“West Bengal will soon become one of the most attractive IT destinations in the country”
Siddharth, Principal Secretary, Department of IT, Government of West Bengal talked to Joy Roy Choudhury about the state’s readiness in supporting IT growth and its roadmap for the future
How is the state in terms of IT readiness when compared to other IT destinations in the country?
The State has the complete ecosystem required for the exponential growth of the IT/ ITES Sector. Studies by several international consultants have revealed that Kolkata is an attractive investment destination in comparison to the other IT hubs in the country. The city has a huge reservoir of talent and offers the lowest cost of operations. The attrition rate is the lowest in the country as certified by NASSCOM, the availability and quality of power is best according to Gartner, making it the most preferred IT destination in the country today.
Studies and surveys reveal that in terms of average salaries, cost of living and consumer price index Kolkata has outclassed other IT destinations in the country. All these are backed by a strong social infrastructure network.
Besides, the State Government has pursued a very attractive IT Policy. In addition to the usual incentives the State Government has declared IT as a Utility Service for the state and has provided for a training subsidy and a Venture Capital Fund (VCF) to assist entrepreneurs setting up units in the state.
Has the West Bengal IT industry been affected by the global recession?
The country as a whole is experiencing the impact of a global slowdown. Obviously, our State cannot remain untouched by this phenomenon. Like IT, several other sectors too have been affected by this economic downturn. However, there are neither pink slips flying around nor an increased number of closures. Of course there is a slowdown in projects and some staggering in fresh recruitments. At the same time, I believe that this is a big opportunity for the Indian IT industry.
Few nations have such a vast reservoir of resources and a huge market, we have to take advantage of the current world economic situation and look at the opportunities in the domestic market. Additionally we can emphasize on innovation, improving quality research and development during the period. I feel that this is a passing phase and I am optimistic about the future and feel that things will improve by the next year.
What steps has the State’s IT Department has taken to develop manpower for the IT industry?
The initiative for starting the WEBEL Finishing School was taken up with a view to the imminent future shortage of human resources. We have set-up two schools so far, one each at Kolkata and at Durgapur. These schools function more like a department store where you have fixed courses as well as a provision for tailor made courses. These schools are also envisaged as training cum placement centers where students from small colleges of moffussil towns can be trained for the IT industry and companies are invited to make campus recruitments. These schools are being professionally run with the help of the industry and faculty from IIT Kharagpur. It is our endeavor to open more such Finishing Schools in different parts of the State including Siliguri, Kalyani, Durgapur, Kharagpur and Haldia.
Additionally, a training subsidy has been conceived as an incentive to IT companies to get their employees properly trained. If an IT company hires professionals in the State, trains and retains them for over six months, then the company is eligible to get an employment generation or training subsidy up to Rs 20,000 per candidate. The idea is that if a company is willing to hire and train people on the job in the State the Government is willing to share part of the training cost.
Has the State IT infrastructure kept pace with the growth of IT industry?
The IT infrastructure has kept pace with the growth of IT companies in Kolkata. At present we have about 7-8 million square feet of office space available for the IT/ITES industry and about 20 million square feet of office space is currently under construction exclusively dedicated for the IT industry which will be added over the next 2-3 years time. It will create more than 200,000 job opportunities.
The IT Department through WEBEL is currently developing two mega projects for the IT sector in the vicinity of New Town Rajarhat. Under the integrated IT Township Project called ‘Kolkata Links’ it plans to develop on a PPP model an IT Township over approximately 1,600 acres. Out of the entire area half of the land will be kept exclusively for IT companies and on the remaining land social and institutional infrastructure will be set-up. The State Government has already signed MOUs with Infosys and Wipro offering them 90 acres each in this project.
The other IT Hub will be developed at Jagdishpur Mouza over 330 acres of land where 160 acres of land will be allotted to IT companies and social infrastructure projects will come up on the remaining area.
Both of these projects will have state-of-the-art infrastructure and facility. These two projects will totally change the face of the IT industry in West Bengal which will certainly become one of the most attractive destinations in the country.
The State IT Department is creating a new IT belt on the outskirts of Kolkata. Can you give us some insights into it?
It has always been our endeavor to have more inclusive growth in the State and not keep the IT industry confined to Kolkata. Accordingly the IT Department commissioned PriceWaterhouseCoopers to conduct a study and identify potential IT hubs in the State. The report indicates Durgapur, Siliguri, Kalyani, Kharagpur and Haldia have the potential and required infrastructure facilities to support the growth of IT industry.
In fact the initiative has already yielded results as several companies have set-up operations in Durgapur with 4,000 employed in the town. Siliguri also has some IT companies operating there and more are to follow suite.
On part of the Government, initiative has been taken to develop IT Parks on PPP model at Siliguri and Durgapur. Additionally WEBEL itself is setting up incubation centers at Durgapur and Siliguri. It has floated the EOI for selecting a partner for developing an IT specific SEZ at Kalyani over 100 acres of land.
In Kharagpur the IT Department is setting up an Advanced IT Park for which the land is being acquired. In Haldia a private initiative to set up a 41-storied IT building has already been taken. All these five places have got STPI earth stations providing the required connectivity to fuel the growth of the IT industry.