Opinion: Come to Bengal, ride the growth

Opinion: Come to Bengal, ride the growth

IndiaGBnews.com special correspondent Aline Dobbie gives her views on yesterday’s visit to Edinburgh by Mamata Banerjee, Chief Minister of West Bengal.

Mamata Banerjee, the Chief Minister of West Bengal, and a host of distinguished industrialists plus her entourage of ministers and chief secretaries, came to Edinburgh yesterday to show a very well attended conference just how West Bengal has progressed since the honourable minister came to power in May 2011, and then was returned to office in 2016.

This excellent exposition of modern West Bengal and Kolkata, and the diverse industries that are now thriving in this state of India, was so encouraging to me. I partly grew up in West Bengal and my ancestors on both sides are buried in the soil of that great state. So, to find the Chief Minister with all her passion talking and recognising the past and the part Scots played in India and in Calcutta particularly, and to hear her exhorting us Scots to come, or come back or even to come and discover West Bengal was heart-warming.

There is however no room for sentiment in business and unless the circumstances are right business will not invest or research or even try a place. West Bengal had had 34 years of communist government which had led to decay and depression and indeed, the last time I was in Kolkata, it seemed it was still that same sad story. But that was 2010 and this is 2017, and the seven intervening years have led to a renaissance of industry and commerce. I am told personally that much has improved in the city itself, but what was so heartening was to hear these distinguished industrialists – man after man – say how they are going forward and how the Mamata Banerjee Government is facilitating wherever it can. Instead of the interminable delays and ‘static on someone’s bureaucratic desk’ which was so prevalent before (even in my field of tourism) now there are competent efficient answers given within hours, or at most, days. Now that is what I call ‘doing business’.

Dr Amit Mitra is now the Minister of Finance, Industry Commerce & Enterprises, and Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises & Textiles Departments of the government of West Bengal. He also chairs the Empowered Committee of State Finance Ministers of India. He joined the Trinamool Congress and became the first Finance Minister in 2011 and has been instrumental in bringing about significant changes in finance and tax administration in the state.

I met with him and talked to him and saw his eye for detail and how he approached a subject and that pleased me. I would be taking up a huge amount of space to give all his distinguished record here but let me say he is a committed man doing a good job. Mr Malay Kumar De is the Chief Secretary of the Government of West Bengal and he is a quiet mild man whom I consider sees everything going on around him and speaks with great courtesy.

Mamata Banerjee, the Chief Minister of West Bengal, in Edinburgh.
Mamata Banerjee, the Chief Minister of West Bengal, in Edinburgh.

For those who do not know about the Chief Minister let me give you my perception. Firstly, the lady entered the crowded conference room and sweetly greeted the various tables personally on her way to the platform. She spoke with conviction and no notes. Mamata Banerjee is the first woman Chief Minister of West Bengal. She has travelled extensively all over the world; written about 70 books and is also an accomplished poet and artist and photographer. Her writings are in Bengali and English.

Each of the industrialists was invited to give their story briefly and they were all of interest. Sanjiv Goenka was inspiring and started the proceedings and he spoke of the huge sums being invested in infrastructure throughout the state. Close to my heart is the determination to clean up the Ganga and the Hooghly as it becomes in West Bengal.

Tarun Jhunjhunwala of Reliance Industries was very interesting, but then so were they all. For me though there was a cherry on the top! Sanjiv Puri, the new CEO and Executive Director of ITC Limited, spoke about his conglomerate and how it had existed for over a century with its headquarters in Calcutta, now Kolkata. Well readers, I am a child of ITC, my late father when he left the Indian Army worked for what was then Imperial Tobacco and that subsequently grew into the great conglomerate ITC. From my perspective of a travel writer I know of their huge chain of beautiful hotels and have often written about them. It was a pleasure to meet Sanjiv afterwards and explain the connection.

Naturally, FICCI was well represented by executives from here in London and from West Bengal. This is the fourth largest state economy in India, and in terms of its great history it is so good to watch a video and see the positive progress. New harbours are being built at Tajpur and at Sagar; Bagdogra is to join Kolkata as the second international airport, 23 Industry Facilitation Centres are being built, partnerships with universities sought here and they seek links with University of Edinburgh in particular.

The Tourism and Hospitality sector is where I would fit in and I would be delighted to return and see the City, the smaller towns and the wild places that are part of my own heritage.

West Bengal is the most important among states in Eastern India. It is the only State in India where the Himalayas are in the North and the sea in the South; the Sundarbans forest grows over the vast Ganga-Brahmaputra delta that empties out into the Bay of Bengal – the world’s largest delta. Sharing 2.7% of India geographical area and 7.54% of India’s population the state has a tropical climate.

For those who are not familiar with the state – Bengali, Hindi, English and Nepali are the four languages. It is the fourth-largest State economy in India with a population of 91.3 million. The GSDP at current prices is US$ 157 billion (2016-17). West Bengal enjoys a power surplus with 100% villages electrified and the third largest road network in India.

Calcutta – Kolkata types will always speak with pride about their intellectualism! Indeed, the famous Coffee House has so much history as have the centres of learning and discussion. Kolkata is often referred to as the Culture/Literary capital of India. The Land of Saint Mother Teresa, Rabindranath Tagore, Satyajit Ray and many more.

But nothing would happen unless they are true to their words: Make in Bengal; Business made Easy – Ready for Tomorrow, Today!

Aline Dobbie

Aline Dobbie is one of the UK’s foremost authorities on India. Born in India to Scottish parents she spent the first 16 years of her life in the sub-continent. An acclaimed travel writer, Aline is the author of a celebrated trilogy of books on India, including The Peacock’s Call – www.thepeacockscall.co.uk

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