By Mithun Dasgupta
Kolkata, (IANS) A year after the Trinamool Congress-led West Bengal government promised to usher in industrial resurgence, investors and industry bodies say reforms are coming too slowly and there is policy indecision.
“The new government had generated huge aspirations among all sections. But we are not very happy,” Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (Assocham) Secretary General D.S. Rawat told IANS.
He said there was confusion over the government’s investment policy.
“The government cannot afford to lose time on clarifying its land acquisition policy, clearing large investments and adopting a public-private partnership model for rural and semi-urban areas,” he said.
The Trinamool came to power in the state in alliance with the Congress last May, ending the Left Front’s 34-year uninterrupted rule.
Ernst and Young vice president (Markets) Sanjay Diwakar also expressed dissatisfaction over the speed of reforms.
“Our expectations from the government were much more,” he said, adding that it would take some time to clear the “past dirt”.
The bones of contention have been land acquisition and land ceiling.
After seeing the unpopularity the previous government had earned in trying to take over farmland for private companies in Singur and Nandigram, the new government said it would not acquire land for private projects, asking industrialists to instead buy it directly from landowners.
Investors became wary, even though Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee kept urging them to put money into the state and assured them of full cooperation.
Then, a Rs.35,000-crore Jindal Steel plant in West Midnapore got stuck due to the new land policy and the existing land ceiling law.
In April the government passed legislation relaxing urban land ceiling laws.
Industry Minister Partha Chatterjee said the move would help set up manufacturing units and clear the path for over 66 proposed projects, including the steel plant.
However, a government official said most of the projects were proposed by the previous government.
“Many of these projects were proposed during the Left Front regime,” said the official, who did not want to be named.
But Chatterjee said the current government had brought in investment worth Rs.80,000 crore.
“Signing MoU does not mean that investment will be carried out,” said former Indian Statistical Institute professor Dipankar Dasgupta.
“I’m not very hopeful about huge investments in the state since no big measures have been taken till date to restore the weak business sentiment,” he said.
Even information technology (IT) companies are miffed at the government’s anti-Special Economic Zone stance and a delay in rolling out an IT policy.
“The policy should have been in place. The expert committee engaged in formulating it is taking a long time,” said Computer Association of Eastern India president B. Hari.
“The cash-strapped government is even struggling to pay its employees. So the situation might be preventing it from announcing incentives for IT firms,” he said.
However, Shyam Steel Director Lalit Beriwala said the new government should be given time to settle down, adding that the chief minister was trying hard for the state’s economic growth.