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With just 40% closure on projects, are Bengal business summits fruitful?

Bengal business summit 2017By Bappaditya Chatterjee,

Kolkata, (IANS) : With just 40 per cent of the Rs 4.93 lakh crore ($72 billion) investments proposed in the past two editions of Bengal Global Business Summits under implementation, should it come as a surprise that the just-concluded third edition fetched about Rs 15,000 crore ($2.2 billion) less proposals than last year?

“It may be one rupee or one lakh crore or one rupee or one dollar. I will be happy to see if everything is implemented. But I announce something and don’t implement… is something I do not like,” Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee admitted in her typical populist style at the closing ceremony of the summit.

Like previous editions, the two-day event, with giant banners and posters highlighting the state’s achievements, was big but lacked some shine this year. However, Banerjee described the showpiece event as “super, super, super successful”.

According to the state government, the 2015 summit had fetched investment proposals of Rs 2.43 lakh crore and the 2016 edition received over Rs 2.5 lakh crore of proposals. The third edition received over Rs 2.35 lakh crore of investment proposals, the lowest since the government kicked off the process of branding the state.

“It would not be correct if one sees West Bengal in isolation. Post-demonetisation, the entire economy of the country is going through a sluggish trend. Unless and until the country’s economy is steadied, the investors will continue to have a cautious approach,” former professor of Indian Statistical Institute Dipankar Dasgupta told IANS.

Dasgupta also said that in the context of the competition among states to attract investors, mere MoUs and investment proposals were not that important — what was important was the realisation of such proposals.

So, 40 per cent comes to about Rs 2 lakh crore of investments that are in the implementation stage.

“Maybe, it is happening but I do not know,” Dasgupta said.

Kalyani University’s professor and economist Bysadeb Dasgupta told IANS: “West Bengal’s basic infrastructure, though it has improved, is still not up to the mark as compared to relatively higher industrialised states like Gujarat and Maharashtra. This could be a reason for less investment proposals coming to the state.”

However, the absence of central ministers impacted the mega event adversely in terms of investment proposals and presence of industry bigwigs — largely because of the war of words post-demonetisation.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who has been a regular visitor at the summits for the past two years, skipped the event this year though the invitation card carried his name. Last year, central ministers like Nitin Gadkari, Piyush Goyal and Suresh Prabhu were also present, but none of them came this time.

Usually, central ministers attract industry honchos and public sector entities tend to announce projects and swell the investment kitty.

In 2015, NTPC announced investments of Rs 20,000 crore while SAIL proposed a Rs 40,000 crore expansion plan. Total infrastructure investment of Rs 37,482 crore on National Highways was announced in 2016.

In 2017, no major public sector company, other than GAIL (India) Ltd, which announced investments of Rs 3,000 crore, in a gas pipeline project, was present at the summit.

“The absence of central ministers is clearly due to political reasons but absence of central agencies may also be attributed to the same,” Byasdeb Dasgupta said.

Economists and industrialists also voiced concern over the state government’s hands-off policy on land acquisition and refusal to set up special economic zones even though it has been claiming availability of land in the industrial parks and land bank.

In fact, the state government’s policy of allowing market mechanism for land requirement came under question after the recent violent anti-farmland acquisition protests in Bhangar of South 24 Parganas district.

“The Bhangar incidents have also cast a shadow on the market mechanism. The Power Grid Corporation bought about 16 acres of land directly from cultivators for setting up the project. Almost at the completion of the project, villagers backtracked and protested, alleging they were forced to give the land by local leaders,” said a West Bengal-based industrialist on condition of anonymity, adding that the end result was that the project got hampered.

“Does the market mechanism provide any guarantee to investors for seamless execution of project?” he asked.

Byasdeb Dasgupta said land was no longer an economic issue. “It is a political issue. Mamata Banerjee came to power riding on the land issue. It is her political compulsion not to bring any change in land policy,” said the economist.

(Bappaditya Chatterjee can be contacted at bappaditya.c@ians.in)

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