Bengal 'terrifies' investors - Infosys flashes warning, says Singur changed everything

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By SAMYABRATA RAY GOSWAMI in Mumbai
  • Published 8.09.08
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Mumbai, Sept. 8: Investors are “terrified” of entering Bengal, a top Infosys official has said bluntly, warning that the outcome of the Singur controversy could have an impact on the infotech giant’s plans in Rajarhat.

“Singur has changed everything. If land promised by a sovereign state government cannot be handed over to a corporate house because of a group of people who are out to settle political scores, then it is not a conducive atmosphere for bringing in investments,” T.V. Mohandas Pai, director (human resources), Infosys, told The Telegraph from Bangalore.

Pai’s tough words came days after Infosys chairman N.R. Narayana Murthy said the agitation at Singur over land acquisition would unleash fear and uncertainty among investors.

Infosys is set to pump in about Rs 500 crore to set up its maiden development centre in Bengal that is likely to generate 5,000 jobs in the first phase.

Pai clarified that the company had not yet decided to scrap the project. “We are not saying we will scrap the Bengal project at this stage. We are in the process of getting approvals and we want to be there. But the atmosphere is not right at present. We are apprehensive and keeping a close watch on how the Singur deadlock pans out,” he said.

The Infosys official echoed Ratan Tata, who had said his prime concern was the safety and security of his employees. “Protection of life and property is the first duty of the government. India Inc is today terrified of entering West Bengal because of the atmosphere of fear and intimidation that has been perpetrated by a handful of people,” the official said.

Pai said he was “shocked” by the utter disregard for law by the protesters, whose agitation had blocked off the crucial Durgapur Expressway. “A high court order has been disregarded and there has been total contempt for rule of law. What kind of society are we living in today? Bengal is a wonderful state with some of the brightest minds. But it is for us as people to decide whether we want a better future for our kids than we had,” he said.

Bengal IT minister Debesh Das said he was not aware of any rethink on the part of Infosys but admitted that the Singur row could have an impact on investments. “We are in regular touch with the company, but it has not communicated anything to this effect. But one cannot deny that Singur would have a grave impact on the IT sector,” he said.

The project might be on track but the blunt words of Pai – and the questions he asked -- are certain to find resonance among many people across the country and abroad.

Infosys had signed the MoU for the Bengal project in April after months of uncertainty over the price of land.

The land at New Town, which had an initial tag of Rs 2.16 crore per acre, was offered to Infosys and Wipro at a much lower rate ranging from Rs 50 lakh to Rs 1 crore per acre.

Infosys is to set up a multi-service, multi-technology centre that will have everything from consulting to BPO over 90 acres, part of a 1,200-acre IT city being built adjacent to Vedic Village. Tech titan Wipro has also committed a similar investment over the next three to four years. The employment potential of the 90-acre Wipro campus is also likely to be the same.

Apex business chambers also rallied behind Tata Motors, which is yet to resume work at the Singur plant. Referring to the agreement reached yesterday between the government and Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee, the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci) said it “was concerned that devil is in the details”.

Ficci said ancillary and vendor development was critical for employment generation. The chamber sought an all-round settlement, “which is a win-win for the government, the Opposition, Tatas, ancillary units, vendors and the farmers”.

Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) chief mentor Tarun Das also said clarifications should be made on some key questions. “Does it ensure the continued viability of the Nano project? Would the agreement mean sustained peace to enable uninterrupted work in the long term?”