January 7, 2016
By 2021, Bengal may just be a little crowded in terms of actual investment: Amit Mitra
24 hours away from the Bengal Global Business Summit, Dr Amit Mitra, West Bengal Minister of Finance & Industry, in an interview, informs that the critical mass of investment is already here, and it’s just the buzz that now has to travel the world over.
Excerpts of the interview:
The general perception is that West Bengal is going downhill with a virtual debt trap looming over it. On the other hand, you have the summit coming up in the next 24 hours which says Come to Bengal, Ride the Growth. How do you plan to make investors believe that a turnaround is possible?
Despite all the talks of Mamata Banerjee spending irrationally, we have managed to bring down fiscal deficit to 3.13% in 2014-15 from 3.20% in 201112. The actual revenue deficit is 1.96% in 2014-15, fell from 2.63% in 2011-12.The state’s own tax revenue doubled in three years to Rs 40,000 crore in 2013-14. We have managed sixth time capital expenditure growth. If you create physical assets using the debt we raise, you get the Keynesian multiplier effect to its fullest, making an impact on the gross state domestic product.
Rs 87,000 crore that we have out of the borrowed. Rs 82,000 crore has been spent on servicing the existing debt. We have paid Rs 28,000 crore towards principal repayment and interest payment. Despite this precarious situation, we have succeeded in bringing down the debt-GSDP ratio to 31.72% in 2014-15 from 37.5% in 2011-12. This means, quality of borrowing what are the debts used for has improved over the last four years. These are parts of the fiscal discipline. I am not saying that there are no glitches.
There are shortcomings but we are working on it.
We have also focused on the issues of social infrastructure. Healthcare has been a major stressed area for Bengal but on-ground improvement of this can address the existing systemic lacuna.The number of schools, colleges, universities have increased manifold too during our time.
We have also put emphasis on training.
A lot more has to be done. Samsung, Raymond have put up centres here with 100% placement from Bengal. Raymond has set up its eighth centre recently. Microsoft is setting up a centre of excellence. This will be inaugurated soon. This has nothing to do with Microsoft business. So, my point is why companies like Samsung, Raymond, Microsoft are coming? Why is TCS expanding by roping in 20,000 more people. These are not small numbers. Because, the attrition rate in Kolkata is just about 3%, compared with 35-40% in Bangalore. Bengal youth are good enough to take a job of that quality.
What will be Bengal’s pitch for the show?
Bengal’s pitch is what the chief minister said in recent times, based on data: Come to Bengal, ride the growth. We are not only talking about growth in GDP or growth in statistical data, but we are focusing on growth in every direction. For example, we are running a reality show on start-ups and we have received 1,500 applications with fresh ideas which they think are bankable. “Entrepreneurship is dead in Bengal“ was a general refrain. These young boys and girls are nothing but entrepreneurs…they are taking the risk. There was study in the US, Kauffman study, which showed that the largest number of jobs were added by companies which were formed in the last three years.
Apart from the generic theme, could we be more specific on the theme part?
One of themes is start-ups. Then there will be focus on design, e-commerce, intelligent cities and renewal energy. Besides these themes, we are expecting businessmen to speak their mind out on their experience in Bengal. Reputation spreads only through word-of-mouth at that level. This summit, if X or Y says something good about his experience in Bengal, it immediately sends a message to a whole lot of others on doing business in Bengal.
How do you plan to address the apprehension of the business community about the contentious land issue?
Land is not an issue at all. I had earlier said that we have 4,500 acre available with us. Today, it may be even more than that available at industrial parks. Three more parks are coming up. I have perhaps a lakh of acres of unused land available with various departments. Land is not an issue now.
Do you expect any material gain in terms of investment from this summit?
Investment is just a number. The issue is are you creating the ecosystem, adding to your existing ecosystem for investment? And are you creating a buzz? The CEOs of the world do not look at numbers and decide for investment. They invest on the basis of an intuitive sense of comfort.
Where do you see Bengal five years down the line, assuming that your par ty will continue in government after the critical 2016 state elections?
The critical mass of investment is here now. If you do not come now, it would be more competitive later. I am not saying this. An investor was telling me that they would like to invest in Bengal now because two years from now, it will be much more crowded. It’s better to start business now and get going. This space will face much bigger competition and so, come now.
The bigger thing I see is that the change in Bengal is going to rejuvenate the entire eastern India. No other state can do it. No other state has a metropolis. No other state has three countries along its border. No other state has the entire northeast for its market and a seaboard. Plus, no other state has the human capital. So for eastern India to emerge in competition with western and southern India, Bengal has to play a very special role on a complementary basis with its neighbours. In five years’ time, we should be able to come up and say that eastern India has been pulled up by its bootstraps by West Bengal. I have a feeling in the next five years, eastern part of India would emerge out of its stupor, led by West Bengal’s economic prowess, which I can already see today but this has to be deepened.
What would be your expectation from the summit?
The biggest takeaway from the Bengal Global Business Summit would be what the entrepreneurs say on the platform about their experience in Bengal. And the general feeling I am getting is, at least a significant number of them have had a wonderful experience. The buzz has grown. There are two sets of people one who have already invested in Bengal and the other who are aware of the buzz. Mamata Banerjee has done something in the last five years and now it’s time to take off.
The interview was first published on The Economic Times (Kolkata), dated January 07 2016