Not many years ago, it used to be said that what Bengal thinks today, India thinks tomorrow. But with the state slipping on the development front in the last few decades, few people refer to the adage any more. Few investors are today willing to set up shop in the state, some existing companies have even shifted base from the state, fed up with the heightened political activism and lack of work culture. Even in the new economy industries, the state missed the bus, as most entrepreneurs prefer to do business in other parts of the country, particularly in the south and the west.
No matter what the actual state of affairs, the impression is that everything is going downhill. The government and administration in the state are perceived in business circles to be inimical to entrepreneurs. Even the prime minister could not resist the temptation of taking a dig at the dismal state of affairs here during his visit to Calcutta
A recent study by the National Council for Applied Economic Research on the e-readiness of Indian states, ranked West Bengal in the third rung of states, under the category “expectant” alongwith Uttar Pradesh and Kerala. It said that the state needed to work on infrastructure and on hardware and software affordability. It emphasized the need to build and nurture more IT parks, like the one in Salt Lake, which is of global standards.
The IT wave, especially IT-enabled services like outsourcing, which have been flourishing in many parts of the country, has largely passed by Calcutta.
In the last few years, however, the political leadership in the state has been striving to make amends. As a result, the state is now slowly emerging as a favoured destination for IT.
The state has had an IT policy since 2000, but it was only in August last year that a separate policy for IT-enabled services was adopted. Recently, the state government announced a revised IT policy. This policy aims to take the state towards a 15 per cent share of the national IT and ITES pie by 2010. The policy offers such industries the status of public utility service providers, which will perhaps allay potential investors’ fears of bandhs to rest.
It is all very well to frame policies but such targets can only be achieved if they are sustained in practice. Besides augmenting infrastructure, the government must also streamline the education system, especially engineering colleges, to cater to the needs of industry. The availability of quality manpower in West Bengal is an asset, but if the flight of talent from the state is to be arrested, employment opportunities must be created in the state itself. Also, the red tape involved in setting up industries in the state has to be done away with.
Time for action
The recent moves of the chief minister to meet investors in important cities are welcome, but it is equally important to attract non-resident Bengalis living in different parts of the world. There are many Bengali IT professionals in the West who are keen to invest in the state. There should also be more focus on getting the likes of AIG, TCS, and Infosys to invest.
Merely offering incentives to investment is not enough. Important parameters like network access, network learning, network society, network economy, network policy and e-governance, will also have to be taken into consideration.
What Bengal needs today is an IT culture and one of the most important ways to bring about one is to increase the use of IT in governance. The state-wide area network needs to be put to optimum use and citizen delivery services need to be enabled through the network. The IT department in the state and WEBEL have to be more pro-active. In the areas of tele-health and tele-education, especially, the state has to do a lot. The recent policy announcement and the attempts to market the state are laudable but what is most needed is action. That would send more positive signals than policy announcements.