At Haldia, Mamata leads

Haldia, Jan. 14: Sceptics who wondered if Bengal Leads, the investment summit, could draw big names should prepare to eat crow. Smiling from several corners in Haldia is the biggest name of them all: Mamata Banerjee.

So omnipresent are the government-sponsored hoardings welcoming the leader that the chief minister, whose state is hosting the event from tomorrow afternoon, appears to have become the main guest.

"Welcome Mamata Banerjee" and "Mamata Banerjee swagatam," read the billboards put up by two government organisations, the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation and the Haldia Development Authority, the joint organisers of the three-day investor meet and exhibition at Helipad Ground.

"I didn't see any board welcoming the delegates. Is Bengal Leads about Mamata Banerjee or the investors?" asked the representative of a company based outside Bengal.

The representative reached Haldia by road ' a drive of around two and a half hours from Calcutta ' this afternoon.

The Telegraph did manage to spot some banners welcoming the delegates but they were far fewer than the ones welcoming the chief minister.

Such banners are not unusual at political meetings or government programmes but Bengal Leads is being positioned as an event to showcase the state's industrial opportunities.

Mamata's overwhelming presence is not the only factor that will catch the outsider's eye. "The exhibition hangars are full of stalls run by state government departments and PSUs. Where is private industry?" asked a representative of another company.

Industries minister Partha Chatterjee had said yesterday that out of 67 stalls, 39 were put up by private industries. "Most of these companies have units in Haldia. They had little choice but to set up stalls as the government is organising it," said an industry department official.

According to him, in its desperation to get occupants at the four exhibition hangars, senior officials had called some company heads late last week and urged them to set up stalls.

"I received a call on Saturday asking us to take up a stall. We have obliged. Last year, we had a bigger presence. But nobody contacted us this time till Saturday. All I had received was an invitation card from the chief secretary written 'admit one' on it," said the head of one company. He would not be attending the programme tomorrow.

Till this evening, there was little clarity on how many owners and chief executives would travel to Haldia. Government sources said they were expecting delegations from Singapore and Russia.

The Indian Chamber of Commerce is organising a ferry trip to Haldia from Calcutta, by which 10-12 city-based industrialists are scheduled to reach the venue. They include RP-Sanjiv Goenka chairman Sanjiv Goenka, Apeejay Group chairman Karan Paul and Duncan chairman G.P. Goenka. The India head of Goldman Sachs, Sanjoy Chattopadhyay, will also make the river trip.

Minister Chatterjee had yesterday asked reporters to wait till tomorrow for the big names at the event.

Trinamul MP Derek 'Brien posted in a blog today: "Will tycoons fly in and out their private jets? Will 100 countries be represented? Will there be photo-ops with one billionaire after another? No."

He listed "greater social stability", "much less violence", "decisive policy decisions" and "e-governance" among Bengal's achievements.

At the other end of the social media, a less reverential debate was under way. "Asked someone in Kolkata about Bengal Leads event. He said it was Bengal Pleads. Must have pulled my leg," said a tweet from the handle @bibekdebroy. The responses included more play on the word "Leads".

The Bengal Leads organisers were racing to finish the stalls amid signs of work-in-progress this afternoon.

Some exhibitors complained that the rate was steep. "The organisers are charging Rs 1.16 lakh for a 3-metre-by-3-metre stall, which means around Rs 1,250 per sqft. This is very expensive," said an exhibitor.

Usually, the government provides discounts to exhibitors if they go out of the capital. However, sources said rates in Calcutta were comparable with that at the venue. An official said that charging the exhibitors was natural as the event involved expenses.

This newspaper had reported that a list had been prepared with amounts ranging between Rs 10 lakh and Rs 1 lakh being mentioned against local companies' names. "The money was not collected from the companies after the plan became public. But the organisers have collected money from local contractors for the show," said the HR head of a Haldia-based company.

Lakshman Seth, the CPM satrap, used to collect subscriptions from companies for Haldia Utsav during Left rule. "Seth has been replaced by a Trinamul leader but things haven't changed in Haldia," said the HR head.

Many believed that the reason for holding Bengal Leads at Haldia was an attempt to show that all's well in the port town, especially after the exit of private cargo handler HBT. The firm had blamed high-handedness that spun out of control and led to the alleged abduction of three employees.

The apartment where the alleged abductions took place is a stone's throw from the Helipad Ground. Around 200 employees of the cargo handler who lost jobs plan to hold a demonstration at the venue.

"Bengal Leads is being held in Haldia to deflect attention from the HBT pullout. I don't know what they can achieve as this government doesn't have a focus on what it wants," said former industries minister Nirupam Sen.

Matches

MORE TOP STORIES TODAY

On Now: Kolkata vs Bangalore

On Now: Kolkata vs Bangalore

IPL 7, GAME 11—Aaron's spell restricts Kolkata to 150-7. More »

Kolkata bowling vs Bangalore batting might

Kolkata bowling vs Bangalore batting might

The likely return of Gayle will boost Bangalore, but the result could be determined by Kolkata's bowlers. More »

Boycotting IPL will not save cricket

Boycotting IPL will not save cricket

Boycotting the IPL as a means of protest against the grime in the game may not yield the desired results. More »

Gambhir a knock away from striking form - KKR coach

Gambhir a knock away from striking form - KKR coach

Gautam made an eight-ball duck in the opening game against Mumbai and in the second game against Delhi, he lasted only half those balls. More »

Rivals say Srini group delaying BCCI special general meeting

Rivals say Srini group delaying BCCI special general meeting

The group opposed to Srinivasan alleged that since BCCI secretary Sanjay Patel belongs to the president’s group, he was intentionally delaying the SGM… More »

April 24: A legend is born

As Sachin Tendulkar turns 41 - here's a look at some offbeat moments from the Master Blaster's innings. More »

Jadeja spins out Rajasthan in close chase

Jadeja spins out Rajasthan in close chase

IPL 7, GAME 10—Chennai beat Rajasthan by 7 runs after last-over scare. More »

Cleaning up the game starts with fans

Cleaning up the game starts with fans

... because, as recent events reveal, the BCCI has little intention of doing it. More »

SL in 'difficult place' after Farbrace exit

SL in 'difficult place' after Farbrace exit

Sri Lanka depart for assignments in Ireland and England in two weeks, and Sanath Jayasuriya suggested Marvan Atapattu would be interim head coach for those… More »

Vithanage, Priyanjan get T20 call-ups

Vithanage, Priyanjan get T20 call-ups

Herath has been rested, while the team will be without the veteran pair of Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, who retired from T20 internationals… More »

Chandimal axed as T20 captain

Chandimal axed as T20 captain

Sri Lanka's cricket selectors on Wednesday sacked Dinesh Chandimal as Twenty20 captain and replaced him with Lasith Malinga, while Angelo Mathews was… More »

'BCCI should have picked panel with care'

'BCCI should have picked panel with care'

Dalmiya said that it was the first time that the BCCI had been faced with a situation where the apex court had hauled up the Board and it should have acted… More »

Farbrace is England's assistant coach

Farbrace is England's assistant coach

The ECB continued the restructuring of the England coaching set-up on Wednesday by announcing the appointment of Paul Farbrace as assistant coach. More »

SC asks Mudgal committee to continue

SC asks Mudgal committee to continue

Mukul Mudgal has communicated to the court his willingness to take up the investigation and has been asked to specify the terms and modalities on April… More »

Sri Lanka players resolve pay dispute

Sri Lanka players resolve pay dispute

The pay dispute between Sri Lanka Cricket and its 13 contracted players ended on Wednesday when the latter agreed to accept 10 percent of the participation… More »

Hope to be fit for next game - Pietersen

Hope to be fit for next game - Pietersen

With two heavy defeats at the hands of Bangalore and Chennai, Daredevils currently languish near the bottom of the table. More »

'SC decision could hurt BCCI's status'

'SC decision could hurt BCCI's status'

The Supreme Court prefers that the Justice Mudgal panel further investigate the IPL corruption scandal. More »

Mudgal panel drops bombshell in court

Mudgal panel drops bombshell in court

The Mukul Mudgal probe committee dropped a bombshell in the Supreme Court on Tuesday by making a sensational claim that it was forced to stop audio recording… More »

Perfect Punjab trounce Hyderabad

Perfect Punjab trounce Hyderabad

IPL7, GAME 9—Maxwell (95, 43b), Balaji (4-13) set up 72-run win. More »

Have the ECB played an unfair game?

Have the ECB played an unfair game?

Money talks, but it is in light of this ICC shakeup that the ECB's act of soliciting of another team's coach deteriorates from free-market aggression to… More »

Farbrace quits for England post

Farbrace quits for England post

He will assist Peter Moores who was unveiled as the new England coach on Saturday. More »

Moin appointed to manage Pakistan team

Moin appointed to manage Pakistan team

Pakistan on Monday reappointed Moin Khan as chief selector and manager of the national team, a week after fellow former captain Rashid Latif turned down… More »

Chennai smash Delhi for first win

Chennai smash Delhi for first win

IPL7, MATCH 8—Raina-led middle order, superlative catching give CSK a 93-run win. More »

'BCCI reputation lowest in 80 years'

'BCCI reputation lowest in 80 years'

The former BCCI president says he was "disillusioned" by the happenings at the emergent working committee meeting on Sunday. More »