Bengal makes business sense but hiccups remain SEZ News
KOLKATA: From skepticism and concern to gradual acceptance and appreciation, this is how the industry's reactions to the Mamata Banerjee government changed in the first 12 months of pariborton. A lot can happen in a year. And the government's new and nuanced stance on land for private industries is proof of this.
The new land reforms amendment bill, tabled in the assembly, is the most significant development on the industrial front in Bengal over the past year. This bill proposes a relaxation of two sections of the Land Reforms Act to enable industrial units to hold and transfer land in excess of the 24.2 acres. This vital amendment is expected to be a game changer and has been welcomed by industrialists and industry bodies. It will be applicable for establishing and expanding industrial parks, industrial and financial hubs, tea gardens, agro industries, power plants, tourism projects, food and bio-tech parks, IT, oil and gas, film city, airport and ship building.
The new government has also introduced 'Shilpa Sathi', a single window system for industry, which promises to reduce the number of forms for industrial registration from 99 pages to just seven. It will also cut down the time taken for clearances to investment proposals from 330 days to a mere fortnight. Besides, the state government's initiative to form a high level committee, headed by likes of Sam Pitroda and Infosys chief mentor N R Narayanmurthi, has gone down well with the IT and ITeS sectors.
But on the flip side, Mamata Banerjee's firm stand against SEZs has disheartened investors. This stubborn anti-SEZ stand of the government has cast a shadow on two big-ticket investments in the state. Infosys and Wipro wanted SEZ status for their proposed facilities here but due to the state government's intransigence, Infosys has put its Bengal project on hold while Wipro is going slow on it. Mamata Banerjee has said she would be open to giving the two IT giants all facilities and concessions to make them as competitive as they would have been with SEZ status but it has not cut much ice.
But the main grouse of industrialists - the government's hands-off policy on acquisition of land for private industry - remains. They have argued that it is difficult to purchase land in the state for big projects because of the fragmented land holdings in Bengal. In order to get around this, the state government has already identified around 2,000 acres of land that's available with different government agencies at Naihati, Panagarh, Kharagpur, Raghunathpur and Goaltore. More such vested land is being identified and a comprehensive land bank is being compiled.
That the initial skepticism among investors is changing is evident from the fresh investment proposals that the new regime has managed to bag. These include a float-glass unit at Panagarh by Hindustan National Glass with investment of over Rs 2,500 crore, a cement plant by Reliance-ADAG, new food projects of ITC and a new unit by MS Glass with a combined investment of over Rs 4,500 crore. Also, lease agreements for 15 projects with combined investment proposal of Rs 42,000 crore has been inked. These include a fertilizer plant of Matix in Panagarh, the Nayachar project of Universal Success and TVS project in Howrah.