Calcutta, Jan. 9: Enough of talking, now it is time to act.
The message was delivered loud and clear at the inauguration of Bengal Leads 2012, an investor meet-cum- exhibition organised by the Bengal government.
If chief minister Mamata Banerjee was heard publicly prodding the captains of industry to come forward and invest in Bengal, the industrialists — in hushed tones — were talking about the need for an investor-friendly environment in Bengal.
Will you only come, listen, and go back? asked Mamata, stealing a glance at the front row that had some of the biggest — but familiar — names of Bengal Inc and some prominent faces from outside the state.
The audience included Y.C. Deveshwar, chairman, ITC; Sajjan Jindal, chairman of JSW Group; Rajiv Singh, vice-chairman, DLF, Atul Punj, chairman, Punj Lloyd; Sanjiv Goenka, chairman, RP Sanjiv Goenka Group; and Mallika Srinivasan, CEO, Tafe.
I am very happy with the gathering. We will continue to hold such meets as regular monitoring is extremely important, Mamata told The Telegraph after the inaugural session.
Todays interaction was Mamatas third with industry since she became chief minister. On the two earlier occasions, the industrialists had assured her that they would invest in Bengal.
Mamata and her cabinet colleague Partha Chatterjee quoted a figure of Rs 65,000 crore as investment proposals since the change of guard in Bengal, but sources in Writers said industrys lukewarm response in investing in the state has been one of the main concerns of Mamata and her team.
The chief ministers impatience was apparent today.
Mr Jindal, kobe hobe industry ta? Aamra to shob kore diyechhi. Apnara ektu taratari korun (When will the industry come? We have done everything on our part. You please hurry up), said the chief minister, looking at Sajjan Jindal, who has plans to set up a 10-million-tonne steel plant and 1,6000MW power project in Salboni.
Then Mamata asked representatives of one industrial house after another — like ITC, DLF, RP Sanjiv Goenka Group and Dhunseri tea — about their plans for Bengal. There is great scope in eco-tourism? Is everything going Okay at Nayachar? she asked NRI businessman Prasoon Mukherjee.
She also quizzed the representatives of various high commissions and consuls — the list included Japan, China, the US, UK, Germany and Bangladesh — about what they were doing to promote investments in Bengal.
As there was no Q&A session after Mamatas speech, the industrialists did not get the chance to express their impatience with the government. But many whom The Telegraph spoke to after the programme wanted the government to act.
Look at the state of infrastructure in Bengal. The government is telling us to invest but how can we invest if the basic infrastructure is not in place? asked a city-based industrialist, referring to the deteriorating condition of roads and power supply.
The industrialist said the time had come for the government to deliver on its promises. We are making policy for a state highway authority that will lay roads along the lines of the Golden Quadrilateral, said Mamata.
Poor infrastructure is just one of the several concerns that the business fraternity in Bengal wants the state government to address.
Mamatas hands-off land policy tops the list of woes. Although many in the audience were looking for signs of dilution in her stand, she iterated that the government would not allow forcible grabbing of land.
The only concession she offered industry was help from the government in clearing ceiling-excess land for industry. An industrial unit, barring a few exceptions, cannot hold more than 25 acres without prior permission. In her own way, Mamata explained how the government helped JSW and Patton Group on this count.
Industry, however, is not satisfied with this relaxation. Industry cannot be built on air, it has to come up on land. So obviously, a resolution in this regard has to be found within the state, said Deveshwar, chairman, ITC.
Surjya Kanta Mishra, leader of the Opposition in the Bengal Assembly, echoed Deveshwars concerns. The CM is saying that she will be creating history with an industrial revolution. If that happens, we will welcome it. But its not clear how her policies on land will help attract industry to our state, Mishra said.
He said Mamata should have come with a prepared speech today as she looked helpless.
Deveshwar sought a proper policy to attract investment. According to him, as states are competing among themselves to attract investment, the Bengal government would have to build an efficient system to retain potential investors.
He welcomed the initiative of the government in holding an investor meet but said it was only a small step. The state government has to remember that the journey of a thousand miles is long and this (effort from the state government) is only a small step in that direction, Deveshwar said.
Although many others in the audience also termed it a small step, ministers and officials were heard congratulating each other.