Asim Kumar Mitra
The industrial scenario of West Bengal has gone from bad to worse. It was true that when the new TMC government assumed power two years ago after the prolonged tyrannical administration of communists, there was a thin line (without any guarantee of its prolonged stay) of hope of reviving industry in the state. Once renowned as an industrial hub, West Bengal had all the potential and promises of reviving the shattered industrial situation. There is no denying the fact that the former government had left a burden of loan for more than 200,000 crores. But people had faith in Mamata Banerjee, chief minister, who would do something miraculous to bring back the old industrial glory of the state.
The job was not that easy. There could not be a starker example of Bengal’s battered brand image when we see the trust factor among the industrialists has hit rock bottom. Less than 5% of investment proposed in Bengal has come true in the last five years. Business was never so worse in the state. The flight of companies and investments was started during the tenure of communist government as “industrialists were afraid of militant and irresponsible trade unionism. Besides, the market had also shifted to west and northern India,” said S. B. Ganguly, former Chairman of Exide.
After Singur (Singur is the place where Tata Company had proposed to set up its Nano Factory which fizzled out for political reasons.) Bengal-based business houses moved Rs. 6,500 crore worth of proposals to Gujarat. The list includes ITC, Birla Corporation, Shree Capital, Wonder Industries, Emami Paper Mills, LMJ International, Adhunik Corporation, Concast Infratech, Enfield Solar Energy, Keventer Agro and Paharpur Cooling Towers.
ITC, the biggest corporate house in Bengal, has set up new units in Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra and Uttarakhand and is thinking of setting up a few back home. Bengal was once the paint capital of India with all major companies (ICI, BERGER, JENSON & NICHOLSON AND SHALIMAR PAINTS) setting up their HQ here. Now, Berger Paints is setting up units in Andhra Pradesh and ICI has made all its investments in south India.
CESC (Calcutta Electric Supply Corporation) is investing in a big way in Maharashtra, Philips Carbon Black of RP Sanjiv Goenka Group has made major investments in Gujarat and Kochi and spared few for Haldia. Hindusthan National Glass of the Somany Group invested heavily in Andhra Pradesh. Some relatively new city-based groups like Century Ply Boards, Jai Balaji, Electro Steel, Shyam Steel, Ramakrishna Forging, Vikram Solar, too, are investing in other states.
Director General of Bengal Chamber of Commerce and Industries, Mr. P. Roy said, “The flight of capital started in the ‘70s due to labour unrest and the shifting of markets Now the government must create an atmosphere of stability and try to provide better infrastructure. There should be no political interference.”
Mr. A. Roychoudhury, Professor of Economics, Jadavpur University, in this context said, “After 1970, no big-ticket investment has come to Bengal. It all started after the China War and aggravated due to irresponsible labour movement. The state did not have an industrial policy till 1994. By the time we had one, other states had gone much ahead. The last mistake was committed in the approach to industrialisation in recent years.”
Prof. Roychoudhury has rightly pointed out that “the approach to industrialisation in recent years” was committed by last Left Front government under the chief minister ship of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee The present government of the state under Ms. Mamata Banerjee is quite aware of the situation. Hence they are putting importance on agro-based industries where comparatively small investments will be effective to change the industrial scenario. But two stumbling blocks are there in this roadmap. One, with the non cooperation of the central government, to tide over the problem of paucity of funds has become very much difficult. Two, in the trade union field, the communists are still very active. At the same time Indian National Trinamool Trade Union Congress has not yet been successful in making their presence felt in the field of trade union. Hence open fights are going on. Haldia port and industrial complex are the worst examples of this.
There was a time when India’s top blue chip companies called Calcutta home. But now, it has been totally changed. Almost all the big companies are very much there in the field. But conspicuously enough that there has been no significant new investment. Naturally, it has impaired the future of the IT industry in West Bengal.
There is no reason why Bengal cannot reclaim its old glory when Bihar has staged a miraculous comeback. But the new government of Bengal needs some time to resettle things in the field of industry in proper perspective.