Industrial policy documents issued by successive governments have tended to concentrate on administrative measures rather than on ground realities. They duly list the need for a range of industries, from petrochemicals to tourism, and talk of licences, rules and regulations for their promotion, the incentives that ought to be given, and promise of government support at all levels. But they do not seem to inspire potential entrepreneurs. An appropriate policy should concentrate on measures that are feasible. It should communicate its serious intent to entrepreneurs so that they feel they are moving along instead of depending on extraneous sources. Undoubtedly, assistance in the form of financial support and technological collaboration is required. But such help would come naturally if a conducive environment were to prevail.
There is a need to highlight the specific areas that are impediments towards the development of industries in the state. For this purpose, one would also need to point out the specific industries that must be taken into reckoning. This article, however, does not concern itself with the problems in the domain of the Union government but with those that are within the scope of the state government.
Land: We must have a reliable land map. Its non-availability is the biggest hurdle in the path of industrialization in West Bengal. The newly formulated land policy states that 80 per cent of the land is to be bought through direct negotiations with the owners and that the government will acquire the rest. But such a measure is fraught with uncertainties. The first priority should be to concentrate on industries that require not more than 10 acres of land, and/or can work with vertically constructed factories, and can command markets within a reasonably small radius. These would have the advantage of having a much higher capital-employment ratio than those that need huge tracts of land. These industries include electrical white goods, light engineering, a wide range of electronic and telecommunication goods, entertainment industry products, toys, plastic moulding , food processing, travel and so on. When we think of industrial policies, we somehow do not think of including these businesses.
Sooner or later, the government will have to confront the transformation that has taken place in recent years in every country that has moved from being an agrarian society to an industrial one. There is bound to be a massive shift of populations from villages to cities or to industrial townships. We should pay more attention to make our cities livable in every sense — employment, education, and entertainment. At the same time, we need to search for heightened agricultural productivity.
Industrialization was achieved by reducing the percentage of rural citizens. If this does not happen naturally, we have to induce it painlessly. What is needed is gainful employment that will induce them to shift from villages but sustain their strong ties. To support their new life style, they will be willing to sell their land for industry or for residential complexes.
Whenever the question of land shortage crops up, one turns to redundant land lying in closed factories or that which is attached to jute mills along the Hooghly. Legal options must be explored for their acquisition. It may be worth looking at large areas in leasehold land inside tea plantations that are unsuitable for growing tea but, under the terms of the lease, can be used for alternative purposes after obtaining the necessary permission. The example set by women’s co-operatives in the High Range tea plantations in South India that run profitable, employment generating industries like food processing, needlework, and so on, ought to be studied for replication in the Dooars.
Steel: This is regarded as a high-profile sector by the government. Steel industries make enormous demands on power, water and land. Moreover, there is no iron ore in the state; Jharkhand and Odisha will not spare more than they already do. Our hope lies with the supply of pellets and scrap or imported ore. From a capital-labour ratio point of view, this industry hardly provides a panacea. But we need to use this industry for value-added production. We should buy billets, rods and slabs from the primary producers and engage in downstream, consumer-oriented production. A prime example of this is the Tata Steel subsidiary, Tata Steel Processing and Distribution Limited, which cuts and shapes steel sheets, primarily for the automobile industry. It is imperative to have plants closer to users in this context. Similarly, there can be a cluster of foundries serving neighbouring users with moulded products. True, we do not have such automobile plants, but we can make a promotional bid to attract electrical white goods manufacturers, who require shaped steel plates and steel castings to build factories close by to save on freight costs and to tap into the eastern and northeastern markets.
Pharmaceuticals: Today’s pharmaceuticals industry is multi-faceted.We should concentrate on making basic pharmaceuticals. Downstream, we should assist small firms licensed by big producers to make ointments, tablets, capsules and syrups. If we are successful, the employment prospects are bright.
Logistics: A very important business the world over, logistics involves the movement, warehousing and shipping/airlifting of goods of all descriptions, from garments and toiletries to motor cars and heavy engineering products. This industry hardly ever seems to crop up in policy discussions even though it is a source of high employment.
Ceramics: This does not seem to feature in current policy discussions. The scope of high earning and employment-generation cannot be overstated. It is essential to aim at world- class production and foreign knowhow is indispensable.
Training: If we are to invite new industrialists, we need to make them happy about the quality of their potential employees. Adequate training facilities should be available for imparting skills to prospective employees. We have widely dispersed Industrial Training Institutes. We have to ensure that they possess appropriate training facilities to impart skills for a new factory coming up in the area. For example, if a manufacturer of refrigeration and airconditioners is coming to the area, the nearest ITI should equip itself with requisite staff and appliances. It will be useful if this is done in collaboration with the management of the industrial unit. Advance preparation of skilled workers will boost the industry-friendly image of the government.
Power: Industrialization would require more power. A highly competent organization should be given the responsibility to forecast the likely requirement. While conducting the exercise, the state government must examine how much power is being spent on airconditioning in public spaces such as buildings and waiting halls. Critics have pointed out that the bulk of electricity consumption in the country is done by the affluent sections of society. If such consumption can be reduced, there won’t be any need to build new power stations. This will help save precious resources such as coal and also reduce pollution.