| Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee at Infocom 2003 in Calcutta. Picture by Pabitra Das
Calcutta, Nov. 17: Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee made a tall claim today. “We have turned around,” he said, turning around a question thrown at him from an audience of infotech executives about the “turnaround time” of his government.
Simply put, it means the time from submission of a project to clearance. But the chief minister’s response went beyond answering a business query to make a bold statement about the state. “We have turned around. We admit there are still problems, but things are changing,” Bhattacharjee said at the chief executives’ conclave held as part of the four-day conference and exhibition, Infocom 2003, organised by Nasscom and Businessworld, an ABP group publication.
“We can clear any project in less than a month’s time,” he added while replying to a question hurled at him by Durgesh Dave of DataPro, a US-based information technology company trying to set up office in Calcutta.
In support of his claim of change, he announced that Wipro has requested for more land and Reliance has sought eight acres in Salt Lake. “We have identified the land and I have already replied to both Azim Premji (Wipro) and Anil Ambani (Reliance).”
If the chief minister was talking about change, evidence of it was also available in meetings his IT minister, Manabendra Mukherjee, was holding with representatives of some of the top companies in business on the sidelines of Infocom.
Minutes before the open forum with chief executives, Bhattacharjee was closeted with Hindustan Lever chairman M.S. Banga and Oracle India managing director Shekhar Dasgupta.
He also unveiled Sunrise City — a 50-acre dedicated information technology centre off the EM Bypass — and promised development of another 150 acres for knowledge-based industries, where Bengal’s possible advantage was emphasised by Arun Shourie, the Union information and communications minister, yesterday.
Shourie had also set a slogan for Bengal: deliver on promises — in other words, Just Do It. The reminder about delivering on promises came from the audience today. “How fast would you roll out the new facility'” asked Frank Luksic, the vice-president of IBM India, referring to Sunrise City.
Eighteen to 20 months from the day of starting work, replied an official accompanying Bhattacharjee.
Promises have a habit of coming home to roost, but the chief minister had decided to be brave. “Companies from Bangalore are coming to Calcutta. Why should I go to Bangalore'” he fired back when asked if he was going to make his scheduled trip there.
If that sounded more reckless than brave, humility followed quickly. “I am willing to go anywhere to bring investments.”
Humility may be in order, given the facts. IT exports from Bengal in the last financial year were around Rs 1,200 crore, while Karnataka’s were over Rs 25,000 crore.
Bhattacharjee may have to make that trip to Bangalore, but some companies from there were at Infocom. Mukherjee had pitched camp at the conference venue to tell their representatives in one-to-one meetings: “We are suffering because of the past, but the present is different.”
Armed with a battery of bureaucrats, Mukherjee met representatives of Nortel and Infosys, and had separate sessions with Nasscom president Kiran Karnik and Harris Miller, the president of the IT Association of America.
No deals were struck, but Mukherjee wasn’t complaining. “We were answering their queries and taking notes of what they want. All of them had shown interest in the state, and Keith Budge (South Asia chief) of Oracle even invited us to make a presentation at their headquarters in California next March,” he said.