Soon after it took charge in May 2016, one of the first legislative acts of the BJP-led government in Assam was to table the Ease of Doing Business bill in the Assembly. At that time, industry bodies in Assam had estimated that the State had lost Rs 1,000 crore in the three preceding years due to business-unfriendly practices. The bill was enacted into law — broadly to institute a single window mechanism for speedy processing of applications and issuing clearances for setting up industries, to set up a high-power Assam Bureau of Investment Promotion (ABIP) for overall supervision, and to create an investment-friendly environment in the State. This was in keeping with the Modi regime’s all-out push to improve the country’s ease of doing the business profile in the international community. India did break into the top 100 ranking in 2017, driven by ease of paying taxes, resolving business insolvency, access to credit and protection of minority investors — while her States have since been locked into a race to attract investors with good performance reports. Sadly, Assam continues to lag behind, as brought out by the final rankings of States in Ease of Doing Business, released recently by the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) under Union Ministry of Commerce and Industry. Assam comes in 17th in this list with the top 5 ranks going to Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Haryana, Jharkhand, and Gujarat. The DIPP last year had finalized a total list of 372 reforms in regulatory processes, policies, practices or procedures as part of the ‘Business Reforms Action Plan 2017’. These were spread across 12 key reform areas, with the States being ranked on a combined score consisting of evidence and feedback — evidence about instituting reforms were uploaded by the State government, while the feedback was collected from an industry that is supposed to benefit from the reforms. DIPP had introduced this feedback element to make its assessment foolproof, and Assam has slipped up on this front — the State scored 92.41 percent in the reform evidence score but its feedback score was an unflattering 17.21 percent, bringing down its final score to 84.17 percent. It has to be appreciated that Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, despite going through a wrenching separation, each continue to be seen as highly business-friendly destinations. A relatively backward State like Jharkhand too has moved into the top echelon, consistently able to implement almost 100 percent reforms. The Assam government now needs to ponder over its report card, blotted so badly by red-tapism and cumbrous regulations. It will do well to find out how long it still takes for a prospective entrepreneur to get an electricity connection here, how hard it is for him to transport material over our horrendous roads, his frustrations in doing business in a State on perpetual agitation mode, which in turn helps breed lawlessness and a pernicious extortion culture.
Business unfriendly still