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A taste of competition in race for Singapore’s eye

Singapore, Aug. 22: If Mamata Banerjee has a purported 10,000-acre “land bank” to lure Singaporean business to Bengal, her Telangana counterpart today dangled an offer 30 times bigger.

K. Chandrasekhar Rao invited Singapore’s investors to his fledgling state, promising fast and hassle-free land allocation from a government bank of 3 lakh acres as well as automatic approval of projects.

“Recent changes in land acquisition laws in India have made it difficult to acquire private land. Large-scale industrialisation is possible in states where the government has enough land,” Rao said, stressing Telangana’s edge over most Indian states in land availability.

He was speaking at IIMPACT 2014, an event organised by the Singapore chapter of Pan IIM, a global network of IIM alumni.

“He (Rao) was impressive. I told the chief minister that if Telangana is serious, it can develop ties with Singapore similar to those it has with China’s Suzhou,” said Piyush Gupta, chief executive officer, DBS Bank.

The land figure quoted by Rao could not be independently verified as state officials were busy with the programme.

Officials in Bengal later said it was possible that Telangana could make more land available because of arid zones. Large parts of Bengal are fertile and the average landholding size is smaller because of land reforms.

IIMPACT 2014 was attended by the Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong later in the day.

Some 700-odd professionals, many from top-notch MNCs and Singaporean companies, heard Rao roll out his vision on making Telangana one of India’s fastest-growing states.

Among them were Gupta, Air Asia group CEO Tony Fernandes, and Oracle vice-president (product management) Bhaskar Jayaraman. Rohit Sipahimalani of Temasek and Sanjiv Aiyar, the president of the PAN IIM Alumni Association, were among those who attended IIMPACT 2014.

Fernandes expressed keenness on Singapore and Kuala Lumpur building greater air connectivity with south Indian states like Telangana.

Attendance was good also at the Bengal investor meet here two days ago, where Mamata attempted to woo Singaporean capital amid the signing of several memorandums of understanding and letters of intent.

But the most prominent faces there belonged to industrialists who had flown in from Bengal. As they shared their “positive experience” of doing business in the state, finance minister Amit Mitra kept nodding vigorously.

If Bengal has to court capital from Singapore, it has to compete with fellow Indian states like Telangana that are making a beeline for the South East Asian nation that was the largest foreign investor in India last year.

“I want our trajectory of growth to surpass the rates of other states,” Rao told his audience, almost echoing Mamata’s words at her meeting with industry at Hotel Shangri-La.

At that meeting on Wednesday, Mamata had tried to allay fears about her government’s hands-off land policy by touting a state-owned land bank, which her ministers and officials claim totals 10,000 acres of encroachment-free but non-contiguous plots.

In the absence of detailed land-bank maps of Bengal and Telangana, the two states’ attractiveness to investors cannot be compared, an NRI professional who had attended both meetings said.

“But as a number, 300,000 acres is much more than 10,000 acres,” he added.

K. Shanmugam, Singapore’s minister for foreign affairs, had told The Telegraph in an interview published on Friday that the availability of “factors of production like land” were among boxes his country’s industrialists liked to tick before they invested anywhere.

After her meeting with Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Mamata had told reporters he had asked her about land availability in Bengal.

Rao, in his address, highlighted not just land availability but also a self-certification-based model of automatic project approval his government has created.

“Traditional single-window clearance doesn’t deliver the desired results. A special chasing cell in my office will ensure that investors don’t have to run around for clearances,” the chief minister said.

In her address on Wednesday, Mamata had spoken about the single-window clearance system.

Rao drew huge applause when he mentioned his goal of making Telangana a “zero graft” place. He spoke at length about a Rs 350-crore project to make Hyderabad a safe city that involves installing one lakh CCTVs. “We want people to feel safe; (we want to) model our state on Singapore,” he said.

Shanmugam had underlined the importance of security in attracting Singaporean investments, telling this newspaper: “If they set up a factory or business and people are attacked, either by street violence or terrorism, they will get worried.”

Rao’s speech suggested that he is a details man, listing Hyderabad’s total annual rainfall, average temperature and the seismic zone of the city.

Rao’s sincerity was reflected in his visit to Singapore’s police headquarters this morning for a first-hand experience of policing in the island city.

His two-and-a-half-day visit incorporated a busy schedule: Rao addressed members of the Confederation of Indian Industry besides meeting the Prime Minister, foreign minister, commerce and industry minister, and senior officials of the urban renewal authority.

“Tomorrow he will go to Malaysia, where he has a host of official engagements. He will fly back to Hyderabad the day after,” an official in Rao’s entourage said.

Mamata’s official engagements were limited. She restricted herself to meeting the Prime Minister and foreign minister besides addressing the investor meet and attending dinners hosted by the members of a Bengali association and India Club.

At the IIMPACT meet, where the theme was “I am the change”, Rao focused on Brand Hyderabad and Brand Telangana.

Mamata too spoke of a brand, Biswa Bangla. Her officials have held preliminary talks with Changi Airport authorities to set up a Biswa Bangla stall that would sell handicrafts