The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Please-and-prick card for Buddha

Calcutta, Sept. 2: Bureaucracy is a bother, corruption is not a concern; professional education is poor; low salary is a selling point, roads are a riot, power not a problem — it’s a balance of bouquets and brickbats for Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee from Bengal’s business brigade.

The findings are from a survey conducted by the Indian Chamber of Commerce (ICC). As part of the ICC 2003 Business Perception Survey for Bengal, a questionnaire with 19 posers was sent to 60 corporate chieftains with business interests in the state. They gave their verdict on a host of issues, ranging from banning bandhs to progress in the power sector.

“Direct feedback from business and industry is critical, and would help the West Bengal government to consider appropriate policy choices,” said ICC president Vikram Thapar. The chamber has decided to share the results with the government as a “positive policy supplement”.

The chief minister will have reason to smile if he flips through the bars and pies. Over 79 per cent of industrialists acknowledge the government’s “conducive” attitude to business and 73 per cent admit that initiatives over the past three years have brought a “change” in the investment climate.

But a change at the top is not enough. As one of the respondents put it: “The state government’s attitude has significantly improved at the top but needs to percolate down.” The days of rowdy trade unionism may have gone, but the men with the moolah are still wary of labour trouble. Though there was no direct question on the topic, a respondent pointed out that “labour relations have not changed”.

High appreciation for stable law and order and low corruption — with industrialists giving a clean chit to the ruling Left — may boost Bhattacharjee’s image, but on the efficiency count, the administration fares badly. The majority of the respondents criticised the administration for red tape.

Bhattacharjee will have to lay special emphasis on infrastructure with 88 per cent of the respondents seeking priority attention to roads and 69 per cent demanding suburban development. The state’s transport and air connectivity must go up — that was the message from the survey.

The survey indicated scope for improvement in the social sector. Only 24 per cent of the respondents felt the quality of school and college education was “excellent” and over 53 per cent demanded action in the health sector.

Though the cost advantage in hiring human resources in the city was recognised, with 71 per cent of the respondents preferring Bengal because of low wages and salaries, the business barons expressed concern over the quality of professional education here. Over 48 per cent advocated measures to raise the standard to reap the benefits of competitive human resource costs. “While wages and salaries may be lower in Calcutta compared to other cities, the incidence works out higher because of very low productivity,” observed a respondent.

Not just strengths and weaknesses, the survey also posed questions on opportunities before the state. And Bhattacharjee will be happy to note that a whopping 72 per cent voted for knowledge-based industries, his favourite, as the engine for the state’s growth, followed by healthcare, tourism and biotechnology. Small and medium enterprises will dominate the future was the majority view.

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