As Embattled Mamata Announces Slew Of New Projects, The Ghost Of Singur Means They Will Likely Remain Unfulfilled
“Without proper study by independent entities and involvement of trade and industry bodies, such projects will end up as white elephants and a colossal wastage of public funds", said a member of a prominent industry association who refused to be named.
Bengal’s embattled Chief minister Mamata Banerjee has announced a slew of projects that, she asserts, will create 1.5 crore jobs in the next five years.
However, like many similar promises she has made over the last ten years, this too is also likely to remain unfulfilled. For the simple reason that the ghost of Singur continues to loom large over Bengal under Banerjee and she is still perceived by potential big-ticket investors as an industry-unfriendly politician.
Also, most of the projects that Banerjee has announced are likely to remain on paper only because, say many industrialists, they are simply unfeasible.
The largest among the many projects announced by Banerjee last week is an industrial township--Bengal’s first--at Raghunathpur in Purulia district.
Banerjee, who has a penchant for naming everything from flyovers to Metro Rail stations, has christened the proposed township spread over 2,483 acres ‘Jangalmahal Sundari Karmanagari’.
The proposed industrial township, Banerjee claimed, will attract investments worth over Rs 70,000 crore and will generate employment for over 1.5 lakh people.
But before that, the state government will form a special purpose vehicle (SPV) with the state’s own equity of Rs 558 crore (which is the value of the 2,483 acres of land). “Private entities will invest Rs 1,148 crore to develop the township, including creation of infrastructure like laying of roads, power lines, drainage, sewers and other facilities,” said state finance minister Asim Mitra.
Mitra also said that the industries earmarked for the ‘Shilpanagari’ are cement, auto components, engineering, MSME clusters, ceramics and electricals.
There is, however, no clarity on which private entities will participate in the SPV to develop the township’s infrastructure and on what will be done to attract industrialists to the township.
“There is no clarity on these because no groundwork has been carried out. Simply announcing a township, that too in a remote district which offers little advantage to investors to set up shop, will not attract investments,” said a retired IAS officer who served in the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation (WBIDC) in the early years of the last decade.
BJP state president Dilip Ghosh says the proposed township, and the 52 other projects that Mamata Banerjee announced last week, are all poll gimmicks. “None of these will ever fructify because industrialists will not come to Bengal as long as she is the chief minister,” said Ghosh.
Many industrialists tend to agree with Ghosh; they say that Mamata Banerjee can never live down her act of driving away the Tata Motors plant from Singur in October 2008.
“Her misplaced glee over Tata Motors’ decision to move its Nano car plant out of Singur, and her caustic ‘tata bye bye’ (a colloquial Bengali sendoff) comment on hearing the news (of the exit) can never be forgotten in industry circles,” said a prominent industrialist of Bengal who spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of being targeted.
This industrialist added: “Even after coming to power, she has done little to instil confidence among investors. She is known as a whimsical and impulsive person and has not been able to formulate a clear and strong strategy for Bengal’s growth. Extortion has become the bane of business in Bengal and there is little incentive for investors to come to this state”.
That is why despite the investment summits that Banerjee has been hosting with a lot of fanfare and all the claims of promised investments worth thousands of crores of Rupees, there is little evidence of those promises becoming projects in reality in the state.
Bengal has been given a wide berth by investors and there has been no big-ticket private investments in the state over the past one decade.
“Bengal is viewed by investors as an investment and industry-unfriendly state. While the communists who ruled Bengal for 34 years are responsible for the formation of this perception, it is Mamata Banerjee who has only strengthened this perception through her various acts of omission and commission,” said the former IAS officer.
Industrialists also contend that few of the 53 projects that Banerjee has announced are actually feasible. These projects include the setting up of a pharmaceutical park, industrial parks, food parks, textile and apparel hubs, logistics parks and handloom and powerloom clusters in many parts of the state.
“Without proper study by independent entities and involvement of trade and industry bodies, such projects will end up as white elephants and a colossal wastage of public funds. The problem is such projects are announced whimsically without proper assessments and feedback from private and business entities who are the intended beneficiaries or are engaged in the businesses that such projects aim at promoting,” said a member of a prominent industry association who refused to be named.
He cited the instance of the proposed industrial township at Purulia. “Why Purulia? Was it chosen for an industrial township only because the state has the largest parcel of land (3,100 acres) there? Why will industrialists set up units there? What advantages will accrue to them from doing so? Has a proper and comprehensive study been carried out?” he wondered.
One of the sectors proposed for the township is auto component manufacturing. “What auto components? Are there any automobile manufacturing units in Purulia or, for that matter, in Bengal? So why will investors set up auto components manufacturing units in Purulia? Who will they sell their products to? It appears that no thought has been given to all this and announcements are made just to mislead the masses,” said the retired IAS officer.
Take another example of a ‘Mega Industrial & Logistics Park’ at Mekhliganj in North Bengal’s Cooch Behar district. There is no conceivable reason for an industrialist to set up a unit in Mekhliganj which is close to the Indo-Bangladesh border.
And as if that is not enough, an industrial park at Binnaguri (about 65 kilometers away from Mekhligunj) is yet another project announced by the chief minister. How two industrial parks so close to each other in a region that has little industrial potential can be viable is a question that begs an answer.
“What manufacturing units will come up at these industrial parks? Shops selling fries and fritters which she labels as ‘industries’?” mocked BJP state chief Ghosh.
The promise held out by Mamata Banerjee, thus, seems to be quite an empty one. There is little chance of most of the 53 projects getting off the ground and reaching anywhere close to their intended potential.
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