The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Buddha sees no evil in consumerism

Calcutta, Sept. 26: Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has come a long way — from a Marxist mascot to a consumer evangelist. It’s taken him quite a while to trudge the distance, but not soon enough to realise that Bengal’s chief minister will have to trade shibboleths for prosperity. It’s not easy, but he’s up to it.

The man who would have chafed at a cult that sought happiness on shop shelves until a few years back, today had no qualms in singing hosannas to consumers who are getting more assertive with their wallets.

“The demand for consumer goods from the urban and rural middle-class shows that the overall purchasing power of the state’s people is growing. There is a rising demand for industrial goods and consumer durables. And that is a good sign for Bengal, whose industrial production is pegged at 4.6 per cent,” the chief minister said while inaugurating Consumer–2002. The four-day exhibition of consumer goods organised by CII (eastern region) is on till September 29.

Bhattacharjee pointed out that the average annual growth of domestic product (SDP) in the state over the Ninth Plan period was 7.2 per cent, much higher than the country average of 5.4 per cent during the same period.

“Our state has 9 per cent of India’s middle and upper class households and is placed among the three most progressive rural economies in the country. Calcutta is regarded as one of the most attractive urban retail centres. These have made Bengal the perfect destination for industrial investment, including consumer goods firms. The high population density makes it a lucrative consumer product market,” he added.

In spite of the hoopla, the chief minister did not drop his guard. “In a developing society, changing tastes determine the consumers’ demand but it is desirable to avoid conspicuous consumption which gives rise to unhealthy trends in society and creates a situation in which some people tend to live beyond their means.”

The state government, he said, has set up an independent department of consumer affairs to look after the interests of consumers and redress grievances. Besides, Bhattacharjee said several steps are being taken to create consumer awareness on a wider scale.

Automobiles, auto accessories, office equipment, home entertainment and hygiene products, domestic and kitchen appliances, housing and personal products are some of the items he had on his mind when he talked about things that have turned into must-haves.

He announced state government’s approval for a permanent exhibition centre near Science City on EM Bypass. The commerce ministry has sanctioned Rs 8 crore for it.

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