In a bid to give an image makeover to West Bengal as a "new business ready" state, the two-day Bengal Global Summit 2016 begins here on Friday, with the state government hoping to draw huge investment commitments from both domestic and international industry captains.
Months ahead of the crucial Assembly polls, the Mamata Banerjee led Trinamool Congress regime is showcasing the event in a grand manner to dispel the negative perceptions about Bengal in business circles and attract much needed big ticket projects that would in turn ensure jobs for a large number of unemployed youths.
The state, where the East India Company first set up base ushering in British colonial rule for two centuries, was known as an industrial hub till the first decades of independence.
However, militant trade unionism and what critics have called a deteriorating work culture saw a flight of capital and the industrial scenario turned bleak over decades.
Though the erstwhile Left Front government – that was in office for a record 34 years till mid 2011 – has been largely blamed for the decline, the scenario has remained unchanged, and even worsened to some extent, since Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee took over.
Her hands-off policy on acquiring land for industries, and widespread allegations of thriving extortion rackets have turned away prospective investors. Consequently, heads of India Inc’s big guns like the Tatas, Birlas and the Ambanis – regulars at the Vibrant Gujarat Global Investors Meet – have so far given a miss to the Bengal summit.
However, Reliance Industries chairman and managing director Mukesh Ambani attended Banerjee’s investment meet in Mumbai in 2013, and speculation is rife that he may be the star attraction in the upcoming summit.
State Finance Minister Amit Mitra who was camping in Mumbai to woo the country’s top industry mandarins, asserted the investment commitments in the coming summit would surpass last year’s figure of Rs.2.43 lakh crore.
"We will surpass last year’s investment commitments of Rs.2.43 lakh crore. Besides India Inc., you will see a lot of interest from foreign investors," said Mitra, while not disclosing names of industrialists expected to be present.
In the run-up to the summit, the Bengal government had organised an investment road show in New Delhi in September.
Business delegates from a host of countries including the US, Britain, Japan, China, South Korea among others would participate in the summit that focuses on emerging areas like start-ups, design, intelligent cities, IT/ITes, financial hub and industrial infrastructure.
Besides Bhutan Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, Union Power Minister Piyush Goyal, Railways Minister Suresh Prabhu and Minister for Road Transport, Highways and Shipping Nitin Gadkari are expected to be present at the gala event. Bangladesh commerce minister Tofail Ahmed and British Minister of State for Employment Priti Patel are also scheduled to attend the summit.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal,his Bihar counterpart Nitish Kumar and RJD supremo Lalu Prasad have also been invited by Banerjee. Kejriwal would be present at the inauguration ceremony, according to official sources.
With the opposition targeting her government over the poor industrial scenario and flight of capital from the state, Banerjee has been widely publicising the event inviting investors to "ride on the growth".
Claiming that the state has outperformed the country on several economic parameters, Banerjee has been calling Bengal as "the destination for industries today".
The event would include plenary sessions addressed by national and international entrepreneurs, sectoral breakaway sessions and business to business (B2B) and government-to-Business (G2B) interactions along with expositions and exhibitions.
Exuding confidence about the success of the summit ASSOCHAM President Sunil Kanoria stressed on the need for knowledge-based service industry hub.
"To arrest the ‘brain drain’ and convert it into ‘brain gain’ the state government should seriously consider positioning itself as a knowledge-based service industry hub by setting up more number of institutions for research," said Kanoria.