Mamata leaves no big industrialist unturned
After last year’s damp squib, the forthcoming Bengal Global Business Summit (BGBS), scheduled for January next year, is poised to host top industrialists such as steel magnate LN Mittal, Reliance Industries Chairman and Managing Director Mukesh Ambani, and JSW Chairman and Managing Director Sajjan Jindal.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has left no stone unturned this year after big industrialists, along with Union ministers, skipped attending the BGBS 2017. Not only did she travel to Mumbai to request Ambani and Jindal to attend the event, but also went all the way to the UK to pursue Mittal and The Chatterjee Group’s founder chairman, Purnendu Chatterjee, to attend the business summit as well as invest in the state.
Mittal seems impressed by Banerjee’s efforts. While visiting West Bengal for an event, he said: “She has West Bengal in her heart and is very passionate.” Chatterjee too, after settling the shareholding issue in Haldia Petrochemicals with the government, is upbeat.
At the January 2017 BGBS, after Banerjee and her party, the Trinamool Congress, stepped up their criticism of demonetisation, Union ministers who were said to have given their consent to attend the event backed out. With no Union ministers to present West Bengal as a favoured investment destination, top industrialists refrained from attending.
The annual event is Banerjee’s chance of getting back at people who critique her industrial policy.
Sanjay Budhia, managing director at the Patton Group, which has five plants in West Bengal (one more coming up), is of the view that once industrialists talk about their experience, indirectly pursuing their peers to invest, the job to attract investment is half done.
Her pitch for investment in the state, however, has remained consistent over the years — “gateway to the north-east (India), Bangladesh, Singapore, Malaysia, Myanmar and others”. The supporting pitch is the availability of skilled personal at competitive rates.
Referring to the 34-year Left Front rule, which saw prolonged industrial disputes, Rudra Chatterjee, director at Luxmi Tea, is of the view that it takes nerves to approach top industry officials who were “forced out” to invest in the state again.
The 2017 BGBS saw the lowest investment proposals since the summit’s inception at ~2,35,290 crore, which is around six per cent lower than the previous year’s ~2,50,254 crore. The biggest pie, which accounted for 11.5 per cent of the total, was worth ~27,200 crore, signed between Chinese company TEB Technology and Texmaco Rail & Engineering for an MRTS (Mass Rapid Transit System) project.
The Chatterjee Group, which operates the Haldia refinery and recently took over a chemicals plant from Mitsubishi Chemicals, also committed ~500 crore. In the year before, the Group committed an investment of ~20,000 crore to set up a 15-million-tonne refinery in the state.
Amit Mitra, the state’s finance minister, said forward integration for the acquired Mitsubishi plant had been done. On the other hand, industry sources said that the land allotment process for the refinery was underway. In turn, it has stalled the proposed investment currently. The ~12,000- crore Tajpur port project is stuck after the state pursued the Kolkata Port Trust as well as the Union shipping ministry to prioritise at the cost of the Sagar project. In this case too, the Port authorities are yet to float the feasibility tender for the port.
Mitra also said the RP-Sanjiv Goenka Group would invest ~10,000 crore in its maiden FMCG venture. However, after the Group diversified into FMCG, it has been looking to set up plants in Telangana or Tamil Nadu with West Bengal also under consideration.
Nevertheless, the government, as well as industry, is optimistic about the meet. Recently, after over nine years’ delay, Infosys relented on its demand for the special economic zone (SEZ) status and agreed to set up its maiden campus in the state. Entrepreneurs say the biggest driver for industry to invest in the state is the “big customer base”, but cautions that unlike some states, West Bengal is not a “greenfield market”. If the top guns do turn up for the summit, Banerjee will find some solace. After all, last time, she bore the brunt of taking on the Centre.