Interview with West Bengal Commerce and Industry Minister
West Bengal Commerce and Industry Minister Partha Chatterjee has a difficult task of wooing investors to a state that has developed an anti-industry image over the years. As the Mamata Banerjee-led government completes one year in office, Chatterjee claims the new government has been able to restore investors’ confidence. In an interview with Probal Basak, the minister who is also in charge of information technology, talks about his achievements and a host of other issues ranging from the contentious land policy and the government’s stand on SEZ. Edited excerpts:
As the industry minister of the state, how would you evaluate the first year of the new government?
Our first job was to bring back the confidence of investors. The 35 years of Left rule had created an anti-industry image. In the first year, we have tried to send out a message that the government is there to provide all kinds of support to the industry. The Bengal government has created a single window system to facilitate investors. From 99 pages, the consolidated application form has been reduced to 7 pages,, and the time taken for clearance has been reduced from 317 days to 15 days. I think, we have achieved a lot in rebuilding the image of the state.
Can you quantify the investment that the state has garnered during the year? Can you mention some new proposals?
We have been successful in bringing in close to Rs 95,000 crore investment. There are over a hundred projects that would provide employment to about 3,00,000 people. There are Tractors India, Hindusthan National Glass and Matix. JSW had also moved out of the state, but we have brought it back.
Critics say most of these projects, such as JSW Steel Ltd’s 10 million tonne steel plant, were proposed during the Left Front's rule. What do you have to say on that?
You cannot expect a new project to roll-out within a year. And, if the proposals were made during the Left’s tenure, what stopped them from implementing them? They can say whatever they want. There were several flaws in the agreements in many cases. We gave the necessary clearances to Jindal’s project, which is now back on track. Implementation is more important than receiving a proposal.
Investors have expressed their concern about your land policy and asked for government intervention in land acquisition. Is not the land policy of your government a hindrance, especially for large scale manufacturing industry?
This is a wrong perception that we have an anti-industry land policy. This is far from reality. Of course, we are against forcible acquisition of land. We are extending the scope of 14-Y exemption. We are inviting proposals from everybody. There is a high-level committee chaired by madam (Mamata Banerjee). If the proposal is viable, we will extend all kind of help to get the necessary land.
There is uncertainty over Infosys's proposed campus in Bengal. By not giving it SEZ status, don't you think you missed a chance to send out a positive message to the IT sector?
We went to the polls saying we are against SEZ. We cannot change our stand after getting the people’s verdict. We are committed to help Infosys set up its campus in Bengal. On the advice of the CM, earlier this month, I have written to Union Minister of Commerce and Industry Anand Sharma, to extend the STPI (Software Technology Parks of India) incentive schemes for the Infosys project. This, I think, is a better financial deal than SEZ. We have discussed the issue with the Centre and are expecting a positive response.
Given the limitations, what is your message for investors?
Yes, there are difficulties. To restore the confidence of investors was itself a difficult task. But I want to assure everyone, we are simplifying the matters for investors. The government is always there to facilitate the process, if the investors are committed.
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These would come up in Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra