Chief minister Mamata Banerjee and her team meet industrialists and representatives of chambers of commerce at Writers’ Buildings on Wednesday. Picture by Kishor Roychowdhury
Calcutta, Jan. 9: She won’t help them in acquiring land, she won’t support their demand for special economic zone (SEZ) status and she can’t stop alleged party supporters from meddling in the internal affairs of companies.
This afternoon, however, Mamata Banerjee reeled off a list of expectations from the industry during a meeting with representatives of various chambers of commerce.
“We are not getting any funds from the Centre. We will go to Delhi in February to seek the state’s due share. You also please come along to Delhi and help our cause,” a source quoted the chief minister as telling the 50-odd representatives of various chambers of commerce.
Almost everyone present at the meeting nodded in agreement, but no one is known to have come up with a firm promise in public.
Although the number of invitees to the meeting of the cabinet sub-committee on industry and infrastructure was 26, the turnout was much higher as the chief minister chaired it instead of industry minister Partha Chatterjee, who was busy finding space for the extra guests at the conference room.
The chief minister had convened the meeting of the committee to gauge preparations of Bengal Leads 2013 — the annual business conclave of the government, which has been shifted to Haldia this year — among several other things.
“I want all of you to come to Bengal Leads…. Also bring along your friends from other cities,” the source quoted Mamata as urging those who had attended today’s meeting.
The response to this request was louder as some of the chamber representatives told her that they would do everything to make Bengal Leads 2013 a grand success.
On January 15, Mamata will inaugurate the three-day conclave-cum-exhibition, which the government is organising to showcase investment opportunities in Bengal. Last year, the conclave was held at Milon Mela, off EM Bypass. The decision to shift the venue to Haldia was taken last October during the controversy over the pullout of HBT, the private cargo handler, from Haldia.
“There is complete confusion about what’s going to happen this year… WBIDC officials have almost outsourced the entire event to the chambers of commerce, giving them the responsibility of arranging sessions on various sectors, getting speakers and also filling up the halls,” said a senior state government official.
A proposed programme of Bengal Leads 2013 reveals how the government has delegated the responsibilities.
While the CII has been given the task to hold sessions on manufacturing and health, Ficci has been asked to organise sessions on infrastructure and skill development. Other chambers are handling sectors like information technology, micro, small and medium enterprises and food processing.
“While it is true that chambers play a key role in organising such events, the government has to drive the initiative. That’s not happening… We are trying our best to get some good speakers, but we don’t know what’s going to be its impact on industrial situation in the state,” said a chamber head.
He was also keeping his fingers crossed on the turnout of India Inc at the conclave, which will be held just after a similar show in Gujarat, where Mukesh Ambani of Reliance and Cyrus Mistry of Tata Group have already confirmed their presence.
“As businessmen with interest in Bengal don’t want to antagonise the government, they will surely turn up. But there has been no visible effort by the government to woo industrialists from other parts of India,” said a representative of another chamber.
Aware that she has to reach out to investors beyond Bengal, Mamata today announced that she would visit Mumbai on February 13 to scout for investments and requested the local investors to join her.
“These PR exercises do serve a purpose, but only up to a point. The most important thing is, she has to listen to industry. Today, the chief minister said that she had convened the meeting but she ended up talking for more than 80 per cent of the 45-minute meeting,” said a chamber representative.
And when she stopped for others to speak, some of the old questions — like what is the problem with SEZ status — haunted her and she had the same old reply.
“The chief minister said granting SEZ status was not possible because opposition to SEZ was mentioned clearly in the manifesto. If she remains rigid on her stand, how can she expect the industry to deliver on her expectations?” asked an industrialist.
“These rigidities will continue casting a shadow on industrial prospects in Bengal,” he added.