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January 15, 2012

Consider Bengal your land of hopes & dreams, says Mamata Banerjee

Consider Bengal your land of hopes & dreams, says Mamata Banerjee

On a chilly winter evening of January 11, a heavily fortified convoy pulled up inside the lawns of the magnificent Jhargram Rajbari (palace) in West Midnapore, and out came Mamata Banerjee, the object of all the security drill. In the saddle for almost eight months, she is fighting a battle on two fronts. 

In Jangalmahal, an area that encompasses parts of three districts, she is battling Maoists with a mixture of carrot-and-stick, combining tough policing with development. Banerjee faces an equally tough challenge in persuading companies to invest in Bengal, where the flap over the fire at AMRI, a hospital, and the subsequent arrest of some prominent local businessmen have not helped matters. 

In an interview with ET , a few hours before reaching Jhargram, Banerjee said business must follow rules but asserted she would walk the extra mile to attract industry to Bengal. Excerpts: 

Before we discuss developmental issues, would you like to comment on the AMRI incident ? 

That incident was indeed very tragic. So many lives lost. People who were there for treatment, got killed. It is a shame. Neglect and utter callousness. Why weren't the safety systems in place? Who is to blame? Who can give back those lives? These are the lives of common people of our state, people we are here to serve. Besides this, I will not say anything more. Let the law run its course. The law is there for all. 

For over a century now, the Marwaris have been the most stable business community, and for most of them, Kolkata is their home, their place of birth. Recently, a section of this community has got perturbed over the AMRI developments and many actually want to know whether they can still do business in West Bengal, as always. What do you have to say? 

Good industry has no colour, no caste, no community, no religion. We want good industry in Bengal. Period. I have nothing against anybody. I would therefore want to clear the air and extend a warm welcome to all my industry friends from all communities: Bengalis, non-Bengalis, Marwaris, Gujaratis, Sikhs, Christians, North Indians, South Indians… Our focus has been on good business for the development of Bengal. 

Many communities have historically contributed to the growth and development of this state. All are welcome. In my entire career, I have never ever shown any bias. All are equal. Please continue with the good work. Bengal needs you, Bengal depends on you. We must all work together, hand in hand, to lift Bengal and place it on a seat of glory. Do not hesitate to tell us about your problems, which I will try to solve to the best of my government's ability. 

Is there any message that you would like to send out to industry ? 

I would just like to say that as you continue with your businesses, I would request you all to be mindful of the people of this great state. Respect rules, put all safety systems in place. That will be for the benefit of the common man. Any infrastructure setup must be 100% good, especially where business deals with public at large. It is our common duty to protect the ordinary citizen. The industry must be responsible and behave like good corporate citizens. If everybody remembers this, I am sure all our dreams can come true.

Do you have plans to woo big businesses so that they invest in West Bengal ? 

Yes we do. I will do what it takes for industry to set up a large base in Bengal: big, medium, or small. I am very clear that we need to be receptive to every industry proposal that comes, evaluate them on merit and move as fast as possible, slashing red tape and reducing process time along the way. I cannot wait for tomorrow, if things can be done today. 

You will be happy to know that in these last 240 days, we have received 84 specific industry proposals worth RS 65,409 crore, which if they come up on fast track, there will be employment potential for 93,694 people. We are lagging behind today in terms of industry because of the way things had been handled in the past. But we now have to look at the future and I repeat exactly what Swami Vivekananda had said long back : "We will work hard and succeed." There is no ambiguity about that. 

A common industry complaint is about administrative and policy paralysis in respect to industrialisation in West Bengal. Your comments. 

I am aware that there are a few people who are spreading negative messages. Such people have always been there. But I take this opportunity to clarify through the pages of The Economic Times that such rumours are baseless, incorrect. We want industry to come and flourish, so welcome all. 

Putting West Bengal on the industry map of the country in a big way and getting the state back on the fast track is a difficult challenge. The system had become almost non-functional in the last 34 years. Changing attitudes is a very difficult process and we have been working hard on this. Let me give you just one example. 

We have managed to bring down the processing time for industrial proposals down to 15 days from 300 days! We have also taken many initiatives for e-governance. There are several areas like getting electricity or proper highways near proposed sites. We are trying to hasten the process and it will get done. As I said, it is a huge challenge, but I have always relished challenges. 

But I want to say something here. We cannot do everything alone. We will change the face of Bengal and it will be with the help of industry. That is why I had told friends at the inauguration of Bengal Leads on Monday : Please consider Bengal as your land of hopes, as your land of dreams. 

The industry is worried about land, the availability issue and… 

I am happy to be able to tell you that in just about seven months, we have been able to identify 3 lakh acres and we are in the process of setting up a land bank. Ask Mr Sajjan Jindal (of JSW Steel ) whether he faced any problem regarding land or delayed processing while working with us. My simple message to all is: Cooperate with us, so that we can cooperate with you. 

Any specific industry that you have in mind? 

From the employment point of view, my focus is on medium and small scale – health, education, fisheries, horticulture, agro-based industries, tourism and anything else that can solve to some extent the problem of unemployment. However, industry of all sizes and types are welcome to come and invest.

The Economic Times – Published on January 15, 2012