Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Jawahar Vyapar Bhavan

If you drive past Janpath, you'll come across this building with its easily recognizable design of cubes and L-shapes.

It's called Jawahar Vyapar Bhavan, and it houses the offices of the State Trading Corporation of India (STC). Whenever I see the blue logo of STC (it's at the top of the building, can you see it?), I am reminded of the early years of independent India.

The STC was setup in 1956, when India had no strong manufacturing base of its own, and depended majorly on imports. We imported literally everything; including food, metals, machinery, fertilizers, etc. But we were broke. There were not enough foreign exchange reserves, so a system of rationing had to be put in place. 

India was keen to promote trade with Eastern Europe at this time - since Nehru's leanings were in that direction, and he espoused the idea of a planned economy.  The state was to play a major role in development.

So the STC was set up as the primary government arm dealing with imports and exports. It was tasked with conserving precious foreign exchange. If a businessman wanted to import something, he had to chase the babus at STC. The import had to be justified, and a license to import obtained. It was a long and torturous process; and was part of a system that went on to become infamous as the "License-Raj".

After economic liberalisation in 1991, the STC found itself redundant in many ways, and it had to reinvent itself. Today it is the chief importer for the government i.e. it imports edible oil, fertilizers, pulses, gold, metals etc based on government demand. It also imports scientific equipment and machinery for use by government laboratories and manufacturing units. The STC also helps private companies import things; by charging a fee for their expertise / service. But they no longer have a monopoly on import/export as they used to.

The STC building is located in a prime corner on Janpath, and well known to tourists because the ground floor houses the government-run handicrafts shop CCIE.

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