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Before entry, Japanese want to see exit route

Calcutta, Dec. 20: Entry is fine. What about exit'

Japanese investors courted by Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today were flattered by the red carpet he rolled out for them to walk into Bengal, but not flattered enough to forget to ask the chief minister about the walk out, if it became necessary.

The 17-member delegation of representatives of top Japanese companies possibly had in mind the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi example. When the bank decided to close its branch here for commercial reasons, the 67 employees went to the labour court. The case is still unresolved at the tribunal.

The Japanese investors — Marubeni, Toshiba, Honda Motor, Itochu and Mitsubishi Chemicals among them — asked Bhattacharjee if the state had an exit policy allowing a foreign company to close down its factory without difficulty if business is bad.

Indian industry has also been demanding such a policy but, because of its controversial nature, governments have tried to avoid it. Under law, factories cannot be shut without government permission.

Given the circumstances, and assuming the political damage any categorical statement on the issue could do, the chief minister — who has already invited unpopularity with trade unions by promising to enforce work discipline with a tough hand — made the expected noise.

“The chief minister said that he is taking a note of it and would see what can be done,” said a member of the Japanese team.

The state government’s presentation to the delegation displayed a refreshing eye for detail that has usually been absent from such efforts in the past. And it won instant appreciation.

The audience clapped when the presentation on investment opportunities was made in Japanese (also in English). “The Japanese delegates were delighted to see the presentation in their own language,” said Mitsuo Kawaguchi, senior consul of the consulate-general of Japan.

After the two-hour session — described as a “reception” — Bhattacharjee said: “We had a useful meeting with them. We invited them to invest in areas like roads and highways, power, information technology, chemicals, engineering, electrical and musical systems.”

The government sought investments to build an expressway joining Calcutta with Haldia and for the third bridge that is coming up on the Hooghly. The Bakreswar and Sagardighi power projects were also put up for funding.

Nobuhiko Kawamoto, chairman of the Japan-India Business Cooperation Committee and director of Honda Motor, said: “We are very pleased to hear the state government’s policy on different sectors. We are extremely impressed and we will communicate this to our member companies.”

Industrialist R.P. Goenka, who had accompanied the chief minister on his visit to Japan earlier and was present at the meeting, said the message was clear from the Japanese investors: “What you promise you should fulfil.”

Goenka acknowledged the rarity of the occasion: a Bengal chief minister holding a “reception” for foreign investors.

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