(In) vested numbers

Even though the Trinamool Congress government is desperately trying to ward off its anti-industry image,the fact is,as it has been seen in the last one year,that two of its declared policies — its aversion to acquisition of land for handing over to industrialists and its opposition to SEZ — made investment a non-starter in West Bengal.

Written by Sabyasachi Bandopadhyay | Published: May 21, 2012 3:24 am

Even though the Trinamool Congress government is desperately trying to ward off its anti-industry image,the fact is,as it has been seen in the last one year,that two of its declared policies — its aversion to acquisition of land for handing over to industrialists and its opposition to SEZ — made investment a non-starter in West Bengal.

Both in its manifesto and during her first cabinet meeting,Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had announced that her government would not acquire land for the industries and that the owners of the industries have to purchase land on their own from the people.

The records with Land and Land Reforms Department as well as West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation (WBIDC),the agency of the government which arranges land for industrialists,clearly reveals that in the last one year,the government has not received a single application for purchase of land from any industrialist.

Since it came to power,the Trinamool-led government acquired 1,060 acres of land as against the Left Front’s acquisition of 4,689 acres in 2010-2011 and 2,381 acres in 2009-2010. Out of 1,060 acres,over 500 acres were acquired for building embankments for protection from cyclonic storms in Sunderbans,while the remaining land was taken for building infrastructure like roads,hospitals,schools,defence installations,to name a few.

But the question that lingers is — If no land has been acquired for the industries and if no industrialist has come forward with a proposal to purchase land,what is the story of an investment proposal of Rs 98,000 crore from 128 companies that the government received in the last year? Since industries cannot be set up in air,where will all these projects come up?

A close look at some of the proposals will show that many of the proposals had come during the Left Front government rule for which the land either had already been acquired or they had been in the possession of the government.

For example,take the case of Universal Success of NRI businessman Prasun Mukherjee. The company has submitted a proposal for Rs 30,000 crore to set up an eco-friendly industrial and tourism hub,a power plant and a fisheries project at 10,000 acres of land at Nayachar. The land was vested and the Left Front government itself had decided to hand it over to a conglomerate called Acharya Prafulla Chandra Chemical Complex that included Universal.

Meanwhile,by regularising the ceiling-excess land they it had in its possession,the state government has set in motion projects of the 11 companies,which have proposed to invest Rs 12,861 crore and providing employment to about 1,54,769 people. (see box)

“These companies were given land during the Left Front government but they did not have the necessary permission of keeping ceiling-excess land with them. We have regularised the land and asked them to go ahead with their project. And we have also told them that if they did not start immediately we will take the land back,’’ an official of the department of commerce and industries said.

The state government has also received investment plans from Matrix for a fertiliser plant with an investment of Rs 11,000 crore)at Panagarh Industrial Park,from TVS in collaboration with Neo Strategic Motors Private Ltd (Rs 400 crore investment) at Uluberia in Howrah district. Land for these projects are already in possession of the government.

So for the remaining investment proposals,worth around Rs 43,000 crore,the government has land for only some of them. There are projects for whom the government has not said categorically where it would get land from. Among them are Reliance Cement’s Rs 500 crore project at Purulia,SAIL’s expansion plans at Burnpur of Rs 5,000 crore and GAIL’s Rs 6,000 crore project.

Another policy that has spelt disaster for the state in so far as IT industry is concerned is its opposition to declaring an area as Special Economic Zone (SEZ) that led to IT giant Infosys putting its project on hold. The IT major wanted SEZ status for its project but Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee declined to accord that status to it. Instead it has thrown the ball to the Centre’s court. “We have written to the central government to provide Infosys all the facilities available under the SEZ Act,” Commerce and Industries Minister Partha Chatterjee said.

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