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West Bengal From Leftism To Just Right For Business

It’s sheer irony that West Bengal till today is haunted by its past. The state, which has produced the finest of talents, be it in art and culture, science and technology or any other fields, is still regarded as a place where things move at a snail’s pace, where militant trade-unionism still rules the day, where power cuts are common and where the people flaunt civic rules with impunity at the smallest pretext.

But things have changed and that too for the better. West Bengal or for that matter Kolkata, the state capital, are very different from what they used to be. Gone are the days when red flags used to dot the city’s skyline. The State now boasts of excess power. Power cuts are a thing of the past and the civic amenities too have improved a lot in the city.

Urban infrastructure has improved considerably, be it roads, bridges, housing facilities or transport. Several new bridges and flyovers are coming up in the city facilitating easy and better connectivity. Housing, a major problem of the last century has been solved by developing Salt Lake, the satellite township. ‘New Town’ at Rajarhat on the outskirts of the city and other housing projects being developed by the Bengal Ambuja, Bengal Peerless etc along the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass would further reduce the difficulties of the urban populace.

But despite such progress, ‘perception about the state’ still remains a major hurdle for fresh initiatives here. While part of the blame can be put down to history, lack of information about the state often adds to this negative image. But recently, the state government has initiated several measures which should help it in shedding this stigma.

The state, which witnessed industrial unrest in the ’70s and ’80s, has seen a flurry of industrial activities especially in the field of information technology (IT) and electronics. Prominent entrants are PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), Cognizant Technology Solutions (CTS), Computer Associates, The Chatterjee Group (TCG), SkyTech Solutions (a TCG-United Airlines joint venture), SchlumbergerSema, Siemens, Agilent Technologies, ITC Infotech, RS Software and many others. Most of them operate from the state-of-the-art Salt Lake Electronics Complex in the city.

Recently, domestic IT majors Wipro Limited and Infosys too have evinced keen interest in setting up their software development facilities in the city. Wipro would soon be operating from Kolkata.

Videocon International, the white goods major, would also be setting up their manufacturing unit in the state. Philips India is expanding its production facilities at Kolkata.

Buoyed by these industrial activities the state government is going all out to woo private investors to set up shop in the state. It has roped in international consultants McKinsey & Co. to chalk out the future roadmap for the state.

Sectors like IT, electronics, food processing, infrastructure, leather and leather goods and knowledge-based industries have been accorded the top-most priority by the state government.

Apart from IT and electronics, several major industrial projects have been commissioned in the state, which includes the Rs 5,170-crore Haldia Petrochemicals project, the Rs 1,600 crore-Mitsubishi Chemicals PTA plant at Haldia and several projects at Durgapur and in and around Kolkata.

The state government has set up a Gems & Jewellery Park and a Toy Park at Salt Lake to facilitate the growth of these industries.

The fully-equipped state-of-the-art Leather Complex at Bantala, on the outskirts of the city when fully operational would be a dream come true for leather goods manufacturers and exporters of the state. The project is being promoted by ML Dalmiya & Co. The government has also set up a Food Park at Dankuni for food processing units to set up their facilities.

Coming on to perception about the state and its performance, it would be worth mentioning here that a recent report prepared by the Center for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), has ranked West Bengal second in terms of investment projects commissioned/completed in the financial year 2000-2001. And not only that, it has the state 5th in projects commissioned/completed in the last three fiscal years (1998-99 to 2000-01). This negates the scepticism that things move at a snail’s pace in West Bengal.

It must be mentioned here that most of the IT players operating from the state have repeatedly stated that they have never faced any sort of labour unrest in any of their units.

The IT-preneuers are of the opinion that the state houses a pool of trained manpower and all the requisites to emerge as an IT destination of the country. Kolkata, they feel, has tremendous potential for growth in the IT Enabled Services (ITES) industry.

Not only industrial infrastructure, social infrastructure too has improved over the years. The city boasts of international standard clubs, world-class golf courses, several well-equipped corporate hospitals and medical care units, entertainment facilities, shopping malls, luxury hotels and nightclubs. Nicco Park, Science City, Nandan are the latest hotspots of the city. Kolkata registers one of the lowest crime rates in the country.

The only thing the state lacks in is proper dissemination of information, which the government is addressing seriously. The latest initiatives by the state government have opened up new vistas of opportunities for those making a beeline to invest in West Bengal. It is now for the private entrepreneurs to reap the benefits of these initiatives. We hope that in the years to come, the state is poised to become a ‘heaven for the private investors’.