The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Smiling Buddha on PC screen

Calcutta, Dec. 10: Last month’s snub seems forgotten. P. Chidambaram and Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today poured honey into each other’s ears.

“The Bengal government is clearly open to new ideas and fresh investments. There are few states in the country which can show business leadership like Bengal,” the Union finance minister told a consular corps business seminar in the city.

At the same meeting, the Bengal chief minister indicated that he, unlike his party colleagues, hadn’t shut the door on FDI in retail. When a Wal-Mart team met him a few months ago, Bhattacharjee emphasised, he hadn’t said “no” to them.

“I told them you have to wait. I have not said no,” the chief minister said in reply to a question from Henry V. Jardine, US consul-general.

Bhattacharjee’s position is at odds with his party colleagues’ hardline stand in Delhi, which has prevented the Centre from drawing up a policy on the entry of retail giants.

Chidambaram, too, seemed to have come a long way since he criticised the state government a month ago for its failure to act to correct its revenue deficit and put in place the Fiscal Responsibility and Management Act.

“The state is a combination of pragmatic administration, intellectual capital, business leadership and a young generation hungry for growth and development. Industry should take a hard look at the state,” the minister said.

There have been allegations that a very senior member of the Manmohan Singh cabinet has been discouraging foreign investors from coming to Calcutta, but Chidambaram assured Bengal of all possible help from the Centre.

“The Centre will provide assistance to all the states which have fallen back,” he told the seminar, organised in partnership with the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation.

Chidambaram cited Bengal’s state domestic product (SDP) figures and per capita income ' the two prime economic indicators ' to show that governance has improved and the state is poised for further growth.

Bhattacharjee seemed to return the favour by making a distinction that his party colleagues have tended to avoid while arguing that FDI in retail would lead to job loss.

The chief minister did echo this fear, but admitted that the entry of retail giants would benefit both the consumer and the farmer.

“They (retail majors) will buy from farmers and sell to consumers. Farmers will get good price and consumers will also be happy. But I am concerned about people who are involved in between,” he said.

Apparently, the supply chain has seven layers of these “in-betweens”.

So far, Bengal has allowed Metro Cash and Carry, a German firm, to set up shop. It will do only wholesale operations, buying from farmers and selling to big hotels.

“We will closely watch its operations and see what impact (it has). It is a very complex issue and cannot be decided easily,” Bhattacharjee said.

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