The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Infy pricks, Buddha pledges
- Nandi effect on investors

Calcutta, Nov. 29: Nandigram is beginning to bite Bengal where it hurts most, emboldening prospective investors to voice concern in public and question the government’s pace of work.

Infosys, the IT giant whose proposal for a project in Calcutta is caught in a price tangle, today said the company would weigh risk factors before deciding on the state even if land of its choice was offered now.

“The news of Nandigram has even reached Bangalore and it creates a misconception and fear psychosis in the minds of clients,” T.V. Mohandas Pai, the human resource director of Infosys, said in Calcutta.

Pai’s choice of words — “misconception” — makes it clear he does not share the perception of the clients. But he added that the company has not heard from the Bengal government for the last six months. “The slow pace at which the government works here will hurt the state much more in the long run,” he said.

The Infosys official did not make the comments on his own but was replying to specific questions on the sidelines of a meeting on human resource development. Infosys co-chairman Nandan Nilekani attended the meeting but was not present when Pai fielded the questions.

The IT company had been driving a hard bargain with the state over the price and location of land (see chart). But the company — or any other business venture — had so far taken care not to make comments in public critical of the government, although some industrialists had expressed concern at the lack of speed.

Today’s comments suggest the widespread outrage caused by the CPM’s “recapture” of Nandigram had been noted by industry. This is in contrast to the largely restrained response to the March 14 firing in which 14 people were killed.

Industry was then willing to give the benefit of doubt to the government which said a law-and-order situation had spun out of control after provocation.

The expression of concern was not limited to Infosys today. ITC chairman Y.C. Deveshwar said his company was unable to start an agri-cum-food project as the state was yet to provide land. Orissa has offered plots, he said.

“ITC is from Calcutta. We want to do it here. I have made a commitment to the chief minister. So we are still waiting,” Deveshwar said.

Eager to allay the fears, industries minister Nirupam Sen issued a statement in the evening, reaffirming the government’s commitment to “industrialisation efforts”.

“The delay in land acquisition is due to a process of consultation with the stakeholders in order to generate confidence that this will help them for a better future. The state government is always for responsible industrialisation and seeks the cooperation of all sections of society, including the Opposition...,” Sen’s statement said.

IT minister Debesh Das admitted a long time had passed since the Infosys project was mooted but said the state was in touch with the company.

If more prospective investors air their misgivings, an unintended fallout of the Nandigram “recapture” could be the further shrinking of the state’s bargaining power.

Questions have often been raised why high-technology, cash-rich companies should be gifted huge tracts of land for a song, ignoring the value of other positives — such as manpower and political stability — a state like Bengal has.

But issues such as Nandigram could overshadow such strengths, especially with other states falling over each other to pamper investors.

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