Mamata's business meet: Songs, politics overshadow economics

Haldia (West Bengal), Jan 16 (IANS) The big names from the corporate world gave it a miss, there were no fresh concrete business proposals, and the chief minister spent the major part of her speech attacking her favourite whipping boys - the central government, the media and the opposition. This sums up the inaugural session of Mamata Banerjee's investment summit that was devoid of the sound bytes that entrepreneurs and an industry-hungry state like West Bengal were waiting to hear.

To top it all, the opening programme of the second edition of "Bengal Leads" in this industrial-port town of East Midnapore district ended Tuesday with the rare sight of industrialists (Dhunseri Petrochem and Tea chairman C K Dhanuka and RP-Sanjiv Goenka chief Sanjiv Goenka) and politicians singing in chorus a slightly modified version of an evergreen Tagore song "Jodi tomar (tor in original) daak sune keu Na ase tobe ekla cholo re" (If no one responds to your call, then go your own way alone). They also sang a popular Hindi number, before concluding with the national anthem.

The opposition, however, was quick to seize on the song to take a dig at the chief minister. "She had put up so many of her pictures, posters, made lavish arrangements. But nobody turned up. While she kept on calling the investors at the inauguration, nobody was there. In the end, she had to sing in chorus Ekla cholo re", quipped Surjya Kanta Mishra of the Communist Party of India-Marxist in Kolkata.

The absence of the country's leading industrialists and heads of prominent business chambers looked all the more glaring as Banerjee's investment meet comes close on the heels of its Gujarat counterpart "Vibrant Gujarat" that saw the presence of all the big players from the industrial world as well as a clutch of potential foreign investors. Having roped in the likes of Ratan Tata, Ambani brothers Mukesh and Anil, Adi Godrej, as also a virtual Who's Who from the business community, it was easy for the western state's chief minister Narendra Modi to showcase his province.

Banerjee did hand out land allotment letters to 12 industrial units and clearances for using land in excess of the Land Ceiling Act to 27 companies. But it paled into insignificance compared to the Rs 65,000 crore worth concrete investment proposals which marked "Vibrant Gujarat".

The West Bengal chief minister sought investment not only in heavy industries and information and technology, but also in the infrastructure sector - roads, education, health and transport - mostly in the public-private-partnership model. She informed the industrialists that there were plans to set up cold storages and agricultural markets in all the blocks, and polytechnic colleges in each sub-division, and land has been identified for 44 industrial clusters across the state.

The chief minister also asked the corporates to take her e-mail id and mail her directly in case they had problems. "I will personally do the needful to solve the problem".

Though she reiterated her government's hands-off policy on land acquisition that leaves it to the individual entrepreneurs to acquire land for their projects, Banerjee promised to give all clearances within a seven days to projects once they are through with getting the land.

But she spent most of her time in attacking the central government for not giving a three-year moratorium to her debt-ridden government for paying the interest on central government loans. "We did not take the loans. These were left for us by the former Left Front regime. We are not asking for any undue advantage. We are only asking for debt restructuring," Banerjee bemoaned.

Assailing the opposition CPI-M, she said for three years the Left front (led by the CPI-M) had "finished" the industrial prospects of the state, which had to cope with regular shutdowns. road blockades and strikes.

Her next target was the media.

"Some media groups based in Bengal sing paeans about Gujarat. They've been constantly comparing our state with Gujarat and doing negative publicity... "They (media) don't love us. They don't want us as I am not from a family with a golden spoon," she said.

All these left a section of the 210 participants unhappy.

"We are not concerned with what happened in the past. Of course, it is her right to harp on that. But more than the past, had she given out more details of her industrial policy, we would have been more enlightened," said Sandipan Chakravortty, managing director, Tata Steel Processing and Distribution Limited.

At the same time, there were a number of industrialists who praised the state at the summit.

"I am running my unit in Haldia for two years.I am not facing any problems," said Dhunseri Petrochem's Dhanuka.

"I have spoken to leading industrialists like Anil Ambani. They want to set up industries here," claimed Universal Success Group chief Prasun Mukherjee. But the government did not claim any such successes.

(Sirshendu Panth can be contacted at s.panth@ians.in)

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