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Last Updated : Jul 31, 2015 07:24 PM IST | Source: CNBC-TV18

Rs 85000cr of invt under process in West Bengal: Amit Mitra

In an interview to CNBC-TV18, Mitra discussed a whole host of issues: the state's economy, policy and well as the TMC government's stand on contentious issues such as the land bill.

With an investment of Rs 84,923 crore under process, West Bengal has outgrown India in every respect. That is the view of Amit Mitra, the state Finance Minister.

In an interview to CNBC-TV18, Mitra discussed a whole host of issues: the state's economy, policy and well as the TMC government's stand on contentious issues such as the land bill.

Below is the edited transcript of Amit Mitra's interview with CNBC-TV18's Shereen Bhan.

Q: Let me talk to you about the efforts that your government is making to try and attract both domestic investors as well as foreign investors. Your Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee earlier in January at the Global Business Summit that your government had organised said, don't see the past, the past has gone and I am sorry for that. Is the West Bengal government still suffering from a perception problem? I ask you that in the context, for instance the new state of Telangana which seems to be much more adept at wooing big ticket foreign direct investment from the likes of Microsoft, Amazon, Uber and so on and so forth. Do you believe that your government is still suffering from a perception issue?

A: I honestly think that the reality is as distinct from perception because of the 34 years of the Left Front rule. The reality is something that has not been brought to the attention of viewers at the national level.

For example, India is growing according to the new calculations of gross value added at 7.5 percent just like GDP as we used to call it in the past. West Bengal in reality as per centres statistics is growing at 10.48 percent. If you take agriculture, India is growing at 1.1 percent, West Bengal is growing at 6.46 percent, again something that not come to the attention of the viewers and therefore the perception.

Industries - 5.6 percent India, 8.34 percent West Bengal; services 10.9 percent India, 12.12 percent West Bengal and the last interesting data is per capita income growth. India is growing in terms of its per capita income at 6.1 percent, West Bengal us growing at 12.12 percent.

This is not my statistic, it is a statistics of the Central Statistical Organisation. Therefore, my first submission is the reality in macro terms is tremendous. Come ride the growth - that was the slogan of the Bengal Global Business Summit.

Q: Would it not be fair to say that not only are you suffering from a perception problem but your government is also suffering from a communication problem. If those are the statistics that you have just held out and I have a bunch of other things that the government has actually done in terms of the ease of doing business, amending the APMC Act and so on and so forth which are pretty reformist measures. However would you agree that not just perception but you are suffering from a communication problem as well?

A: What I would say is channels like yours provide communication to the discerning viewer and that is exactly what you are doing today. What we need to understand is there is some local media that has its own reasons of not putting this out but it is important that channels like you carry this. Honourable Chief Minister is taking a business delegation of 50 people to UK. I am sure your channel would like to be there and pickup some of this to distribute it to the viewers for a debate.

Q: What is going to be your sales pitch? There are likely to be some MoUs that you will sign in UK as well. What is going to be the sales pitch for why investors should choose West Bengal over any other state in India?

A: First is the macro parameter for which I have given you the data. Second is I don't think your viewers know that since we came to office Rs 84,923 crore of investment are either completed or in process.

Probably they don't even know that in the Bengal Global Business Summit Rs 2,43,000 crore of investment proposals are tabled and I am very glad to say as industry minister with Mamata Banerjee as my Chief Minister that we have now started work on Rs 91000 crore of the Rs 2,43,000 crore promised within the last five months.

So, my point is if you take hard statistics which I presented to the legislature of West Bengal, I can't lie there, it has to be really documented, Rs 85000 crore is in process. You are talking about marquee big names, are you aware that Changi airport has come to West Bengal creating the first ever with BAPL private sector greenfeild airport in India, nobody talks about that.

What is interesting is 1800 acres around the airport - 56 percent of which will have to be non-polluting industry is going to come up there, transforming that entire area as aerotropolis. I am only giving you one example where Changi Airport authority arrives in Bengal because it has confidence in Bengal.

SAIL promised Rs 16000 crore it is implementing you know that. The honourable Chief Minister and the Prime Minister were there to inaugurate that but they have now promised another Rs 40000 crore of investment.

Anil Ambani's group is investing in cement. So, I could go on and on. Tata Metaliks has asked for expansion of its plant. So, X state of Y state, I don't want to contest, I can only say that there is huge potential and reality of investment flowing into the state which is what we will market in the UK during the Chief Ministers visit with a 50 member strong business delegation who will swear by this because they are the ones who have invested in the state, they will speak not us.

Q: Let me ask you about some questions that you are likely to be asked there and that largely has to do with the issue of land in the states because when your government came into office you did amend the land acquisition act and under that land acquisition act no entity can hold more than 24 acres of land. Townships were suffering and then again an exception was made, they were already exempt. You were done away with the exemption, now I understand that they have been brought back under the exemption but are we to understand that similar remedial measures are unlikely for companies that had applied for Special Economic Zones (SEZ), the Wipros and the Infosys' of the world?

A: Let me first give you the land picture. We have 38 industrial parks in the state where land belongs to the government. Out of that 4,500 acres with full infrastructure is right now available for the taking. Another 3,000 crore, and I can tell you that as industry minister, we are getting ready.

So you have 7,500 crore. Now Chief Minister has often spoken of the land bank. You would be interested to know that all departments of the government put together has today 100,000 acres of land across the state slowly which we are putting into, judiciously into industrial use.

You know of a place called Kalyani where there is a university. You would be happy to know that All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) has come there - AIIMS will be there and what is interesting is two industrial parts are coming up and an analytics park in the IT sector is coming up, all in that area which is coming out of the land bank which was lying fallow with some department or the other.

So, the land issue has been made unnecessarily complicated. The land is available for the taking right now and in UK if people want to come and invest on the spot we will be able to give you land because the government has the land.

Aside from that we have also cleared 7,500 acres of private land which people had already purchased, that was cleared by the cabinet some one year ago, many of them are building now.

Q: So you are saying that too much is being made of these special economic zones and if IT industries don’t like what you are offering, then they are free to take their investments elsewhere?

A: On the SEZ, all of us know what research shows now. A significant proportion of SEZs have not been done in India. Some proportion of them have become real estate play. You and I know that and this government I believe and the previous government were strongly thinking about what to do about this? Now today I will give you an example – TCS is building a campus in Kolkata, will employ 20,000 additional people.

Cognizant 5,000 people and Wipro has just announced that 2,400 additional people it is going to employ. Now my submission to you is that the largest Software Technology Parks of India (STPI) in the country of the Central government but the largest one is coming up in Kolkata for Rs 100 crore investment, 2 lakh sq.ft of building and you will be happy to know that 15 additional IT parks we are making in making in two-tier and three tier cities because that is where the young kids, girls and boys how will work on BPO and KPO.

We have a burning example in Silliguri. It is functioning, it is successful, so my submission is on this issue we have applied a lot of our mind and we are moving forward at a fantastic pace.

Q: Let me ask you about another issue which often gets weighed down by political compulsions and that is the issue to privatize or at least privatize loss making units. I understand that your government had looked at the proposal of inviting requests for proposals to transfer some of your tea gardens under the West Bengal Tea Development Corporation to private entities. Is privatization on the table, off the table, selectively on the table?

A: I would like to use the word stake sale, that is the correct terminology because we hold a stake. You would be interested to know as you alluded already –five tea gardens belonging to the government of West Bengal which were closed for years, workers in great distress whom we were giving them rice, we were giving them social security.

We have gone into transparent competitive bidding, absolutely impeccable and one of the great companies was our transaction adviser and one person has bought the three Darjeeling gardens, who already have 15 gardens at a very competitive e-tendered basis price, nobody knew what it is going to be and two of them in the Dooars have been bought. Can you give me one case in India where stake sale has been done of gardens with such transparency and hundred percent workers have been retained by these companies, therefore we are in a win-win position.

Q: Where else are we likely to see you push for stake sales?

A: You are aware that Haldia Petrochemical which is an extremely large company, perhaps the most exciting company of entire eastern India, we went into competitive bidding to come out of the government shares and Indian Oil Corporation (IOC )competitively won that bid. Now, of course, after that there was some litigations and we are in the last phase – by the way Haldia Petrochemicals today, people do not know, is running at 95 percent capacity as the stake sale process is going on and two lakh down stream workers today are happy. They have even received orders from Gujarat this week I am told.

So, this is a case where we said we will come out of that business because the government’s holding of approximately 39 or close to 40 percent we were willing to stake sale and IOC came forward and now the second-largest holder or perhaps the largest holder PC Chatterjee Group, now they officially wanted to buy the shares because they had a first right of refusal.

Absolutely transparent, nobody has raised a finger. So here is another example of industrial case where the Mamata Banerjee government was bold enough to say that look this is something, this is not our business as it is evident and we will stake sale on a transparent basis

Q: Which are the specific areas where you would like to position West Bengal as the investment destination? There was at one point talk of trying to position West Bengal as the petrochemical hub for the country so on and so forth. What kind of investments are you looking to bring into the state from foreign investors as well as domestic investors?

A: First of all this is a very rich state in terms of two-three natural resources. So, for example we are at the heart of coal. By the way West Bengal state has its own coal area and also the coal of this country is absolutely either there or just a few kilometres away. That means any user industry that uses coal which is steel, iron and steel which can be all kinds of metal which also includes power generation - you know that West Bengal is surplus in power. It is 24/7 power. Now we have still planned 2,500 megawatts right now. National Thermal Power Corporation Limited (NTPC Limited) is going to build two fabulous power plants - 1,400 megawatts because it uses coal and coal is nearby, they will hopefully get. That is one.

Two is land. We are the largest producer of fruits and vegetables in the country. Therefore food processing industry is something that is growing at a rapid pace. In terms of human capital today we have produced double the number of universities that was done in the last 30 years, 45 additional colleges, ITIs, polytechnics. That means this feeds into the IT world, this feeds into the manufacturing world. So, what my submission is we are water excess state. In other words we get a lot of rain, so what have we done. You would be surprised to know 150,000 new water bodies have been created by \\'jol dhoro jol bhoro\\', catch the water and fill the water.

Q: If I may ask you because some of the areas of interest that you just chalked out, manufacturing, power, coal so on and so forth but is there a softening of stance as far as retail is concerned, not Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in retail because that you are principally opposed to, but retail in general and I ask you that because one of the measures that you have proposed to change is extend the time of operation of shops and establishments ostensibly to give malls etc a fillip. So, are we to understand that there is a change in your position as far as organised retail is concerned and could you perhaps also change your position on FDI in retail?

A: No, FDI in retail we will not change our position, let me be very honest and frank with you. You also know that the particular joint venture at that time which was under discussion has fallen apart, that you are aware of, I don\\'t have to remind you of that. But look at the malls, you have a mall here built right in the heart of Kolkata which is now being told to be the highest mall in the country. So, who is saying we are against malls. What we have to be sure is that no land is taken forcibly, this was a land of the electric supply company of West Bengal which was like a warehouse in the middle of the city. They have converted it into a super mall and the footfalls last Sunday I was told by the owner whom you perhaps know just today he said there was 100,000 footfalls on this weekend and the traffic management he said he has never seen anywhere else in India. With 100,000 footfalls there was no jam. So, that is not an issue but we have also created 250 markets for the common people. This is all across the state. We have created the market with complete weighing structure, everything you need in a market. And now entrepreneurs are moving into those markets. So, bottom of the pyramid, trading to the top of the most high end mall of India perhaps we want to straddle that whole area.

Q: Let me ask you because you have rolled out several measures to improve the ease of doing business under your Shilpa Sathi – Single Window Services program, you are exempting certain industries from environmental clearances, you are scrapping the need for land conversion in industrial parks. One union per unit is what you are going to be allowing. What more can we expect in terms of the ease of doing business and what has been the impact of these measures already? If you can quantify that for us in terms of FDI specifically?

A: Specifically let me say that there are five-six areas where Mamata Banerjee in a public meeting with the media announced those things. For example you are talking about land, one of the biggest problems is mutation of land. Now, she announced that 30 days maximum for mutation.

Conversion of land, from agricultural use, let us say, to industrial use where it is feasible if it is within the law 21 days and no more. Now environment clearance is a huge problem. Therefore she specified that in green area 15 days clearance, in orange area 30 days and if it is red area which means that there are major environmental issues maximum of 60 days. I don\\'t think any state has specified the timeline in this detailed manner.

As far as industry is concerned as you said Shilpa Sathi is a hand holding exercise. We are in fact gone completely digital in this case. Are you aware that West Bengal got the highest award in the country from the central government on e-taxation.

We are the first in the country to use Reserve Bank of India's (RBI) e-Kuber where all payments of the state governments are done electronically. Can you believe there are no cheques written in our state anymore. First state in the country to use e-Kuber.

So aside from this don't forget social infrastructure is equally important. So, another award given by the centre was for Mamata Banerjee's dream project which is Kanyashree where a girl child remains within the educational system, does not marry till the age of 18, gets Rs 25,000. My budgetary allowance for that is close to Rs 1,000 crore. 24 lakh girls have registered, 22 lakh girls have received.

This is a unique example where United Nations is now saying 53 developing countries who met in London must adopt the Kanyashree program. So, this is complimentary to the kind of industrial development you are talking about.

Q: If you can give us a sense of the MoUs that you are likely to sign while you are in the UK?

A: I would like to keep your viewership's curiosity on. There will be MoUs in the social infrastructure sector which is health, education, those are core competencies of UK. There will be MoUs which involve financial leveraging capacity, financial flow capacity of UK - London is one of the world's leading financial centres.

There will be MoUs even in manufacturing, in some cases very useful ones, with university to university in terms of research. So, you are going to see without specifying what they are to keep your curiosity on, there will be a potpourri of MoUs and commercial papers which would cut across sectors focused on UKs core competencies and our own core competencies and marry the two together.

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First Published on Jul 27, 2015 09:09 pm
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