Investment hopes for West Bengal

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s current trip to Scotland, an autonomous unit within the United Kingdom, has raised hopes for fresh investment in the State. Her address at the conference of the Scottish Development International was received with enthusiastic applause but that does not automatically guarantee investments flowing in from Scotland. In 2014, she made a trip to Singapore, accompanied by a delegation of industrialists. Several pacts were signed but what has actually happened on ground after that visit is little known. Last year she went on a tour of Germany and Italy. In Germany she had interactions with potential investors, raising much hopes but very little happened afterwards.
Perfect industrial peace prevails in West Bengal now. Days of militant trade unionism and strikes are a thing of the past. Even so, the State has failed to attract investment from either domestic or foreign investors, barring a few exceptions. There can be no progress in job creation unless fresh investments come in and new industries are started. The attitude of the Centre to West Bengal being what it is, nothing much can be expected. Even an old State-owned unit like the Bengal Chemical and Pharmaceuticals Ltd (started by the late Acharya P. C. Ray) has been decided to be privatized. Last year, the Centre drastically slashed allocations for many income-generating schemes, particularly in the rural areas. Mamata Banerjee’s loud protests did not bring about a change in the Centre’s policy.
As far as attracting foreign investment is concerned, it may be recalled that during his stewardship of the State, Jyoti Basu made it almost a ritual to go on foreign visits every year ostensibly to persuade captains of industry to invest in Bengal. But apart from a publicity blitzkrieg very little was achieved. If Mamata Banerjee wants to succeed she has to go deep into the reason why West Bengal is not proving attractive as an investment destination. Without industries, employment cannot be generated nor can the State’s finances be improved. The State says land is no problem. Power generation has considerably improved and become stable. In the six years of TMC rule the rural areas have seen a spurt in building new roads and improving existing ones. Despite all these positive factors, investment continues to elude West Bengal. With a growing burden of debt-servicing impacting its finances, the only way out is encouraging new investments. Will Scotland invest in West Bengal in the wake of the CM’s visit?

Saturday, 18 November, 2017