The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Idea first, investment later

Calcutta, April 22: If infotech titans do not come to Bengal, Bengal will go to them. This time for ideas, not investment.

After paying a visit to Infosys head N.R. Narayana Murthy with a request to help finalise the infotech policy, the government is now plugging into the brains of other industry leaders.

Azim Premji of Wipro and S. Ramadorai of Tata Consultancy Services — other than the Confederation of Indian Industry — are being tapped for inputs before the policy is unveiled.

“The main reason for replacing the earlier policy — IT Policy, 2000 — with a new one is to attract investments. And this time, we want to hear from the investors themselves what features in a policy document will excite their interest,” said IT minister Manab Mukherjee.

He led a four-member team to Infosys headquarters in Bangalore on April 12. Narayana Murthy accepted the role of a “mentor” to the state government during his meeting with the team, comprising IT secretary D.P. Patra, Webel managing director S.K. Mitra and CII eastern region chairman Sanjay Budhia.

IT department officials are now making last-minute changes to the draft and, according to Mukherjee, the 15-page policy will be despatched in a week. Though the government is not setting any deadline for suggesting changes, the minister is hopeful of a “prompt” reply from the threesome.

“We will surely incorporate their suggestions in the final policy document,” promised Mukherjee, who thinks that the policy document — with such “formidable” names associated with it — will give the state a “positive” branding.

So far, the state’s fledgling initiative to draw infotech investment has not met with any great success. The move to actively engage industry in policy-making itself is being viewed as a sign of desperation by some.

“Earlier, interaction with industry on policy issues was done informally. The move is unprecedented and shows the desperation of the state government,” said an industry observer.

He pointed out how previous measures like hiring the consultants, McKinsey, to pull in investment had not worked to the extent desired. “So the government is now asking industry to amend policies to suit its needs,” he added.

But there is scepticism about its chances of success. For instance, the “effectiveness” of policies in bringing in investment is being questioned with suggestions that the government instead focus on creating an “enabling” infrastructure.

“The growth of the IT industry in Bangalore and Hyderabad had nothing to do with policies. While it was a strong brand that drew IT companies to Bangalore, Chandrababu Naidu’s initiative made Hyderabad the place to be in,” the observer said.

But government officials think that a “transparent and unambiguous” policy will be the “clincher” for the state, as the existing infrastructure — human resources and telecom network — is comparable with that of other metros.

“A well-laid-down policy captures the government’s intention. In our case, we had a policy, but it was sketchy and a number of times the need to be specific was emphasised. We want to do that this time with help from the best people in the industry,” Mitra said.

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