MSMEs must be recognised for their job-creation potential than for their efficiency
By Aditya Sinha & Amrit Panda
A major problem MSMEs in India face is their very definition. More than 95% are not legally identifiable as SMEs and that prevents proper allocation of institutional support. Since MSMEs are not registered separately under statutes such as the Companies Act, there is no mechanism to distinguish them from other corporate entities. This fails to acknowledge the heterogeneity among enterprises.
With Atmanirbhar Bharat, the Centre has taken several steps—redefining MSMEs, credit access, subordinate debt, preference in government tenders—towards ‘energising the MSME sector’. It has also launched the MSME Udyam portal for registration, though this is not mandatory. Information asymmetry on government schemes and incentives on registration must be addressed. Some other gaps remain, needing urgent attention:
– A primary one is the regulatory framework for SMEs that prevents a growth-oriented mindset.
– The concessions awarded to SMEs in terms of tax-breaks and low interest rates must be extended beyond what is currently provided if they are to target higher growth rate.
– Credit access to SMEs as well as the mechanism to seek payment from buyers needs bettering to ensure financially viable.
– The present redressal system on recovery of payments, particularly from organisations with influence such as PSUs, may discourage SMEs from pursuing formal action against defaulters.
– SMEs may find it difficult to choose grievance redressal over building business relationships with large buyers who may falter on timely payments.
– Priority ought to be given to scaling up economies with state support as the gains from such support in generating employment and overall economic prosperity outweigh the economic costs.
With SMEs’ operational challenges exacerbated by Covid-19, it is all the more important to focus on this sector. A recently conducted survey finds that production in SMEs has fallen from an average of 75% to 13%. With 110 million employed by Indian SMEs, it is crucial to ensure adequate institutional support, failing which we might see an even larger impact on livelihoods. SMEs also account for a third of India’s GDP, 45% of manufacturing output and 48% of exports and hence are crucial to manufacturing and export competitiveness.
SMEs will be vital in absorbing a significant proportion of the 600 million entrants to the labour market in EMEs by 2030. With a large proportion of these entrants bound to be from India, it is imperative that the Union and state governments ensure financial and institutional support for SMEs.
In terms of location, SMEs are relatively evenly distributed in comparison to larger organisations. Rural areas account for 45%, while the remaining are in urban areas. Hence, SMEs are well-poised to address poverty in both the cities and villages. Although the proportion of urban poverty has declined over the years, it has increased in absolute terms. In 2018, Kolkata, Delhi, and Mumbai had anywhere between 42-55% of their population living in slums. This number is certain to have increased in the pandemic. By providing employment and income, SMEs can raise income, living standards and consumer spending.
SMEs can aiding the atmanirbharta vision, especially in the manufacturing sector. This pattern is observed in countries with strong manufacturing sectors such as Germany and China. China’s pattern is more relevant to India due to a similarity in size and population as well as its recency. SMEs make up over 99% of all enterprises in China today, with an output value of at least 60% of its GDP; they generate more than 82% of employment opportunities. As per China’s national economic census, manufacturing SMEs accounted for nearly 53% of its total incorporated SMEs and 65% of the total employment in SMEs. With global manufacturing moving out of China, our SMEs can play a key role in sustaining the manufacturing that is shifted to India.
Sinha is with the office of the chairman, PMEAC, and Panda is a Mumbai-based HR professional