KOLKATA:15 Dec 2008, 0321 hrs IST, TNN
It was a Friday evening with that dash of difference. Kolkata's corporate czars converged at a city five-star hotel to participate in a unique interaction with chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, organised by The Economic Times. It was the denouement of ET's month-long campaign, Kolkata 2010: The Business Blueprint', in which most of them had shared thoughts on ways to galvanise industry in West Bengal. True to his promise, the CM walked in sharp at 6 pm.
For the next one hour, he took on with aplomb a range of queries from CEOs. Minutes after industries minister Nirupam Sen finished speaking, Bhattacharjee addressed the gathering. He thanked the editorial board and management of ET for organising a "unique event". The evening's moderator, Professor Anup Sinha of IIM, Calcutta, had structured the interaction whereby initially there were two pre-set questions on the all important issues land and infrastructure.
This was followed by an open house Q&A round. The session got under way with Umesh Chowdhary, vice-chairman & MD Titagarh Wagons asking the CM whether the government was considering any proposal to set up a land bank to accommodate industry. The CM said: "The question is whether we will acquire land and create a land bank. We have finally decided to mobilise funds and acquire land in four to five districts. We will then be in a position to offer land for various industries."
The second question to the CM on infrastructure came from Hemant Kanoria, chairman and MD of Srei Infrastructure Finance. "The RBI governor, whom I met a couple of days back, had said infrastructure is the one sector that is unlikely to be touched by the crisis. Power, roads, irrigation for instance," the chief minister noted in his response. The CM also said his government had been internally discussing whether it should invite public-private partnership in the power and road sectors. "We have agreed in principle. But it is at a preliminary stage. We need to experiment with it and work out the modalities. Any PPP for infrastructure is welcome."
Bhattacharjee said the global meltdown and its impact on the state, particularly in the auto and steel sectors, was uppermost on his mind. Around seven steel projects are expected to come up in the state. "I do not know whether they will go ahead or take some more time, given the global crisis," a somewhat anxious CM said.
Earlier, Nirupam Sen had set the proceedings rolling by urging "enlightened sections of society" and people of the state to carry forward the torch of industrialisation. "In Europe, it was the Renaissance that heralded industrialisation. New ideas, new thinking, new philosophy, rationality, reasoning and understanding all these are key conditions of an industrial revolution,"
he said. Bengal, he said, carries such a heritage. Acharya Prafulla Chandra Ray and his Bengal Chemicals or companies like National Tanneries and Duckback were set up by intellectuals, not industrialists. "Finally, building a consensus among people could overcome the chasm created by political ideologies. The government will play its role in spurring the process."