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February 24, 2014

Mamata Banerjee speaks to The Economic Times

Mamata Banerjee speaks to The Economic Times

Rejecting that land acquisition is a big hurdle in industrial growth, West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee says it’s a canard being spread to hurt growth in the state. In an interview to The Economic Times, she says her government is willing to waive land caps for projects that promise a good compensation package to farmers and don’t resort to forcible acquisitions. Edited Excerpts:

What are your three major industrial achievements?

We have outlined four policies. The first is the industrial policy with detailed incentive package. Then we have the textile, IT and MSME policies. These come with even greater incentives and all are labour intensive policies.

We have registered a 105 per cent growth in bank lending to MSMEs. The credit flow increased to Rs 9,000 cr (in the first half of FY14), from Rs 4300 cr. Karnataka came second with at 42 per cent credit growth. We have public-private partnerships in for roads, hospitals, tourism and transport.

Can you tell us the investments these policies have attracted?

West Bengal holds sixth rank in terms of investment received, according to the data of Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, Ministry of Commerce. Thirty three industry proposals had been realised in 2013, between January 1 and October 31.

The state government cleared seven new industrial projects in January. Some of the big-ticket investments include a cement factory by Emami Cements in Purulia which is considered a Maoist stronghold. It will bring investment worth Rs 418 cr. Matrix Group is setting up a Rs 5,500-cr fertilizer project in Panagarh, Rs 20,000 cr has been investment by Steel Authority of India for capacity expansion in Bengal. DVC is building the second phase of a thermal power station at Raghunathpur in Purulia. The investment is worth Rs 10,000 cr. We have even given clearance to Great Eastern Energy Corporation Limited for CBM extraction in Burdwan. It will bring an investment worth Rs 1000 cr.

Land is an issue in Bengal. How would you ensure it doesn`t become a hurdle to industrial growth?

This is a completely wrong perception. Land is not an issue. Those who are spreading all this want to hurt Bengal. We have passed a land policy, which is beneficial for both industry and farmers. Our policy ensures a good compensation package for those who give up their land. We have strict policy against forcible land acquisition, and government will not involve itself in any acquisition for private companies. WBIDC alone has 3,263 acres ready for use.

There are thousands of acres in 23 industrial parks, biggest of which are located ar Raghunathpur in Purulia, Panagarh in Burdwan and Goaltore in West Midnapore. Land is not a problem. About 7,170 acres have been recommended under Section 14Y. The WBIDC has allotted 1,651 acres that have been cleared in our industrial parks. If companies give an undertaking that they will not pressure existing owners to sell and that they will pay the market price, we are ready to waive the land cap. We have given waiver under Section 14 Y to a rubber park coming up at Sankrail in Howrah and Apeejay Group-promoted Bengal Shipyard project at Kulpi. We have also allotted land to NTPC for a thermal power plant at Katwa. Renowned furniture company Supreme Industries has filed an affidavit that it would not engage in forcible acquisition of land. My cabinet has cleared this project as well. This will bring in investment worth Rs 145 cr.

How do you respond to the criticism for the rising crime against women?

Our government is extremely vigilant about the safety of women. Earlier during the Left Front rule, crimes would not even be reported at police stations. Now the situation has improved. I can cite the data from National Crime Records Bureau to back my claim. The number of rape cases in the state in 2009, 2010 and 2011 were 2,336, 2,311 and 2,363, respectively. This number came down to 2,046 in 2012 and further to 1,590 till November 2013. Women in our state now fearlessly report any crime. Ten new all women`s police stations are being set up at Suri, Burdwan, Serampore, Englishbazar, Diamond Harbour, Barrackpore, Darjeeling and Midnapore. Already, there are 65 women`s police stations in different districts of West Bengal. We have set up 80 fasttrack courts to deal with these crimes.

We have started Kanyashree programme to stop child marriages. Unmarried girl students can get a grant of Rs500 per year up to the age of 18. Then they will get a one-time grant of Rs25,000 if they pursue higher education. This will not only motivate girls to study, but also bring down the rate of child marriage. Thus premature child birth and infant mortality rates will also come down.

You have always been vocal against the Centre regarding the financial package for Bengal. How has West Bengal’s economy been performing in the last three years?

West Bengal has shown a remarkable growth in tax collection from 2011 till now. We have shown a growth of 81.8 per cent in tax collection from Rs 22,000 cr in 2011-12 to Rs 40,000 cr in 2013-14. Between April to August 2013, the growth in tax collection in WB was 21.3 per cent. Other states like Gujrat and Karnataka recorded only 1.4 per cent and 14 per cent growth, respectively. All this is because of better compliance in filing taxes. The e-taxation process launched by the government also helped in this growth.

We are suffering because of the debts incurred by the Left. They did not enact Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management. Why did the Centre not take any action? But now, they have taken away Rs 70,000 cr as installments in the last three years. The opposition keeps complaining that nothing is happening in Bengal. What they have done in the last 34 years. My suggestion to them is – I will keep working for the development of Bengal, catch me if you can.

Given a chance, will you want to be Prime Minister, as suggested by Mahasweta Devi earlier?

I have always fought for the protection of the common man and the poor. I am still fighting for that cause. I have worked at the Centre and now I am working in my state. But more than anything else, my inspirations are my people, my soil and my mother. Chairs may come and chairs may go, but you need to be with the people always.

What would be your foremost demand from the next Central government? Will it be a financial package for Bengal?

Bengal will get what it really deserves. We are not asking for charity. We are asking for debt moratorium. The Left did not believe in financial prudence and the state is paying for their sins. But this phase is not permanent. I am telling you that golden era of Bengal will come soon.

You have proposed formation of a federal front. Have you firmed up the names of those that will form the front you are talking about?

Any political force that is keen to fight corruption, dynastic rule of many generations and politics of rioting are welcome to federal front. It will come up after the election results are out. Congress and BJP will not be allowed to join this front.