Though India is among the largest markets in the free world, "many are discovering that it's tough to do business here", said Praful Patel, Union Minister of Heavy Industries & Public Enterprises, speaking at the India Today Conclave session 'The Business Debrief: The fatal attraction of the great Indian marketplace'.
Jon Fredrik Baksaas, President & CEO of the Telenor Group, and Kris Gopalakrishnan, co-founder of Infosys, were the other speakers at the session.
Patel said India is not achieving its full potential. "We ourselves have become one of the biggest stumbling blocks in the path of growth," he said, referring to governance issues during the second term of the United Progressive Alliance. "On many occasions, we have shot ourselves in the foot." He cited the example of problems plaguing the power sector. "Power projects are getting delayed because of policy issues, making several businesses uncompetitive."
However, Patel said that all is not lost as the roadblocks could be overcome with simple steps.
Highlighting the potential of the Indian market, he pointed at the aviation sector. "I think we have only reached the tip of the iceberg as far as aviation is concerned. Only 3-4 percent of Indians fly once a year. This itself speaks of the potential that the sector holds."
Talking about the impact and course of reforms in India, the minister said, "If anybody has succeeded in India, it's on the back of the 1991 reforms. We can't afford to go back now."
Referring to the slowing economy, Patel said that "five per cent growth looks good compared to the rest of the world but it's not satisfactory for a country such as ours". He also said that the slow growth is not just because of global factors, it also has to do with internal reasons.
Infosys's Gopalakrishnan said that India is a large market with a huge opportunity for every business. Indian companies have scaled and acquired companies abroad and this, he said, speaks for the competitiveness of our businesses. He also referred to how the IT services sector has led from the front and has shown that it can survive in the competitive global market environment.
Gopalakrishnan pointed at the demographic dividend that the country holds and said it needs to seize the opportunity. "There's a mismatch between what the industry needs and the skill sets available. How we bridge this gap is of prime importance. Fatal attraction means making the right path for development, making sure what development would mean for India."
In spite of the problems Norwegian telecom giant Telenor faces in India, Baksaas was optimistic about the potential of the Indian market. "Coming to India has been a great learning curve. The level of competitiveness is extraordinary in the Indian market," he said. However, he added, the government needed to be a pillar for foreign investors.