How it all started?
It was in July 1907 that some visionary leaders of Goan business community Messrs. Luis Guilherme Dias, Vincent Salvador Andrade and Bento Minguel Fernandes came together to promote the concept of forming a trade association. On 7th, July 1907 ten distinguished merchants assembled in the house of Mr. Antonio Maria da Cunha to give shape to the proposed, body. At this meeting a committee headed by Mr. Dias was formed to prepare the necessary bye-laws.
The bye-laws were framed and after the necessary discussions were approved at a provisional meeting held on 6th September 1907. They were submitted to the Central Government in Lisbon and formally approved on 3rd September 1908, thus bringing into being a body of Traders under the name and style of Associacao Comercial da India Portuguesa”. Thirty four, founder members met on 6th December 1908 and elected the first Managing Committee under the Presidentship of Mr. Luis Guilherme Dias. The entrance fee for the members was fixed at Rs. 5/- and the annual subscription was fixed at Rs. 6/- . The concept of forming a traders’ body was born as a sequel to the necessity of facing with certain strength, the regulatory mechanisms which were being introduced all over the world in an increasing manner.
Issues that we resolved
Ever since its formation, the Chamber had to handle various issues such as export of salt, alteration of exchange rates, construction of the Panjim Jetty, promotion of a banking house, shipping services, representation in the legislative assembly, banking facilities, enhancement of municipal fees, increase in customs tariff, cashewnut exports, export of mangoes and coconuts, restrictions on import of rice, exchange of demoretised Rs. 1000/- notes, exchange cover for Goa’s import from Reserve Bank of India; arbitrary increase in industrial tax, traffic problems, compulsion of use of automatic weighing scales, economic blockade by Government of India and many such issues affecting the interest of business community and consequently affecting Goan economy. Relief measures to those affected by the Sanquelim floods as well as Bengal famine were also undertaken by the Chamber.
The Goan Business Community had to, all of a sudden, face a supply crisis, when the Government of India, in August 1954, imposed an economic blockade against Goa. The Chamber had to take an immediate action in the matter in order that the supply of essential commodities which were, till then, imported from neighbouring markets was maintained through imports. The Chamber also put in strenuous efforts to find suitable alternative markets for export of local commodities like coconuts, areca nuts and salt. A shipping service was arranged to ply between Mormugao and Karachi. When Bombay Dock Workers boycotted steamers carrying goods destined for Goa, the Chamber had to arrange with Portuguese shipping lines to touch Aden from where they could collect goods in transit to Mormugao.
An issue which disturbed the traders was the promulgation by the Portuguese Government around 1959 of the Price Control Order under which margins of profit to be kept by the Traders on various items were fixed. The fixation of margins had no rationality and it was an arbitrary decision prompted by the white rulers. The Chamber had to oppose the order at various levels, since some over enthusiastic Inspectors had started visiting commercial establishments and probing into margins. The main difficulty was the lack of clarity in the order. Till the date of Goa’s liberation, the Chamber had not succeeded in revoking the order. After liberation, though the order was not implemented, it was acting as an eternal sword of Democles hanging over the traders, specially foodgrain dealers. It was finally somewhere in the year 1986 that the Chamber achieved the objective and the order was revoked.
Our role in Taxation Reforms
Contribuicao Industrial (Industrial Tax) was introduced by Portuguese Government in 1947. Though it was termed “industrial” it was not a tax on industries but a tax on all commercial activities and such other occupations. It was assessed on the basis of what was termed in Portuguese as 10% of “lucro illiquido presumivel” (Presumptive gross income). It was a sort of presumptive tax concept which was introduced in Indian Income Tax Act a couple of years ago. But, in practice, the amount of tax to be paid depended on various types of merchandise handled by the merchant and each type of merchandise was taxed separately. In effect, the business community did not feel the pinch of this tax as the amount to be paid was negligible, though the principle of equity was not adhered to in the system. The amount which was collected through this tax in 1950 was less than Rs. 11 Lakhs. But in 1958, the Director of Fazenda (Revenue Department) proposed the disproportional increase in the rates of this tax and the Chamber started being persuaded from all quarters and vehemently opposed the increase. This was being done as a step towards the forming the overall taxation system and was known as “Reforma Tributari” (taxation reforms). Sensing the mood of the business community, the Chamber arranged to send a delegation to Portugal in August 1958 to plead with the higher Authorities for a sympathetic reconsideration of the issue. The efforts of the Chamber resulted in deferment of the proposal followed by a reduction of 25% in tax rates. Similarly, another important issue emanating from the local import-export Junta signing an accord with England and France in January 1961, on imposition of quota restriction on imports was solved automatically as a result of liberation. The Chamber had pleaded for the review of this accord and for keeping Goa outside the purview of this accord.
Our Growth and Progress
At the time of liberation, the Chamber had about 300 members on its roll and the annual subscription was Rs. 12/-. Hence the Chamber had to manage with an annual budget of Rs. 3600/- only. It was functioning in rented premises with the assistance of a peon. The late Jose Antonio Goveia who was the President of the Chamber for 12 consecutive years from 1951 to 1962 and the Treasurer Shri R B K Ghanekar had to do all the work of drafting and typing the memoranda, press notes etc. Today, things have changed, the Chamber has a well equipped office with sufficient staff and an annual budget of around Rs.21 lakhs. There has been a manifold increase in its activities.
Before liberation, the Portuguese Government had given representations to the Chamber on only 3 bodies viz Technical and Commercial High School, Economic Department and Import-Export Junta. After Liberation, the Government of Goa and the Central Government recognising the contribution of the Chamber in the development of the territory started granting recognition on a number of Government Committees and today it has a representation on more than 50 committees, important among them being Planning Board, Mormugao Port Trust, Town and Country Planning Board, Industrial Development Corporation etc. When the first informal consultative council was established soon after liberation by the Lt. Governor T Shivshanker, the Chamber was given the honour of deputing its representative on the Council. Shri M S Talaulikar who was duly elected to represent the Chamber did an excellent job of the assignment.
The idea of having its own premises was originally mooted in 1929 and to arrange for the necessary funding, a proposal was made to the Government to impose a small levy on imports to raise funds for the Chamber’s building. The move somehow, did not take shape. The idea was revived in 1959, where a regular building committee was formed. The Committee had approached the Governor General Vassalo de Silva for allotting a suitable plot for the Chamber at a central place in Panjim. The Governor General reacted positively on the proposal of the Chamber having its own building but regretted his inability to allot any government plot for the purpose. Instead he offered a monetary contribution equal to twice the amount the Chamber could collect from the members. But by the time the Chamber could secure the necessary plot and draw the necessary plans, Goa’s liberation took place and the matter obviously came to an end. In the meantime, the Chamber succeeded in purchasing a plot on which the Chamber’s building stands at present. The plot was purchased on 2.7.1960. However, the foundation stone of the building was laid six years thereafter as on 23.4.1966. The building which was built at a cost of Rs. 4 lakhs was formally inaugurated by the Industrial Magnate Sri Arvind Mafatlal on 10.11.1968, H. E. Lt. Governor General Shri Nakul Sen was the Chief Guest on the occasion.
Goa’s liberation posed a number of problems before the Chamber, as a result some policies of Government of India and which were running counter to those adopted by the Portuguese Government for a small place like Goa. The most important issue over which the trading community was agitated was of licensing of imports of commodities. The simple plea put up before the Government of India was to allow the six hundred and odd importers some breathing space to enable them to adjust smoothly to the changed system. A five member delegation headed by a senior businessman Shri Valentino Pinto was sent to New Delhi in February 1962 to meet the concerned authorities and discuss the issue with them. The authorities apparently showed signs of sympathizing with the Chamber’s plea and the delegation came back with high hopes. Since nothing seemed to have been happening as far as actual framing of an import policy for Goa for quite a few months, the Chamber thought it fit to send another four member delegation to pursue the matter and have a meeting with the Commerce and Finance Ministers and specially the Prime Minister.
All that the Chamber was demanding was a foreign exchange allotment of Rs. 6 Crores per year for the period of 3 years as against the 1961 figure of imports of 17.5 Crores. Unfortunately, the Commerce and Finance Ministers were not available but during the delegation’s meeting with the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, who took the delegation to the Prime Minister explained to him the gist of our memorandum and added that the matters were being sorted out and a sympathetic view was being taken regarding formulating an import policy for Goa, Daman and Diu. After a long wait, an import policy allowing Goan importers “25% of Half of Best years imports” would be allowed. Why it could not be drafted to say “12.5% of Best years import” was enigmatic to everyone. But to the utter disappointment of the business community, the policy which was announced in the Official Gazette was never implemented. Members of the Chamber were very much agitated over the cursory treatment meted out to it by Delhi bureaucracy and had even suggested embarking on non-peaceful methods to make the Government at Delhi see reason. Unfortunately, Chinese war broke out and senior members of the Chamber advised against any steps which would place Government of India into difficulties.
The Chamber, as a sequel to changed economic set up, adopted a new constitution which was approved by its General Assembly on 12.4.62. The name of the institution was changed to Goa Chamber of Commerce & Industry. An important provision of the amended constitution was the direct election of the President who would select the other office bearers of his own choice from among the elected members of the Managing Committee. There was a consensus among the members of the Chamber to give the honour of Presidentship under the new constitutions to stalwarts who had shaped Goa’s economy. In accordance with this concept Mr. V D Chowgule became the 1st President under the new constitution, followed by Mr. Vasantrao S Dempo and the late Mr. V M Salgaocar, all of them prestigiated the office of the President by their initiatives and endeavors to place the Chamber on the all India Map. The Chamber’s elections have been by and large a smooth process without any rancour among the candidates. Except for the 1944-45 election, the result of which became an issue to approach the Court for the necessary action, elections of the Chamber have been merely a formality.
Goa which had an import oriented trading economy before liberation had to necessarily switch over to a production oriented economy in order to keep pace with the development taking place in other parts of the Country. A seminar, the first of its kind, entitled “Springboards into the 70’s” was organised in 1970 to focus the attention of the Goan business community on the need of Goa’s industrialization. It was presided over by Mr. V.D. Chowgule, then President of the Chamber and inaugurated by Mr. B R Bhagat, Union Minister for Steel & Mines. The Seminar evoked a tremendous response and the process of Industrial Development was set in motion. The Chamber also commissioned a study in the potential of economic development of Goa and it was released in a printed form in July 1970. The participants in the seminar had a unique opportunity to listen to the views of experts and professionals from industrial fields of the Country.
The Government of Goa reacted to the proceedings of the Seminar by appointing a working group under the Chairmanship of Secretary. Industries, to decide on the follow-up action. Since then. The Chamber has been organizing, on a regular basis, a series of seminars on topics of vital importance to Goa, Seminars on Development of Tourism, Fisheries, Industrial strategy for 80’s and Beyond, Free Port are some of the important ones which the Chamber organised with the assistance of Government and Semi-Government agencies. Besides, workshops on various subjects related to trade and industry have been held on a regular basis. A joint taxation committee was formed, having as its constituents the GCCI, GMOEA and GMA to put up a common front with the concerned authorities for the solution of some common problems. Three delegations of this committee visited Delhi and it was gratifying to know that a satisfactory solution was found after meeting the Officials and Ministers concerned in respect to the issues of “Depreciation” and “Investment allowance”.
GCCI and its Dignitaries
During the years of its existence, the Chamber has had the prestige and the honour of playing host to eminent dignitaries like the Prime Minister Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, Finance Minister Shri Morarji Desai, Planning Minister Shri S B Chavan. Railway Minster Shri T A Pai and Shri Madhu Dandavate, Finance Minister Shri Manmohan Singh, Minister of State for Finance Shri Shantaram Potdukhe, Governors of Reserve Bank of India, Shri I G Patel, and Shri R N Malhotra, Shri Kureshi of International Finance Corporation, Shri D N Davar, Chairman Industrial Finance Corporation of India. Presidents of Indian Merchants Chamber, Federation of India Chamber of Commerce & Industry, The Associated Chambers of Commerce & Industry of India and eminent Journalist Nani Palkhiwalla, Chairman of IDBI, MSFC, Abid Hussain. Member Planning Commission and a number of other dignitaries such as Ambassadors and Trade Commissioners and Consuls General.
Over the years of its existence, the Chamber has put in its best to find a solution to the problems facing the commercial and industrial community. Such problems have been on the increase, specially in the post-liberation period. There has been a proliferation of legislation impacting the business community and the Chamber is frequently called upon for the necessary action to mitigate the effects of such an impact. It has not defaulted in delivering the goods in whatever way it could do.
With the process of globalisation in full speed, the Chamber will have to face new challenges and whilst stepping into the last decade of its centenary existence, it has to gear up to enter the new millennium with added devotion and determination.
About the Author: Mr. Prabhakar S Angle (25th Sept 1923), was elected 28th President of the GCCI (1989-1991). He has a degree in Commerce from the University of Bombay and has written books on Goan Economy and Culture.
By Prabhakar S. Angle (former president of GCCI)