the EU.

Thank you.

  September 24 2010 The Park Hotel
Talk & Interactive Session on

The Interactive Session was addressed by H. E. Lt. Gen (Retd.) Andi M. Ghalib, Honourable Ambassador, Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia, India

Indonesia's Ambassador H. E. Lt. Gen (Retd.) Andi M. Ghalib underlined that Indonesia is the fourth largest market (in terms of population) in the world, after China, India and the US. The country is inhabited by 237 million people, making it a large market. He said that Indonesia wants India's assistance mainly in agriculture and information technology. The closeness of economic, trade and investment relations indicate that bilateral trade rose from $ 4 billion in 2005 to $ 10.55 billion in 2009 and this needed to be diversified. India is Indonesia's largest importer of mining, petroleum and paper products and India exported refined petroleum products, wheat, rice, sugar and steel to Indonesia. The Ambassador indicated that to boost economic and trade relations, Indonesia was implementing the new investment law that would contribute towards creating conducive investment climate in Indonesia making it a "business-friendly economy ".

The Indonesian Ambassador invited members of the Calcutta Chamber of Commence to visit Indonesia and to attend the ‘Trade Expo’ to be held at Jakarta from Oct 13, 2010 and this would pave the way for mutual understanding for bilateral trade in view of the vast potential these islands offer and to locate the areas of common interest after interacting with the Indonesian Chambers of Commence. The prospective sectors for investment are energy, petrochemicals and refinery, iron and steel, telecommunications and automotive. He mentioned that a number of Indian companies (including the Tatas and Reliance) have invested in coal mines in Indonesia and the public sector aluminum major, Nalco, is investing Rs 18,000 crore for setting up a production centre in the country. Indonesia wishes that many more Indian companies follow the example of these companies and invest there. The Indonesian Ambassador also assured free visa to the office bearers and past presidents of the Calcutta Chamber for one year.


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