27 Ballygunge Park, the venue for Mamata Banerjee’s festive get-together with business and industry on Friday, gears up for the green-carpet event. Picture by Amit Datta
Mamata Banerjee had set a target of two meetings a month after the idea of setting up an industry core committee to interact with representatives of chambers of commerce struck her during a meeting with the who’s who of Bengal Inc.
“Look, I have set up a core committee to address all the problems,” she had said with a smile, glancing at the industry chieftains who had turned up for their first interaction with her as chief minister of Bengal.
In the 16 months since that sultry June evening in 2011, the two sides were to have met 32 times to chart the road to revival of industry in Bengal. The chief minister, known to chide ministers and bureaucrats for not meeting targets, wouldn’t be proud of her core committee’s performance in terms of meetings held.
“If we include this evening’s meeting, the number adds up to 13,” a source in the industries department said on Thursday.
For chief minister Mamata, who came to power riding the change chant, even more embarrassing would be the outcome of those 13 meetings. “If you ask me what those meetings have achieved, I would say hardly anything…. There is little to show for the number of meetings held,” said a senior representative of a business chamber.
For instance, the government has acceded to industry’s demand to expand the list of sectors allowed to hold land in excess of the ceiling but the benefits have yet to kick in. The same holds true of Shilpa Sathi, a single-window clearance system introduced in October 2011 that the government has been touting as a giant leap in removing red tape.
“The response to Shilpa Sathi has been anything but encouraging. There have been few enquiries so far despite we trying to popularise the scheme through the core committee meetings,” a senior government official admitted.
Sources said the core committee, comprising key members of Mamata’s cabinet and senior bureaucrats, and the business chambers were gung-ho to begin with but their enthusiasm diminished with each meeting.
Senior members of the cabinet, including industry minister Partha Chatterjee and finance minister Amit Mitra, and the secretaries of key departments like power, labour, finance, industry and irrigation had attended the first core committee meeting at the industry department’s Camac Street office on June 24, 2011.
At the 13th meeting on Thursday evening at the same venue, only minister Chatterjee and a few officials of his department were present. The contrast was visible even in the spread of snacks — food packets from KFC and McDonald’s on the first day and tea and biscuits on the 13th.
“Yes, it is true that we are just going through the motions,” said a government official, echoing the industry representatives.
Several representatives of the chambers said the meetings had lost their purpose because the most important concern of industry — the government’s hands-off policy on land acquisition — had been kept out of the agenda.
Government officials claimed that industry representatives were more vocal about policy matters than identifying specific problems in project implementation and solving them.
“The meetings have been unsuccessful because the two sides are not on the same page,” a city-based industrialist said.
According to him, industry minister Chatterjee’s focus at the meetings has been to remind chamber representatives to disclose how much land was lying unutilised. They, in turn, have been pressing the government to review its land policy along with the “archaic” land ceiling act.
“We can solve ground-level operational problems. But we need the government’s help in resolving policy-related issues. The government’s standard reply has been that it cannot go against the ruling party’s election manifesto,” a chamber representative said.
Minister Chatterjee has often cited poor attendance by chamber representatives as the primary reason for the lack of a breakthrough.
“Nobody in government is ready to admit that poor attendance by representatives of business chambers is not the cause but rather the outcome of the meetings held so far not yielding anything worthwhile,” the industrialist said.
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