The topsy-turvy nature of West Bengal is due to Mamata Banerjee government’s incompetence and minority appeasement. It is punishing the Hindus of Bengal forcing them to abandon their homes. The industrial climate has declined drastically
-Dr Dhanpat Ram Agarwal
The post-election violence in Bengal is causing unimaginable hardship to the common man
West Bengal has been on a downhill journey for more than 50 years now. Over the years, the rise of political violence sparked by Naxal movement in 1969, followed by 34 years of misrule of the Communists and the rampant corruption of the syndicate Raj under the present Mamata Banerjee Government, among other things, all together have pushed the state virtually to the brink as is evident from the plight of industry and flight of capital.
According to a recent study by Reserve Bank of India for all the States, the per capita income of West Bengal is Rs.71757 in 2019-20 as compared to Tamil Nadu’s Rs.1,53,853; Karnataka’s Rs. 1,61,391 ; Maharashtra’s Rs. 1,47,450; and Gujarat’s Rs.1,53,495 at constant prices which shows how the State has lost its position from number 1 to the bottom as compared to the major states in the country. The investment climate is very poor mainly because of the worsening law and order condition and the poor infrastructure. The per capita availability of power is 570.1 Kilowatt-hour as compared to Tamil Nadu where it is 1514.8; Karnataka where it is 1172.7 and Gujarat where it is 1930.5. The Credit Deposit Ratio of the banks in West Bengal is 51.9 as against Tamil Nadu 111.6; Karnataka 75.1 and Gujarat 87.6 which shows that the hard earned savings of the people of the State is drained out in comparison to other industrial States where there is demand for capital for investment. Demographic imbalance and adverse land-man ratio is a big problem as infiltration from Bangladesh is a continuous menace and has been causing undue pressure on the limited land area and on other limited economic resources. Therefore the density of population is 1028 persons per sq.km. and this is second highest after Bihar where it is 1106.
The post-poll violence has been targeted towards Hindus who had voted for BJP. ….Few districts are primarily dominated by Muslims and there is a sign of Hindus being forced to migrate to safe places away from their native villages and are not getting any immediate source of alternate employment or livelihood support
TMC’s Vote Bank Politics
It is very unfortunate that despite all these adversaries, TMC has been able to win the election and gained power for the third time mainly because of the one-sided Muslim votes which constitute 28 per cent of the total 48 per cent votes as against BJP which has got around 38 per cent votes where the share of Muslim vote is only about 1 per cent. In Bengal, for a very long time the politics is centered around appeasement of Muslim community as a vote bank and not for their economic development. Earlier this mentality was enjoyed by Left parties and now by the TMC. It would be pertinent to know that the Muslim population is around 30 per cent and is gradually increasing. Therefore the priority for TMC is not economic development but appeasement of Muslim community which can assure it to remain in power. However, this has been causing tremendous economic loss to the people of the State.
It is all the more surprising that the Muslims are not the beneficiaries in the economic development as larger part of its population lives in the rural area and is under abject poverty as is evident from a recent study of the Nobel laureate Dr. Amartya Sen. In his report, Amartya Sen has said: “Muslims in West Bengal are economically more deprived than others since, unlike in most other states, proportionately more Muslims reside in rural West Bengal compared to the general rural population.” In a shocking revelation, the report says, only 1 per cent households are fortunate to have salaried jobs in the private sector as their main source of income. The reports says, at least 38.3 per cent Muslim households in rural West Bengal earn Rs 2500 or less per month, which is one-half of the cut-off level of income for the population below the poverty line. At the other end of the spectrum, only 3.4 per cent households reported to earn Rs 15,000 and above per month. Unfortunately the poor Muslim masses are unable to understand the political play of TMC and are being used as a medium to stay in power and exploit them economically. We know about the illiteracy amongst the Muslim community and their sufferings under the threat of the Jehadi group. Therefore it is the need of the hour to educate them and make them aware about their economic well being.
Loss of Livelihood
The post-poll violence has been targeted towards Hindus who had voted for BJP. This is causing loss of livelihood and economic security to the Hindus in rural areas and particularly where the Muslims are in majority. Few districts are primarily dominated by Muslims and there is a sign of Hindus being forced to migrate to safe places away from their native villages and are not getting any immediate source of alternate employment or livelihood support. Migration of Hindus to other districts within Bengal and outside the State has been happening for a few decades. Economic insecurity and social insecurity are the main reasons for their migration coupled with the common known factor of all round decline of economic activities in the State. The cumulative effect is economic and demographic imbalance in the rural society and tactical political advantage to the TMC from Muslims in various parts of rural Bengal.
Poor State of Finances
The abject poverty level is also very high in the villages due to marginal farm holdings and huge numbers of the farmless agricultural labour in the villages. The condition of primary health, primary education and the drinking water facility is lacking. The State Government has failed to adopt and implement several central Government projects like PM Kisan and Ayushman Bharat and thereby depriving the poor people of the State particularly those living in rural areas coupled with the politicisation of the administration at all levels coupled with corruption. Due to the adverse business climate, unemployment is rising and the youth power is misdirected for several illegitimate activities just to support their life. There is a brain drain as good students and skilled man-power is moving to other States.
The State finances are in shambles and squandered recklessly and as result there is financial bankruptcy. The borrowing has increased from Rs 1,87,357.40 Cr. in 2010-11 to Rs 4,81,399 Cr. in 2019-20 and in 2020-21 there will be further borrowing of Rs 69,322 Cr. The debt at the end of fiscal 2021-22 has been estimated to be Rs. 5,25,868 Cr. in the budget presented for 2021-22 which is estimated to be 34.81 per cent of its GSDP.
Way Ahead for Revival
The people of West Bengal have seen flight of foundries to Punjab and Haryana; automobile to Gujarat, Haryana and Maharashtra, textiles to Gujarat and Maharashtra; hosiery to Tripura; firework industry to Sivakasi; jewellery making to Surat and Mumbai; indicates the migration of skilled workers and artisans as well as entrepreneurs from West Bengal. These are tell-tale signs of the degradation of the investment climate in West Bengal. The last nail was put on the coffin of industrial development of the state when Tatas were made to leave Singur in Hoogly district.
Therefore, the first and foremost need of the hour is to improve the law and order situation and restore the confidence of the investing community. Good governance and ease of doing business with transparency in the administration can stop the declining trend and restore the investment climate which is important for a rapid industrialisation. West Bengal has the potentiality of growth with its rich natural resources and qualitative human capital. Infrastructure has to be rebuilt and several industrial clusters have to be developed for textile, tourism and agro based industries. Tea and jute are the two traditional agro-based industries. The state is the second-largest tea growing state in India. Total tea production in West Bengal stood at 394.22 million kgs in 2018-19.
The post-election violence in Bengal is causing unimaginable hardship to the common man
Besides this, pharma and information technology have tremendous potentiality. The quality hospitals and quality institutions for higher education can immediately stop the students and patients from moving to other States for medical treatments and for higher education. Financial institutions have to be mobilised for concessional credit for startups and agro- based and fruit processing industries. Pine apples in North Bengal, mango in Malda, oranges in Darjeeling and silk in Murshidabad are some of the agro food processing industries. Forest produce in the districts of Bankura, Purulia and West Midnapore should be encouraged for their value addition. For example, Salpata which provides employment to almost 12 lakh people is a source of livelihood for almost 50 lakh people in Jungal Mahal coupled with kendu pata and betel leaves. The tobacco leaves in the districts of Cooch Bihar and the Kendu leaves in Midnapore together help employment to more than 20 lakh persons engaged in biri industry in Murshidabad. Similarly the sea food or the fishing industry in South 24 Parganas and North 24 Parganas need special attention to another almost 50 lakh family members.
For a state with limited land size – only 2.74 per cent of the total land area of the country – setting up new industries can be challenging and this makes the process of land acquisition (so critical for setting up industrial units) very cumbersome and tardy which can be addressed through proper institutional mechanism, namely legal framework. An estimated 60 per cent of the total land area (88,752 sq kms) in the state is available for agriculture, another 20 per cent for non-agriculture while the balance 20 per cent is forest land.
Therefore given the non-availability of land, it would be proper to develop knowledge-based industries and there being tremendous scope of tourism in Darjeeling hills and in Sundarbans, the services sector needs more priority along with the MSME and the agro-based industry. The state has the potential of quality research and innovation and provided there is a real change of the present Government and the governance, the State can revive and resurge as an economic power in the country and regain its lost position over a period of years.
(The writer is a senior Chartered Accountant in practice for almost four decades in Kolkata and is a Director of Institute of International Trade)