West Bengal slides from rank 4 to 13 in industry list of investment hotspots

With Lok Sabha elections approaching,Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has been going all out to hardsell rapid industrial growth but an all-India study released today by The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India...

Written by Subrata Nagchoudhary | Kolkata | Published: February 23, 2009 2:59:31 am

With Lok Sabha elections approaching,Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has been going all out to hardsell rapid industrial growth but an all-India study released today by The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) has just confirmed West Bengal’s worst fears: the state slipped from rank 4 in 2007 to rank 13 in 2008 in terms of industrial investment plans.

Independent inquiries by The Indian Express also showed that for the first time in five years,actual investment in industrial projects in the state dipped sharply. While in 2004,industrial projects implemented totalled around Rs 2,244 crore,it climbed to Rs 5,072 crore in 2007. But until February 2009,actual investments in the state fell to around Rs 3,600 crore,down by over Rs 1,400 crore.

The ASSOCHAM study attributed the reason for the sharp dip in investment plans by corporates to the “social unrest” in Nandigram and Singur. This is what D S Rawat,ASSOCHAM secretary general,observed: “Nandigram and Singur unrest are entirely responsible for this shocking development as corporates seem to have desisted coming to West Bengal.”

The ASSOCHAM study meter tracked that “robust investment” plans worth Rs 2,43,489 crore were made by India Inc. for Bengal in 2007. But it fell to Rs 90,095 crore in 2008,a fall of 63 per cent during January-December 2008,compared to the corresponding period in 2007.

Despite the Nano setback and the economic slowdown,Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has,in rapid fire sequence,announced projects worth over at least Rs 25,000 crore for the state. Senior bureaucrats in the government say more are in the pipeline.

While Bhattacharjee has maintained “we will break the barrier,Industry will happen in Bengal whatever the hurdles,” there is a perceptible change in strategy. One significant plan is to fast-forward projects free from land acquisition problems. The new thrust zone is Durgapur-Bankura-Purulia where the land acquisition process had until now been free from disturbances,primarily because vast tracts were either barren and unutilized.

Professor Asish Bhattacharya of the Indian Institute of Management,Calcutta says: “Land continues to be an issue along the Ganges. But hope is not totally lost. Projects elsewhere in the state are taking off and this shows that the state continues to attract investment. Things would get better if the government could do away bureaucratic hurdles and solve land problems.”

But the slowdown has impacted India Inc’s Bengal plans. The JSW (Jindal Steel) project,with an investment commitment of Rs 35,000 crore in a 10 MTPA integrated steel plant at Salboni,was forced to announce postponement of its work following blockage of funds from banks.

Biswadeep Gupta,the company’s Managing Director in Kolkata,said: “We had to slow down targets as banks are not releasing funds. But as far as future prospects are concerned,there is still huge potential for the state. Of course,the effect of Nano has had a far-reaching impact on investors about Bengal.”

In the real estate sector too,some major investment plans by companies like DLF have been deferred.

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