Bengal's industrial scenario: Big projects absent, iconic units closed (News Review)
Absence of big-ticket investments, closure of iconic units and the menace of extortion have clouded the industrial scenario in West Bengal, notwithstanding the state government's tall claims of success. The MSME sector, however, provides a silver lining.
Last week, state Industries and Finance Minister Amit Mitra said: "The list of industries eager to set up shop here in Bengal is so long that I will need a whole day to read it out."
However, most projects he mentioned were conceived by the erstwhile Left Front regime.
Industrialists and economists also paint a not-so-rosy picture.
According to a leading city-based industrialist, the absence of any big project is worrisome.
"If you don't get big-ticket investments, there will be no ancillary industries, and no fresh employment will be generated. Sadly, such big investments are not coming," the industrialist told IANS on condition of anonymity.
He said that in recent decades, the only big ticket investment in the state has been the Haldia Petrochemicals Limited, set up by the Left Front.
"But even this project is now ailing. Some steel plants have come up in recent years or are in the pipeline, but not much employment can be generated by pumping in a few hundred crores, or a thousand crores," he said.
The government was making tall claims, "but I don't see anything happening", the industrialist said.
He said that while the government seems to have woken up to the need of changing its land policy, it needs to sell Bengal well to the prospective investors.
The industrialist also highlighted the menace of extortion.
"Under the Left Front, it used to be a regimented affair. The industrialist had to pay only one person. Now, if you pay one person, two more people come up asking for double the amount. And this goes on."
In a bad advertisement for the eastern state, some iconic colonial-era companies - Ambassador carmaker Hindusthan Motors, tyre makers Dunlop and paint manufacturer Shalimar Paints - have suspended operations.
But a happy piece of news is the reopening of the country's oldest engineering firm Jessop & Co, which had suspended work in May.
Economist Dipankar Dasgupta said that during the Trinamool Congress rule since May 2011, the state's industrial picture has been what it was for decades.
"For long years, big projects have eluded us. The solitary exception was the Tata Motors' Nano project, which had generated hope before it moved out due to political reasons. Had the Nano project taken place, the state would have benefited."
"I think it would be unfair to single out only the three years of the Trinamool Congress in this regard. Suffice to say, the scenario now is what it was three years back," Dasgupta, a former professor of economics at the Indian Statistical Institute, told IANS.
However, he cited three developments as positive for the state - the upcoming Aerotropolis project at Andal in Burdwan district, the state's efforts to strengthen the Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) sector with innovative schemes, and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's coming trip to Singapore later this month.
The Aerotropolis Project - started during the Left Front rule and involving setting up a new airport along with a township, IT and logistics hub - is spread over approximately 2,182 acres in the Asansol-Durgapur Planning Area.
It is being developed by Bengal Aerotropolis Project Limited in association with Singapore's Changi Airports International.
"I understand Changi has committed Rs.5,000 crore, of which it has already pumped in Rs.1,000 crore. If this project is successful, surrounding areas like Durgapur, Raniganj and Asansol will see a lot of activities like townships and industries," he said.
On Banerjee's coming trip to Singapore beginning Aug 18, Dasgupta said: "I'm hopeful. Changi is already investing. If she can get some infrastructure projects, it will be great."
Backing the government's stress on the MSME sector, he said: "As big industries are unlikely to come at this point of time, MSME is now the best option, as they have low land requirement."
He lauded the state government's new scheme of deputing 500 trained MSME department officers to the blocks with the task of encouraging people to start their own ventures.
Banerjee recently said over 35,000 new MSME units have come up employing 320,000 people and accounting for highest credit disbursement worth Rs.35,000 crore over the past three years.
Noted economist Abhiroop Sarkar, vice chairman of the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation, claimed much work was being done in the MSME sector.
However, when asked about the absence of big ticket investments, especially in the manufacturing sector, he hung up, saying: "I don't want to talk any more on this."
(Sirshendu Panth can be contacted at email@example.com)
(Posted on 11-08-2014)
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