The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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In the fable, the tortoise, slow but steady, beat the hare, swift and smug. The reality of the global village, linked by information technology, is far removed from the world of stories. The other name of information technology is speed. Not only does the new technology convey information across space in the twinkling of an eye, but it also changes its own character very fast and often. Today’s technology is already the previous generation’s gadget. Information technology, by definition, is always in the throes of a continuous and permanent revolution. Its users, following the injunction of Alice in Wonderland, have to keep running to remain at the same place or to keep pace with the technology. This was perhaps the point that the chief minister of West Bengal, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, missed when he invoked the tortoise analogy for West Bengal. The gaffe, if it can be called that, was not the result of Mr Bhattacharjee’s inadequate attention to the issue of speed in the context of the overall transformation of West Bengal that he has made his vision. Mr Bhattacharjee was handling an idiom which, as he will be the first to admit, is not his forte. He was trying to tell the panelists, who were all gaga over Hyderabad and the fanfare of Mr N. Chandrababu Naidu, that West Bengal would also get there soon but it would not make an exhibition of itself. The point is well taken from Mr Bhattacharjee since flamboyance is not his style of functioning.

Having accepted the point, it needs to be underlined that in the overall ambience of governance in West Bengal, speedy decision-making and execution are not held at a premium. One Mr Bhattacharjee or one Mr Nirupam Sen does not make a state, notorious for being anti-industry and anti-work, investor-friendly. Ministers procrastinate, bureaucrats stall: this is the experience of most people who walk the corridors of power hoping to get help and co-operation for their business ventures. Things move on influence and not on merit. The atmosphere is laid-back and even at times insouciant. Politicians and bureaucrats in West Bengal must realize and accept that they are not doing any favours to the industrialists, the latter are doing the state a favour by bringing their capital here. Mr Bhattacharjee thus needs to change the ambience and make speed an important component of decision-making.

Under the prevailing conditions, this may be a tall ask. Mr Bhattacharjee has to think beyond the groove and get bureaucrats from outside the state in the expectation that the iron has not entered their souls. Such mandarins can form a special task force in the chief minister’s office. The group will be responsible for all crucial decisions and their implementation. This experiment has been tried in New Delhi. It creates an alternative centre of power and is open to abuse. But it is a risk worth taking for the sake of the development of West Bengal. Mr Bhattacharjee has initiated a transition. By dictating the pace of the transition to be slow, he may well bring forth stagnation.

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