Make in India, make in Bengal
Few states have better industrial infrastructure
If proximity to raw materials, abundant supply of water and electricity, availability of trained manpower, port and road connections, nearness of local and export markets, and helpful local administration and government are principal pre-conditions for industrial investments, few Indian states can match West Bengal in these regards. Yet, if West Bengal has fallen behind other states such as Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, and Gujarat in attracting fresh industrial investments for years, it is because of a historical perception since the days of Bengal's Marxist-led Left Front government. The left parties assumed power on the back of a wide-spread labour unrest that drove many large units and entrepreneurs out of Bengal. Many units fell sick as well, though mainly for different reasons such as lack of market foresight, delay in bringing about technology and product changes. An unfounded initial leftist concern against computerisation also delayed Bengal's embrace with new technologies and production systems. The Left Front-ruled Bengal for almost 35 years at a stretch. Although it tried to change the business perception towards the end, few really trusted them. Fortunately, the situation changed fast during the present government under Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, a very practical and progressive political personality. Today, the best thing is industry trusts Mamata Banerjee and her honest, down-to-earth approach. Mamata Banerjee strongly believes that Bengal will become a global hub of industry as the state is best suited for the purpose.
That some of the top local and global entrepreneurs chose to be in Kolkata last week to attend the fourth Bengal Global Business Summit with large investment proposals speaks all about the changed investor perception of the state and its government. There were Mukesh Ambani, Lakshmi Mittal, Sajjan Jindal, Sanjiv Goenka, Pranav Adani, Uday Kotak and Niranjan Hiranandani among a host of well-known entrepreneurs with scores of new projects and fresh investment plans. All of them appreciated the fact that Bengal means business. The words from Mukesh Ambani summed up the present business sentiment. He said: "Every time I come here, I see a new Kolkata and a new Bengal, more vibrant, more dynamic and more optimistic than before. Bengal has said goodbye to the slow growth rate of the past. It is now embracing the future with the grace and agility of the Bengal tiger. Bengal is the fourth largest state economy in India, growing at 15.64 per cent. This is much higher than the national average." Ambani's RIL had initially committed investment of Rs.4,500 crore, but later more than tripled it to Rs.15,000 crore. Freshly, he committed Rs.5,000 crore investments in a host of projects in the state. The country's richest and most successful entrepreneur, Ambani further added: "Bengal means business. Bengal knows that it must prosper, not just for its own sake, but for the whole of India. Didi, under your leadership, West Bengal is becoming Best Bengal. The Biswa Bangla Convention Centre is a testimony of your vision and mission."
The two-day business summit attracted investment proposals worth a total of Rs.2.20 lakh crore. Expectedly, the manufacturing and infrastructure sectors have the largest share at Rs.156,811 crore, followed by MSMEs and textiles Rs.52,952 crore, health, education and skill development Rs.6,015 crore, hospitality and tourism RS. 1,483 crore, IT and ITeS Rs.1,146 crore and food processing, fisheries and agriculture Rs.1,518 crore. Such massive investments can't take place overnight. They will take time to fructify. Projects will take their own course to be ready for production or operation. The state was the country's biggest manufacturing hub until the early 1970s. It is still one of the country's largest bases of ferrous and non-ferrous metals production, mining and engineering industries, boasting two large integrated steel plants, an alloy and special steels plant, several mini-steel units using electric arc furnaces making high quality steels. Bengal is the largest producer of steam coal. It also produces coal for thermal power generation.
Traditionally, it has been a major producer of railway products such as wheels and axels, wagons and coaches. It builds ships and motorised vessels and harbours one of the country's major port complexes, combining Calcutta-Haldia ports and dry-docking facilities for ship repairs and maintenance. Both the state and Central governments are contemplating to build two more ports with deeper drafts to accommodate larger cargo vessels. The Haldia petrochemicals complex is also one of the country's largest. Bengal is a major manufacture of handloom and power loom textile products and ready-made garments. Its leather industry is one of the country's oldest and biggest. The state is ready to help enlarge the industrial base and manufacturing activities to wrest the economic leadership position with total sincerity and devotion.
A journey into Bengal through the national highways connecting the state with Delhi, Mumbai, and Chennai will show the growth of new large and medium industrial ventures that have come up in recent years. The industry is growing alongside agriculture. In farm production, Bengal ranks among the top. Agriculture contributes nearly 20 per cent to its gross state domestic product (GSDP). Bengal is India's largest rice producer with an annual output of around 16.1 million tonnes in FY 2015-16, and the second-largest potato producer with an average annual output of 11 million tonnes. Rice, potato, jute, sugarcane and wheat are its top five crops. The state supplies close to 80 per cent of the country's potato and 66 per cent of jute requirements. It is also the second largest tea producer. Bengal is among India's top three vegetable and fish producers and a large producer of milk and eggs. In fact, few Indian states can match Bengal's combined strength of industry and agriculture, contributing to its high annual economic growth rate. The latest investor response to the business summit shows that the entrepreneurs are fully aware of Bengal's economic strength and its government's resolve.