Sukhbir Badal courts big business for debt-ridden state

Chandigarh, Oct 26 (IANS) Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal is flying high these days - literally. He has been flying in and out of his state meeting top industrialists and business captains to attract investment to his debt-ridden state.

In recent days, Sukhbir has met with Tata Sons chairman Cyrus Mistry, Infosys chairman N.R. Narayan Murthy, Biocon head Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Bajaj Auto chairman Rahul Bajaj, Godrej boss Adi Godrej, Hinduja group chairman Ashok P. Hinduja, Mahindra and Mahindra chairman Anand Mahindra, JSW Steel chairman Sajjan Jindal, Adlabs chairman Manmohan Shetty, Force Motors chairman Abhay Firodia and several other CEOs and top bosses of companies.

He has travelled to Mumbai and Bangalore to meet with the big names in the game. Even his father and Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal visited Mumbai recently. He is even sending delegations to other countries like Taiwan, a country with which India has no diplomatic ties. He recently travelled to Dubai and Turkey to see development projects there.

A billionaire businessman himself with interests in hotels, resorts, media, agriculture and other investments, Sukhbir Badal surely knows the rules of the game. In Mumbai this week, he gave the power point presentations himself. Having led the Shiromani Akali Dal, which he heads, to an unprecedented second consecutive term in Punjab last year (2012), Sukhbir knows that he will have to put in lots of efforts to create an environment to attract investment for Punjab.

The state witnessed a lengthy phase of terrorism (1981-1993) which saw almost nil investment at that time and subsequently. Even as it came out of that period, no investment came to Punjab as neighbouring hill states Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir got a 10-year tax holiday package for industry investing there.

Punjab, primarily an agricultural state with just 1.54 percent of the country's geographical area, has its own set of problems to deal with. It has a 553-km long international border with Pakistan, power shortage is a way of life with outages running into several hours daily and a large percentage of population, especially youth, is on some form of drugs.

Investors also shy away from the state because the land prices make any project unviable. Sukhbir has now promised to allot land to technology biggies like Infosys and Biocon to set up facilities in Punjab. He has offered several projects to various companies of the Tata Group. He has made offers to Reliance and other companies as well.

Though the top industrial houses and technology giants have promised to look into the offers being made by Sukhbir, actual projects could take time to materialize.

Sukhbir is not leaving his efforts with his visits and meetings. He is following it up with an Investment Promotion Summit being held in Mohali, near Chandigarh, Dec 9-10 this year. The Punjab government is expecting business heads and representatives of over 2,000 companies from across the country and abroad to participate in the event.

While Sukhbir's interest in securing investment for Punjab is understandable, the bigger concern for common people in the state would be that their daily problems like power supply, peaceful atmosphere, good roads and other basic facilities are met.

(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at jaideep.s@ians.in)

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