Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankar has once again stirred a hornet’s nest by labelling Kolkata .
Dhankar, while speaking at a conference of auditors in Kolkata Friday (24 June), lamented that people of Kolkata who are “bestowed with great talent, expertise and technical knowledge, have been forced to leave for other places” (in search of better opportunities).
The Governor, who had had many run-ins with the Trinamool dispensation in the state, also pointed out that Bengal “once led the country in varied fields from culture to economy, but now has its back to the wall”. “Earlier, Bengal contributed a lot to the nation’s GDP. Not any more,” he said.
Though what Dhankar said is nothing new and is quite well-known, it evoked howls of protest from a host of blinkered Bengalis who are best described as kupamanduks (those who suffer from the ‘frog in a well’ syndrome).
Politicians belonging to the Trinamool, Congress and the Left came down heavily on Dhankar for portraying Bengal’s dreary capital city in a poor light, the ‘culture brigade’ which wallows in mutual back-slapping also reacted along expected lines.
Poet Subodh Sarkar, a Sahitya Akademi Award recipient, loudly proclaimed that “Kolkata is the most creative and vibrant city in the country”. Actor Kaushik Sen, considered to be an ‘intellectual’, said the reality of Kolkata is vastly different from that portrayed by the Governor.
Presidency University professor emeritus Prasanta Roy disagreed strongly with the Governor while economist Abhirup Sarkar contended that “it is easier to make a living in Kolkata than any other city”. “Kolkata is an extremely friendly city, which is why it has seen huge migration over the years,” Said Sarkar.
Subodh Sarkar contended: “Kolkata has been home to some of the greatest minds in the country. And the city continues in its commitment to the plurality and diversity of ideas in every way”.
The strong and adverse reactions of these Bengalis of Kolkata, who hold on to the past and feel that their city is one of the best, if not the best, in the world, was expected. And the Trinamool, Congress and Left politicians are, of course, expected to beat the ‘Bengal is best’ drum in order to hide their collective responsibility in taking the city, and the state, back by a few decades due to their decades of misrule and governance failures.
But none of their proclamations and assertions changes the fact that Kolkata--and Bengal--lags behind all other megapolises and most other metropolises in the country in terms of infrastructure, economy, ease of living, facilities and the likes.
Of the six ‘A-1’ cities in India--Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Mumbai and Kolkata--this city (Kolkata) is the poorest and has the worst infrastructure, public facilities, civic services, healthcare and education facilities, and ranks at the bottom of the pile in the ‘good living’ category.
A simple example brings this out. Of the airports in the six A-1 cities in India, Kolkata’s is the worst and amply reflects the poor financial plight of the city. The airports in Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chennai are bustling and have many more eateries, retail outlets, lounges and other facilities than the Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International (NSCBI) Airport of Kolkata.
The Kolkata airport, in fact, looks desolate and one of a tier-three city as compared to the airports in the five other A-1 category cities of India. While the other airports boast of an array of high-end apparel and accessories’ stores, expensive restaurants, liquor vends and other outlets which record very high turnovers, Kolkata airport has food courts and a handful of stores that struggle to stay afloat.
While other airports host promotionals of top international brands (including automobiles), none of these brands see any potential of holding similar promotionals in NSCBI airport.
“The reason is very simple: Kolkatans don’t have the money to spend like their counterparts in the other cities. Flyers from the other A-1 cities buy clothes, accessories and other items and eat or drink in their airports. You’ll barely see any buyers at the outlets in Kolkata airport and most of the few passengers in Kolkata who go to the food outlets buy only beverages or inexpensive food. Bangalore and some of the other airports even have micro-breweries,” a senior executive of a full-service air operator based in Bangalore told Swarajya.
“Forget the departure lounges and areas in the other airports, even the arrival areas of the airports in Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Mumbai and Delhi have bars and restaurants that see a good number of customers every day. There is barely anything in the arrival area (or outside it after exiting the terminal) in Kolkata airport,” he added.
All the other five A-1 cities in India have many times the number of fine-dining restaurants, high-end pubs, high-end apparel stores and other outlets than Kolkata. Many high-end brands are not even available in Kolkata.
Kolkata lags far behind the five other A-1 cities in terms of expensive real estate. Kolkata does not even have one-tenth the number of apartments measuring more than 1500 square feet that Bangalore has. Kolkatans spend the lowest on food, fuel, clothes and transport than the residents of the other five cities.
“That’s because the economy of Kolkata, and Bengal, lags far behind those cities and states. The average spending power and disposable income of Kolkatans is the lowest compared to not only the other five A-1 cities, but also some of the ‘A’ category cities like Ahmedabad, Coimbatore, Nagpur, Pune, Surat and Visakhapatnam,” said Suresh Mittal, an economist attached with a leading Delhi-based think-tank.
“Apart from the per capita income, and thus disposable incomes or purchasing power, being the lowest in Kolkata among at least ten other Indian cities, Kolkata also lags woefully behind in public infrastructure like roads, flyovers and other facilities. The quality of life in Kolkata is also substantially below that of other cities,” said Mittal.
Himangshu Ghosh, a top executive of an international liquor company, says that the economic decline of Kolkata also led to its decline in the fields of art and culture, education and healthcare.
Ghosh, who is based in Gurugram, told Swarajya: “Bengalis of Kolkata may like to boast about their city being the cultural capital of the country, but that’s an empty boast. Art and culture cannot be sustained without the support of rich patrons. There are barely any rich patrons in Kolkata anymore”.
Countering economist Abhirup Sarkar who argued that it is easier to make a living in Kolkata and the city attracts a huge number of migrants, sociologist Niranjan Majumdar told Swarajya: “The jobs or livelihoods that Kolkata offers are low-paying ones. And yes, the city does attract immigrants, but they are mostly ones who fill the menial and low-income jobs. Kolkata gets a lot of migrants from Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh who become street vendors, taxi drivers, watchmen, labourers and the likes."
He added, "That’s hardly something to be proud of. In the distant past, Kolkata used to attract scientists, industrialists, top executives, academicians and others. Not any more. The best and the brightest of Kolkata, and Bengal, go to other cities and abroad and Bengal is left with the below-average mediocres, many of whom are even unemployable”.
Governor Dhankar was right. Kolkata, in its erstwhile avatar of Calcutta, was a great city till the 1960s with the best of restaurants, stores and other facilities that went to make Kolkata a top-end city with high quality living.
Those days ended with the rise of communism in the state. And with the Trinamool being more ‘left’ than the communists themselves, there is no chance of Kolkata returning to even a faint shadow of its former glorious self.
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