Ravi Kumar Narra, president, Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, South India, shares his optimism surrounding Dalit entrepreneurs, and the way forward for an even better future in a changing social environment. Edited excerpts:
How has the situation of Dalit entrepreneurs changed over the past two decades? Do they still face social stigma?
The society is changing. Now, people are not bothered who is providing the service – they want the very best. Majority of the people are progressive. Earlier, there was resistance within the community itself, because they thought it was a challenge and it was not their business as they did not have the experience. But now, they are seeing many success stories unravelling.
How has the government’s Stand-Up India programme done at the ground level? Are people aware about the benefits of the programme?
The target was to help 250,000 entrepreneurs. So far, about 19,000 people have benefited from the programme. Awareness about the programme is below the expected levels, but we are sensitising people through various programmes in association with NSIC (National Small Industries Corporation), SIDBI (Small Industries Development Bank of India), NABARD (National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development) and banks.
Why are half the companies funded by the IFCI fund based out of just two states – Maharashtra and Telengana? Moreover, do you think the fund corpus is enough?
It depends on the awareness. IFCI’s Venture Capital fund is not for a newcomer. It is meant for existing businesses that are scaling up. To get the fund, these businesses require documentation and should have a clear track record. The fund is not enough, now that awareness is on the rise and many people are coming forward and updating their records for meeting the criteria.
What are the problems faced by small and medium enterprises owned by Dalits and those belonging to scheduled tribes, when it comes to public procurement?
The major problem we are facing in public procurement is pre-qualification. To participate in the tender, one needs to have earnest money deposit, security deposit, minimum turnover, etc. These are all barriers that prevent people from entering contracts. Now, we are requesting the government to remove these barriers so that such entrepreneurs can get an opportunity to participate in the tenders.