Determined to deliver better
Few political parties have done exceptionally better in state or national elections for their second term in office than Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress (TMC). Nothing could dampen the spirit of the electorate in West Bengal to get their Didi and her party, TMC, home with a much larger majority in the Assembly.
Neither the punishing six-phase election schedule under sweltering heat nor the large-scale transfer of officers from their line duty by the Central Election Commission merely at the behest of opposition complaints could dampen their spirits.
If the latest election mandate in favor of TMC is any indication, the party may further garner the support of the electorate to emerge as the largest single political group from any state in Lok Sabha after the 2019 parliamentary election. It is only natural that the ruling political satraps in states such as Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and Delhi are looking for an early informal accord with Mamata Banerjee in anticipation of their better performance in the next Lok Sabha polls.
For Mamata Banerjee, however, this massive political mandate is down to comprehensive economic and social development measures that have been taken in the state in the last five years for the benefit of the common man and those living below the poverty line.
This has strengthened her resolution to do much better in the second term. She has now placed industry in the same category of priority as agriculture to ensure a balance in economic development and address the concerns of employment of young educated persons in the state after they obtain their degrees and certificates from colleges, institutes and universities.
Despite severe financial constraints caused mainly by the heavy burden of servicing huge debts incurred by her predecessors over the years, her administration has done remarkably well in several areas that touched the heart of the common man as well as the business community. The areas include the state’s rural infrastructure, improved road connectivity, better water supply and sanitation, education at all levels, healthcare and supplies through ration or fair price shops.
With her renewed focus on the industry -- putting it on par with agriculture in which West Bengal has distinctly performed well compared to other Indian states in terms of both diversity of farm production and higher value addition for farmers -- the government has to really work hard to create an environment that is conducive to industrial growth.
Finding suitable land for the new industry continues to be a challenge. The government is considering various options to tide over the difficulties. The closure of sick units and using their immovable assets to set up new ventures appear to be a viable option.
The takeover of sick units like Dunlop, occupying vast priceless industrial land with best infrastructure connections, and handing them over to well-meaning large new entrepreneurs, preferably multinational corporations that could be trusted with appropriate asset utilisation rather than asset stripping, would probably be the best.
In the past, the Union government had acted in a similar fashion to unlock the vast real estate assets of sick and closed National Textile Corporation (NTC) mills in Mumbai and help build new corporate assets there. The task is not easy. Legal hassles need to be overcome. The court must act fast to free the estates and auction them. The government must make sure that the industrial land is not misused by private land sharks to promote housing.
Few will disagree that the CPM-led Left Front government had a muddled industrial policy. It allowed Hindustan Motors, the country’s largest passenger car manufacturing company until the mid-1980s, to work towards shutting down the automobile plant at Uttarpara and allowed its Delhi-based owner to build housing complexes there to make quick bucks before getting out of the business set up by his grandfather with the state government's help.
The property could have been taken over and given to a willing new automobile manufacturer. The automobile industry is regarded as an industrial growth engine. A number of foreign automobile plants were set up in water-starved Tamil Nadu. But, none was invited to industrially most suitable West Bengal by the LF government.
Instead, it took a highly questionable step to take over a cluster of plots of an extremely fertile agricultural land from some confused and unwilling farmers at Singur in the Hooghly district for the Tatas to manufacture the Nano.
Work on the Nano was finally shut down following an agitation by farmers under the leadership of Mamata Banerjee. The project was stopped after she became the State’s Chief Minister in 2011. The Tatas took the legal resort and the case is being heard in the Supreme Court. West Bengal and its capital Kolkata, a commercial nerve centre for a number of eastern states, can still host a car company or two in places without harming agriculture.
West Bengal, having two integrated steel plants and easy access to coal and other minerals, can still emerge as one of India’s large bases of engineering production. As a former railway minister, Mamata Banerjee took several steps to increase and develop engineering production for the railways. West Bengal has a number of engineering units that exclusively serve the railways.
The SAIL’s Durgapur steel plant has the country’s biggest wheel and axle plant. The West Bengal government is also working to revive the sick tea gardens in the state. It should be possible since the tea consumption growth in India is much in excess of annual tea production rate.
Market prices of tea are continuously shooting up. India is also a major importer of cheaper tea from other countries for blending purposes. The proposed deep sea port at Sagar, a possible access to natural gas from Bangladesh, healthier tea gardens, the growth of engineering, chemicals, telecommunications, IT, food processing, and ready-made garments industries can fulfill the state government’s dream to put West Bengal back to the forefront of industry in due course.
(The views expressed are strictly personal)