India has been called a rich land inhabited by poor people. For, the country has been endowed with huge natural and human resources, yet a large number of people live below the poverty line and the per capita income is a fraction of what many Asian countries can boast of. The rich land-poor people dichotomy is much starker in Orissa. It is extremely rich in mines and minerals, but it is also one of the poorest states in the country; two, out of five persons in the eastern state live below the poverty line.
What is needed is rapid industrialisation and faster economic growth in Orissa. In the last few years, many Indian and foreign companies showed considerable interest in the state. The Korean steel major, Posco, was the foremost among them. It signed a memorandum of understandings (MoU) with the Orissa Government way back in June 2005, pledging $12 billion, the largest ever single foreign direct investment (FDI) in the country. This was followed by a flurry of investment announcements in Orissa by other companies.
But the red tape does not loosen up. Be it the issue of iron ore exports or that of land acquisition, the response of politicians and bureaucrats is typically lackadaisical. Meanwhile vested interests have organised themselves, whether in the name of championing the cause of farmers whose land is being acquired or some sentimental grounds. Soon after the Orissa Government'sMoU with Posco, anti-development forces joined hands to oppose the project, prominent among them being the members of CPI, CPM and Forward Bloc. What was more unfortunate was that the local Congress leadership, too, echoed the discredited rhetoric of the Reds. ?The Posco MoU is nothing but an attempt to loot the state'sprecious ores in the name of industrialisation,? state Congress president Jayadev Jena said soon after the inking of the project agreement.
Communists and their fellow-traveling jholawallahs opposing progress is not surprising, for they are against anything that is good and reasonable. A project worth Rs 52,000 crore would directly and indirectly provide jobs to lakhs of people in a poor state, elevate people from below the poverty line, and in general increase economic activity. They hate such things because these would hit their own vocation?of peddling the spurious theory and practice of Marx.
The Reds have succeeded in their nefarious designs to a large extent. According to a recent news report, Posco is reviewing its investment plans in India; it also started looking at options in south-east Asia. It urged the Central and Orissa Governments to sort out all issues within ?the next two-three months.?
The exit of Posco would be a great setback for Orissa. It would send wrong signals to the investing community all over the world. Already, there is an impression that setting up and running industry in the state is fraught with innumerable and unforeseeable risks. For instance, there are 45 pledges to start business in the state, but only 24 have got off the ground.
In fact, if Posco decides to quit, it would be a big blow to not just Orissa but also to the country. It would mean that India?despite its aspiration to become a global player and its supposed commitment to reforms?is unable to offer a congenial business environment.
On March 25?a few days after Posco expressed its exasperation?Prime Minister Manmohan Singh addressed CII Steel Summit, India Vision 2020?Challenges Ahead. He said that in India steel ?demand is bound to grow. This is why there is growing interest in investing in our steel sector. Our manufacturing costs are internationally competitive. The increasing number of global steel majors who have announced plans to set up steel-making facilities in India gives a fair indication of the comparative advantage of manufacturing steel in India. I would like to assure you that our Government would do whatever is necessary to ensure that our industry is able to meet the growing demand for steel.?
He also touched the issue of problems faced by steel companies. ?Our Government is committed to the industrial development of our country. I am aware that there are still some hurdles that investors face in doing business in India, but it is our sincere desire to help you overcome them. We have taken many steps to improve the business environment in India. I am heartened to see that many recent surveys and indices of business confidence have shown growing confidence in India,? the Prime Minister said.
It is time Manmohan Singh and his Government proved that their ?sincere desire? to help investors overcome hurdles is not a sham. Otherwise, India will remain eternally a land of untapped potential.
(The author works with The Political and Business Daily.)