‘Not very much is known outside Bengal about the strides being made by Bengal, and this needs to be addressed’ – Patricia Hewitt (UK India Business Council Chairperson) said speaking at the Bengal Global Business Summit held on 7 – 8th January in Kolkata.
The summit saw many high profile international visitors amongst the top business fraternity of the country. South Korea’s ambassador to India Joon-gyu Lee, Deputy secretary of China’s Yunnan province Li Xijiming, Mitsubishi Chemicals global CEO Hiroaki Ishizuka, Changi International Airports CEO Lee Seow Hiang, Scomi Group COO Kanesan Veluppillai, Chairman of Bangladesh’s Nitol Niloy Group Abdul Matlub Ahmad and Nepal Chamber of Commerce president Rajesh Kazi Shrestha. They all spoke about Bengal’s business potential, good road and rail connectivity, abundance of skilled human talent, surplus power and investor-friendly policies of the state government. They identified IT, ITES, infrastructure, power, textiles, food processing, steel and cement as the sectors to invest in Bengal.
Dr. Amit Mitra the Finance/Commerce/ Industries Minister of West Bengal stated that the state is ahead of the national average in terms of the growth rate of the economy, the index of industrial production and the growth rate in capital expenditure, at 8.6% against the country’s 4.7% . To this Mr. Arun Jaitley the Union Finance Minister who was the Chief Guest at the summit, explained that it’s the manufacturing sector which create jobs, it’s manufacturing to which people shift from under employment in agriculture and that is where the real challenge lies as the state’s manufacturing base is very narrow. He mentioned the fact that any investor has a choice of countries and states and the objective should be to narrow down that choice by extending cooperation. He continued stating that cooperative federalism has made way for competitive federalism.. States have to compete for the best share of the pie with the centre being keen on inter-state parity. If Bengal did not do enough, other states would march ahead in inviting investments. Almost every state is realising the importance of creating an investment-friendly environment by cutting down red tape, easing tax administration and ensuring a climate that leads to profitable returns. Only then will investment lead to greater investments. He did not though speak about Vibrant Gujarat scheduled between January 11 and 13, or the Madhya Pradesh Global Investment Summit, held last October, but he meant that investors know of opportunities in other states and they invest to make profits. The state govt’s mission is to make the investor’s journey smooth and ensure easy and fast returns on investment only then will the economy of the state grow and thereafter the country.
Availability of land being one of the most important determinants of investment in manufacturing especially in a state from where an automobile plant was driven out for various complexities around this. But Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was clear on her earlier stated stand (where she had denounced the land ordinance designed by Arun Jaitley’s team) stating that the state administration will not acquire land forcibly. She announced that the state has set up its land bank and also firmed up the land use policy to facilitate investors. Attempts have also been made to provide clearances – under the 14(Y) section of the Land Ceiling Act – to investors at the earliest with the land bank itself holding in excess of one lakh acres for any upcoming projects.
But reality remains to be seen as after having driven out the Tata small-car project on that issue, no amount of protestations from the state’s chief minister that land is available , not even her assertion that she had cleared land for the Steel Authority project the previous night, will create confidence, unless a firm actually stands up and says that it has all the land that it needs. The other issue is law and order at the grass roots. Even as the summit was on, workers at a nearby TCS construction site, demanding compensation for a colleague who had died in an accident, burnt vehicles before the police could establish control. Many a project site is troubled by local agitation, sometimes led by a ruling party member, for one reason or another. These negate the substantial advantages that the state has like abundant power and skilled labour. Until there is substantial and noticeable reform in governance, the state government’s claims of being business-friendly will continue to be questioned.
But by the end of the 2 day long Bengal’s biggest ever business jamboree, the state managed to garner a whopping investment of Rs 2.43 lakh crores , which also promises more than one crore new jobs in the next couple of years. But since most EOUs and LOIs were signed with central government agengies, opposition political rivals raised questions as to why the summit was named ‘Global’, instead of ‘Central Aid’.
All said and done the positives that came out of it at the end was without basic infrastructure like ports, roads and inland waterways (urban development also a part which saw an investment of 72,400 crores at the summit) it is hard to attract heavy industry especially entrepreneurs from overseas. Without heavy, small and medium will not take off. West Bengal is an important and strategic investment destination for overseas investors as well as the centre, for it’s location and it’s resources. If the climate for investment in the state is right everyone gains out of it. The state government has been able to bring down the complications of setting and running a project from a 27 stages process in 2008 to 21 stages in 2011 to a single window solution in 2014 and promises to set up a core team of top bureaucrats with finance minister Amit Mitra to monitor the implementation of MOUs signed at the summit and pursue the letters of intent received from investors. An administrative calendar would be chalked out, setting deadlines for implementation of various stages of a project and a time frame for granting clearances and permits for every proposal with the next edition of the summit planned for January 8 and 9 next year.