Monday, Nov 24, 2003
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By R. Gopalakrishnan
Murasoli Maran with the Director-General of the World Trade Organisation, Supachai Panitchpakdi (left), the chairman and managing director of Bajaj Auto Ltd., Rahul Bajaj (second from left), and the Egyptian Minister for Foreign Trade, Youssef Boutros Ghali, during a partnership summit of the CII in Bangalore last year.
In the leather sector, an important industry in his home State, he initiated the Tannery Modernisation Fund (2000) at a time when the industry, dominated by small and medium enterprises, was in a serious crisis as a result of judicial pronouncements on its obligations to protect the environment. He often expressed concern for the leather industry, considering it "an instrument of social revolution" in view of the prominent place the minorities, women and the Dalits held in its workforce and management.
Steadfast in his conviction that foreign investment and upgrading of scale of economies and technology were vital for the industry's survival in the long-term, he played a role in graduated dereservation of some areas of the leather sector from the SSI category, besides tariffying (by levy of export duties) quantitative restrictions on exports of raw hides and skins and semi-finished leather as required by India's international commitments.
The Ministry also handled with a measured and restrained response the strident campaign launched by international animal rights activists against India's leather industry.
Also, it was during his tenure that the country's first international trade fair complex in the public sector outside New Delhi came up in Chennai. Remarkably, the first phase of the Chennai Trade Centre was completed within a year of the laying of the foundation and started hosting the India International Leather Fair from 2001.
Under the stewardship of Mr. Maran, the export-import (Exim) policy, a major instrument of the Commerce Ministry, launched new initiatives such as the Focus Africa programme, substantial relaxation of the Export Promotion Capital Goods (EPCG) scheme, coverage of service sector exports, procedural simplifications, conversion of existing EPZs (export promotion zones) into Special Economic Zones (SEZs) and a scheme, known as ASIDE, to translate into practice the long-promised incentive for States to promote exports. In the past few years, the Ministry also made substantial strides in using the cyberspace to place on its website valuable information on the country's trade, especially strategies and proposals with respect to the WTO negotiations.
After his serious illness, Mr. Maran was made Minister without portfolio and Arun Jaitley has been holding additional charge of this Ministry. It remains to be seen if Mr. Jaitley will keep the charge or another DMK nominee will be entrusted with this important Ministry.
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