The Chinese have a dilemma in Mamata Banerjee’s Bengal

Beijing seems ready to invest at least some of its purse worth $750 billion, but West Bengal’s inefficiencies and alleged corruption are coming in the way

Written by Esha Roy | Updated: June 16, 2017 12:01 pm
Mamata Banerjee, bengal governmnet, Beijing, mamata china, beijing bengal investment, Ma Zhanwu, Ma Zhanwu, kolkata, west bengal development, indian express news, india news West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.

Over the past couple of months, the Chinese Consul General in Kolkata, Ma Zhanwu, has attended a number of discussions and interactions with various chambers of commerce based out of the West Bengal capital, delivering speeches that are uncharacteristically candid for a diplomat.

His main argument, almost a plea to industrialists and government alike, has been simple : The Chinese have a very large sum of money to invest globally, a whopping $ 750 billion over the next three years to be precise, and they would like to invest at least some of it in West Bengal.

“Please be more friendly to Chinese businessmen. Please make sure that the atmosphere here is more conducive to investments,’’ Mr Ma has been saying.

Certainly, the Chinese are dealing with a dilemma in eastern India. This region, more than other regions, is ripe for investment. Despite cheap land and even cheaper labour, very little foreign investment is coming in. Truth to say, the Chinese businessman actually has very little competition here.

A couple of stories recur constantly through Consul Ma’s speeches, like a leitmotif. The first is about a Chinese company called ‘New Hope’, which had to wait for five years before it could even start constructing its animal feed factory in West Bengal. ‘New Hope’ had to apply for 18 different permissions from 18 different departments to simply be able to dig a well.

Meanwhile in Bangladesh , ‘New Hope’s factory was constructed within 10 months, up and running within the year, and churning out a profit for Chinese investors within two years.

Needless to say the General Manager of ‘New Hope’s Indian branch was fired. Its third General Manager is now in charge since the project began. ‘New Hope’ hopes to commence the construction of its factory soon.

The story of a Thai company that has wrapped up its operations is another favourite staple of the Consul General. The unnamed company’s expensive imported machinery was stolen even as it fended off the ruling Trinamool Congress’ pressures to ensure that its cadres were hired.

For the past three years, Mamata Banerjee’s government has been holding the Bengal Global Business Summit annually, in the hope that desperately needed foreign investment will put the state on the path of development and prosperity. After the summit in January, the Chief Minister had rattled off an astonishing set of figures – proposals over Rs 2.35 lakh crores received from foreign and domestic investors, including China’s TEB Technologies which wanted to invest Rs 27,200 crores, the highest proposed investment by any country in eastern India.

But the Chief Minister’s delivery of good news took place in the backdrop of the Bhangar land movement and violent agitations opposing the installation of a sub-station and power grid there. Banerjee glossed over the protests and the law and order crisis, although two protestors died in alleged police firing.  The protests negated both her and Finance Minister Amit Mitra’s claims that the state government had a land bank of 4,000 acres waiting for industries to come and set up operations. The Bhangar activists have said that land has been forcibly acquired.

According to a report by the private think-tank, the Observer Research Foundation, the state is indeed ripe for investment, but with a stern caveat: “West Bengal, despite the gamut of reforms is seriously lacking behind the major industrially developed states in India and only has a meagre 46.9 per cent overall share of project implementation.

“The reality is that the number of project proposals made at business summits supersedes the number of projects initiated and implemented. Also the government has been widely accused of being unable to stop rent seeking activities as well as the growth of political syndicates believed to be in cahoots with the land mafia.

“Thus the current government needs to implement policies apolitically and uphold the rule of law in the state, thereby providing a sense of stability and security to the entrepreneurs,’’ ORF said.

Mr Ma points out that a foreign investor has to navigate an intricate mesh of obstacles. At his residence in the well-planned Salt Lake area, he is worried. There have been numerous queries from Chinese businessmen wanting to invest in West Bengal. Two Chinese companies want to invest – one builds escalators and another manufactures buses. Talks are on, but nothing has been concretized yet. The Chinese remain wary, hesitant.

In contrast, Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore present an ease of operation the eastern state just has not been able to master. This is evident in the numbers. There are 500 Chinese companies running out of Mumbai; in Kolkata there are barely 30.

If Bengal wants to grab the opportunity being presented, the Chief Minister needs to get her house in order. One way to do this would be to discipline her own unruly party members and ensure that the stories of their alleged corruption, red-tape and inefficiency don’t come in the way of the state’s reputation.

Esha Roy is the Resident Editor of the Indian Express’ Kolkata edition. She tweets @esha_ie

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  1. R
    Ram Singh
    Jun 16, 2017 at 10:53 pm
    So you actually feel that development of west Bengal is possible under the rule of a loud mouthed pseudoscalar thief and a student of Indian communism ? If that were so, why is west Bengal today the biggest supplier of servants for today's India ?
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      Dhruv Kalra
      Jun 16, 2017 at 3:29 pm
      All the CPMs grassroot goondas have shifted now to TMC.The system is so profitable for these good-for-nothing goons that only a Modi type can discipline them. Till then bye bye Bengal,no investment either Foreign or Local.
      Reply
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        Tama
        Jun 16, 2017 at 10:30 pm
        Well said however will modiz Jai Shree ram goons be able to travel and bring back Swiss account black money before 2017???what say little pal.....small people r trouble makers either make them REAL big else loose 'em gradually however the question is what is fneku doing ?
        Reply
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        ShiV kumar Saria
        Jun 16, 2017 at 12:44 pm
        Why not invest in existing industries, which are already up and running but require funds and technology from China- e.g. The tea industry in Darjeeling could benefit with their machinery for production of high quality speciality tea. I can be contacted at shivksaria or 9434001526 for a discussion. Rohini TE is an ideal candidate
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          Timir Nandi
          Jun 16, 2017 at 11:08 am
          Welcome Mr. Ma Zhanwu in W. B. We knew from 1979 to 2010,so many big Companies shut down their business in W B. After then all business man in India were in trauma effected to invest in W B. But now the situation changed as a result after 2011 no big business closed in W B., and business-soil in W B is better than earlier. So Chines business will not go to vain.
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            R K
            Jun 16, 2017 at 10:23 am
            Look at the goondagardi of TMC....hiring of goonda TMC workers is a precondition for setting up a business in WB....shame on mamta...
            Reply
            1. S
              sochee
              Jun 16, 2017 at 10:04 am
              One is not surprised at the frustration of Chinese consul in Calcutta. Chinese leader Mr.Jinping has granted a proposal to invest $25 billion in Bangladesh. So the Chinese companies are get crashing into Bangladesh. But it is doubtful if Bangladesh would be able to absorb this massive investment alone. Sudden influx of so much investment in the absence of finance ial muscle may make Bangladesh unstable and the investment made there risky. China therefore wants. To quickly put up a base in West Bengal to provide a second line of defence to their aggressive agenda to capture Bangladesh market to push OBOR through this region case they have trouble in Bangladesh they can shift their investment to West Bengal quickly if are able to set up a base there. That is why Chinese diplomats are putting pressure on Mamata by publicly saying that she is all about sound and no action.
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                Rajib
                Jun 16, 2017 at 9:55 am
                Beautiful analysis by reporter.... Show's the gap between big talk and actual walking the talk
                Reply
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                  Srilata
                  Jun 16, 2017 at 9:50 am
                  Foul-mouthed members of TMC led by Mamta and Derek have tarnished WB's image or what was left of it. Darjeeling is on boil now. Fake currencies and mullahs flourish here. I know what the Chinese companies feel, being associated with some of them, of putting their money now in WB . No chance.
                  Reply
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