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Bengal's industrial scenario: Big projects absent, iconic units closed

New Delhi: The verbal spat between Trinamool Congress leader Amit Mitra and the Chairman Emeritus of the Tata group, Ratan Tata grabbed the media's attention few days ago. During his visit to Kolkata, Ratan Tata
IANS August 11, 2014 15:46 IST
New Delhi: The verbal spat between Trinamool Congress leader Amit Mitra and the Chairman Emeritus of the Tata group, Ratan Tata grabbed the media's attention few days ago. During his visit to Kolkata, Ratan Tata had said that he couldn't see any industrial development.  He also blamed the agitation of Singur against the Tata plant led by now chief minister Mamata Banerjee about the failure of Tata Nano. This led to sharp criticism from state Industries and Finance Minister Amit Mitra with him saying, "Onar motibhrom hoyeche (Maybe he has lost his mind).”

“Maybe he hasn't got the information. I don't know why he said this," Dr Mitra said on Wednesday. He went on to list investments by Tata Group companies like TCS, or Tata Consultancy Services, and Tata Metalicks.

The battle of words highlights the absence of big-ticket investments, closure of iconic units and the menace of extortion that have clouded the industrial scenario in West Bengal, notwithstanding the state government's tall claims of success. The MSME sector, however, provides a silver lining.

Last week, state Industries and Finance Minister Amit Mitra said: "The list of industries eager to set up shop here in Bengal is so long that I will need a whole day to read it out." However, most projects he mentioned were conceived by the erstwhile Left Front regime.

Industrialists and economists also paint a not-so-rosy picture.

According to a leading city-based industrialist, the absence of any big project is worrisome.

"If you don't get big-ticket investments, there will be no ancillary industries, and no fresh employment will be generated. Sadly, such big investments are not coming," the industrialist said on condition of anonymity.

He said that in recent decades, the only big ticket investment in the state has been the Haldia Petrochemicals Limited, set up by the Left Front.

"But even this project is now ailing. Some steel plants have come up in recent years or are in the pipeline, but not much employment can be generated by pumping in a few hundred crores, or a thousand crores," he said.

The government was making tall claims, "but I don't see anything happening", the industrialist said.

He said that while the government seems to have woken up to the need of changing its land policy, it needs to sell Bengal well to the prospective investors.

The industrialist also highlighted the menace of extortion.

"Under the Left Front, it used to be a regimented affair. The industrialist had to pay only one person. Now, if you pay one person, two more people come up asking for double the amount. And this goes on."

In a bad advertisement for the eastern state, some iconic colonial-era companies - Ambassador carmaker Hindusthan Motors, tyre makers Dunlop and paint manufacturer Shalimar Paints - have suspended operations.

But a happy piece of news is the reopening of the country's oldest engineering firm Jessop & Co, which had suspended work in May.

Economist Dipankar Dasgupta said that during the Trinamool Congress rule since May 2011, the state's industrial picture has been what it was for decades.

"For long years, big projects have eluded us. The solitary exception was the Tata Motors' Nano project, which had generated hope before it moved out due to political reasons. Had the Nano project taken place, the state would have benefited."

"I think it would be unfair to single out only the three years of the Trinamool Congress in this regard. Suffice to say, the scenario now is what it was three years back," Dasgupta, a former professor of economics at the Indian Statistical Institute, said.

However, he cited three developments as positive for the state - the upcoming Aerotropolis project at Andal in Burdwan district, the state's efforts to strengthen the Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) sector with innovative schemes, and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's coming trip to Singapore later this month.