Kerala has not been at its best when it comes to facilitating ease-of-doing business. While the hartals declared by political parties at the drop of a hat and strikes called by workers’ unions are a major factor, corruption and nepotism prevalent in the system play an equal part in dampening the spirit of entrepreneurs. But now the State Government has come forward to put an end to this situation, realising that promotion of entrepreneurship is very crucial in ensuring sustainable economic development of the State. To start with, the Department of Industries with the help of Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation (KSIDC) has formulated Kerala Single-Window Interface for Fast & Transparent Clearance (K-SWIFT), an online platform to create an environment which is investor-friendly and conducive to improve ease-of-doing business in the State, by making procedures to obtain industrial licences easier.
A much-awaited initiative, the online platform facilitating single-window clearance, will ease the procedures for granting industrial licences in the State
K-SWIFT has been shaped by amending a number of key Acts, rules and procedures which were hitherto governing the clearance protocols. State Industries Minister E P Jayarajan is expected to do the soft launch of K-SWIFT in the first week of January while, in February, the Chief Minister will officially launch the system.
K Biju IAS, Director, Department of Industries & Commerce, Government of Kerala speaks to Destination Kerala about the advantages K-SWIFT offers to entrepreneurs.
Can you explain how the mechanism of K-SWIFT has been conceptualised?
The government has been overhauling the industrial licensing system in two ways; one, through modification of existing laws governing different departments which admittedly slow down the process of issuance of licences and second, through an omnibus piece of legislation called the Investment Legislation Bill passed by the Legislative Assembly unanimously. Under this, many of the existing Acts have been amended to speed up the process of clearance and licence issuance. Steps have been taken to increase the tenure of licences so that the investors need not have to run often from pillar to post to get them renewed. Moreover, certain processes which are already followed like some forms which the applicants need to submit have also been simplified.
Through the K-SWIFT mechanism the entrepreneur can track his application which would be sent to different government departments once the application for a licence is submitted through the platform.
How does the platform work for an applicant?
Once a Common Application Form (CAF) is submitted, it goes to the respective departments for clearance. The CAF is a general form in which the entrepreneur will address the queries from all departments which his particular industry is required to furnish. Once this is done, the platform culls information and provides a common result.
There is a time limit of 28 days for each department to respond. If they don’t respond in time, the licence will be deemed as granted. In that case, the entrepreneur gets a single sheet which will have all the clearances he or she has sought for. There is a mandated time frame for various departments to issue clearance. The clearance by the respective department will be included in the final clearance which the entrepreneur obtains through the K-SWIFT portal. However, if an applicant obtains a deemed licence to commence operations, the unit is liable to be inspected by respective departments. If discrepancies or falsification of facts are detected in the application, the applicant will have to pay a fine of up to Rs. 5 lakh.
All these procedures are mandated by the law. The tenure of licences has been extended to five years. For example, earlier, the licence for Dangerous and Offensive Trades and Factories was issued for a period of one year. Now we have made it five years. Hence, the applicant need not go to the concerned offices every year to get it renewed.
What are the advantages of the new system?
A hassle-free system will be provided to entrepreneurs by which they will be able to get all the required clearance through a single portal. The duplication and multiplicity of laws, cumbersome procedures and red-tapism will no longer trouble the entrepreneurs with the introduction of the K-SWIFT platform.
There have been instances of misuse of the provisions of law in certain departments. Such incidents will be done away with. In that sense, K-SWIFT will help stop unwarranted interventions by government officials. These are some of the salient features of K-SWIFT, envisaged as model which promotes ease-of-doing business. In the event of any dispute, there is a provision by which the entrepreneur can appeal the State Government seeking to redress the issue which has cropped up during the process. So this is how the K-SWIFT platform is going to work.
What will happen to applications pending clearance outside the K-SWIFT platform?
There is no question of applications awaiting clearance outside K-SWIFT platform. They will be accommodated into K-SWIFT’s portal. See the whole system has been introduced to promote ease-of-doing business. Hence, we cannot afford to treat the old and new applications differently.
What are the plans to publicise this game-changing initiative?
Following the soft launch of K-SWIFT, we will hold sensitisation/awareness sessions for industry participants and people’s representatives at the panchayat level. Awareness programmes will be conducted in all districts. We will also hold trial run of the new system during which its operability will be ensured. Kerala is generally changing from being a State where the laws and processes were cumbersome. One main objective of the new system is to put a curb on unnecessary harassment and red-tapism. The motto is – quick clearance, easy clearance.
Will there be a dedicated team to monitor the operations of K-SWIFT portal?
The IT-based platform which enables K-SWIFT has been created by NIC and KSIDC. And yes, there will be a dedicated team at NIC and another one at KSIDC who will provide the necessary backup. All government departments will have a particular nodal officer to look after the operations of K-SWIFT.
What has been the response from the industry?
The industry has been very receptive to the news of K-SWIFT. The Investment Facilitation Bill was passed unanimously by the Legislative Assembly. There is a general belief that Kerala needs to move forward in the field of entrepreneurship and it should be celebrated. We are no more a State where we can ignore even a single industrial player. We need systems which will encourage people to invest. And with GST ushering in a level playing field, we need to capitalise on tools like K-SWIFT. It is going to be a very good tool by which we will ensure that the ease-of-doing business is translated into a systemic approach to governance.
How will the Intelligent Building Planning Software (IBPS) help
It is part of K-SWIFT. To be precise, it is a reform coupled with Business Process Reengineering (BPR). It is one of the reforms that have to be at the Local Self Government Department level.
It is a software which helps the user receive a building permit by entering all parameters needed for the purpose. The permit will be automatically issued by the software if all the prerequisites are met. The pre-programmed parameters include aspects like distance, elevation and zone. IBPS automation has been completed at Thiruvananthapuram Corporation. From now on, all building applications at the Corporation should go through the IBPS system. All corporations, municipalities and panchayats in the State will eventually switch to this system.
Will there be offline mode to apply for industry licence?
Once the system is implemented, only online mode will be available. There will be a grievance redressal system. The centralised system will monitor the applications. It will be able to pinpoint the delay in processing any particular application.