EXPAT GOAN, RETURNING HOME, FINDS ENTERPRISE HERE ISN'T A GIFT
By Frederick Noronha
fred at bytesforall.org
"I love my Goa," says 65-year-old Manuel Caldeira, as he
enters into his home's gate, in the quaintly-named Novo
Portugal (literally, New Portugal) locality of the North Goa
village of Moira. Like many in these emigration-prone parts
of Goa, Caldeira spent a large part of his life away from
home -- in Portugal, Germany, Greece, Algeria and Canada.
But, despite the longing to return, today he has
one word of advice for anyone wanting to exercise
their enterprise here: don't.
Back in Goa for two years, he came loaded with enthusiasm and
plans to craft his long-time hobby of ceramic work into a
cottage industry here. "I didn't come with money, but with
tools, techniques and ideas," he says. He was however in for
a rude shock. His plans got stuck in the ground for a number
of complex reasons, which reflect the reality of current-day
Scattered across his large home are tiles, some
ready for dispatch in boxes, with various Goan
motifs. But this one-time student of civil
engineering in Portugal, and former aeronautical
engineer from the Technical University of Berlin,
certainly hasn't been having it easy.
Caldeira's roots go back to Merces and Chandor, but he opted
for life in Moira, as he finds semi-urban Merces at least too
crowded. While an engineer for 27 years serving with North
American corporates -- like Northern Telecom, Allied Signals
and ITT as its software quality assurance manager -- he kept
his interest alive.
He spent his spare time over 15 years at trade-shows, gift
shows and wood-craft shows, picking up hints about the
workings of the global gift industry. "Countries like
Thailand have well-crafted gift industries. But I realised
that India's gift industry is probably less than five per
cent that of North America's. Unlike the other countries, we
don't use sophisticated tools and processes for the
production of gift items," he says.
So, when he came back, he brought a forty-foot container
packed mainly with tools and the technical support to create
what he believes could be a centre "excellence in the craft
industry in India".
But can a cottage-industry run out of a cottage? This is an
issue he's currently trying to sort out with the authorities,
and a small number of complaining neighbours.
Goa Handicraft, he says, told him that no NOC (no-objection
certificate) is needed by a cottage industry. But complaints
from a neighbour led him to be visited once by the sarpanch,
thrice by the health officials, twice by pollution control
authorities from Panjim, once by the tax department from
Panjim, twice by the electricity department from Mapusa, and
once by the deputy collector from North Goa and even by the
police inspector at nearby Mapusa.
In one visit, Caldeira claims the police came in with two
weeks with nearly a dozen people to take him and his wife
into custody. He has been fined Rs 63,481 by the electricity
But currently, this man with an unusual past,
believes he can stick on. Caldeira left for Lisbon
at the age of 19 to study engineering, and was the
first Goan student after the end of colonial rule
to leave Portugal to become Indian citizen in
Paris. In 1964, while studying at the Technical
University in Berlin, he crossed swords with the
pro-Portuguese Goan movement who he sees as having
been then linked to subversive activities in Goa.
But it was the gifts sector that has been a long-time
passion. "Today, most countries use sophisticated tools,
processes, packaging and make quality products at competitive
price and have good customer reputation," he says. But he
feels that India has a lot of catching up to do.
For a state which promises the red-carpet to
its large number of emigrant sons and daughters,
cases like these throw up inconvenient questions.
Does Goa encourage the small entrepreneur, a sector
which could bring about big change if replicated
across a sufficient number of cases? How does the
state balance neighbourhood concerns with
with entrepreneurial intent? Above all, for a
state notorious in allowing big industry to
get away with the open violation of the law,
what yardstack does it use for the small player?
"In North America," argues an angry Caldeira, "it takes less
then 20 minutes to register your tiny enterprise or small
scale industrial (SSI) unit with the authorities. After
registration, you can manufacture and sell the product and
the contribute tax to the Government."
But, he sees Goa as being vastly different. Says he: "There
is very little interface with the government here. In Goa, we
have a (bureaucratic) government system with all possible
obstacles to kill progress. The bottom and the top of
governance is mostly rotten in Goa."
Goa, he believes, is both beautiful and rich in resources.
"But some people with a mediocre mentality have embraced
corruption, killing prosperity and this is one of the reasons
why every investment is running away (from here). Unless
there is a dramatic change in Goa, nobody, including NRIs,
should come back to become victims of jealousy and
corruption," says he.
"(Officials) they tell me this is Goa and you have to follow
our rules. There are many cases in the villages where the
government officials have no mercy of poor. I was told that a
poor farmer had to sell three goats to get the job done; a
single mother with two kids had to pay 5,000 rupees to
official to get her child admitted in the school...," an
embittered Caldeira alleges.
He sees the multiple-NOC (no-objection certificate) system as
a dubious, if not questionable, procedure. It allows for
blocking and extortion at varying levels, he suggests.
Caldeira argues for ending the NOC system and having a more
effective and clean manner of approving useful proposals
while balancing diverse interests. Besides, he suggests, the
government authorities should make public the time required
to process every document, including in the judicial area.
These are the basic actions needed for urgent changes to be
introduced "to get the wheel of prosperity in Goa in motion",
There were other challenges in working to make
things work in a place like Goa, where he dreamt
of creating "export-quality products".
Training local skills was the first challenge, as much of his
equipment was not known here. He then could also not run the
electric motors, because they use a 60 Hertz circuitry and
not the 50 Herts prevalent in Goa. Then, all his cutting
tools have carbide components, and he could not find a single
source for sharpening the same in Goa and in Mumbai!
"There are no sanding materials available for my different
sanding equipment. There are too many power interruptions
during the rainy season. The rainy weather is hard on the
tools and is not good for woodworking. Wood is expensive
here, not kiln dried, the quality is not consistent and
supply is limited. So I shifted to ceramics," he explains.
Ceramics is considered eco-friendly, and it is still in its
infancy in India as compared to the situation in other
countries. "It could employs a lot of un-skilled labour, well
suited to rural areas and only few resources need to be
imported. Most of ceramic manufacturers in India are located
in the north (of the country) and it is an opportunity for
Goa to take the leadership for the south," argues Caldeira.
Plans for his firm Manuel Ceramics (MC), a tiny enterprise
registered with the Department of Industry and Mines, has its
goal to design and make export-quality ceramic items of bone
China, stoneware and red clay, to make ceramic decorated
tiles, plates, coasters, beer mugs, souvenirs, dinnerware,
mirrors, jewelry and one day even furniture.
Processing of 8"x10” ceramic tiles is done mainly by tile
manufactures. But he believes that his unit could change
this, producing images of religious and other monuments,
sceneries and decorative images. So, he employed three
fine-art graduates and six support staff, to create
multicolour tiles with Goan and Indian designs -- including
depictions of wild life, Madhubani art, and the Ashtavinay
(popular Indian religious icons).
Strewn across his sitting-room in his large home,
he has wooden-framed ceramic work packaged and
titled 'Beautiful Goa' with the coconut-leaves
design on it. "To maintain quality of our product
we also make the wood frames. We also created
clocks using the design of Goan shell windows.
Then, we created a 'Demikombo', a rooster with a
head of Goan. Demikombos will be decorated with
coconut leaves and different Goan images," he
Caldeira believes he could introduce to Goa the slip-casting
process,'Demikombo' beer stains, souvenirs, dinnerware
statues and tall vases. His dreams of exhibiting in the
Fontainhas Festival of the Arts and the International Film
Festival of India didn't come true, with the authorities
undertaking multiple investigations, follow-ups and stop-work
Caldeira says he told the authorities that he was creating
"real long term opportunities for our unemployed youth". But
the message, he says, wasn't received with enthusiasm.
Village authorities, following the complaints, ordered him to
stop all his work activities. "This results in a big loss for
NRI investments, a loss of genuine dreams to contribute for a
prosperous Goa," as he sees it, but obviously others taking a
different perspective would see things differently.
"My operation is a cottage or tiny enterprise and does not
belong to industrial category. It is malicious to call my
operation an industrial operation, which allows the
authorities and complainants to beat me with a heavier stick.
In Goa, industrial units are only found in industrial
estates, segregated from the rest of population by a security
wall and security guards. Abroad tiny enterprises and SSI
units could be found everywhere," he argues.
Caldeira argues that he knows places in downtown Vancouver
with more than fifty employees doing manufacturing work.
But, while these issues can be debated, Goa does have the
odds against it -- official claims notwithstanding -- when it
comes to unleashing the entrepreneurial skills of its own
citizens, its siezably-large diaspora, and also potential
migrants who have something positive to contribute here
rather than just be lured in by talk of subsidies and
misutilised bank-loans. (ENDS)