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Singur Verdict and Didi’s Germany visit – Bengal back on industry map

“Tears of joy” – that was the reaction of Bengal’s Chief Minister on 31 August after the Supreme Court of India termed the land acquisition in Singur illegal and ordered for the land acquired to be returned to farmers. A fight that had started on 18 May, 2006 finally attained fruition. Life came a full cycle for not just Mamata Banerjee, our Didi, but for many of us who had been associated with the Singur andolan.

Back in 2006, the ‘Nano plant’ at Singur was sold to us as a panacea that would magically end all the woes facing the State; it was marketed as the one big investment that would propel Bengal to a position among States that would put other ‘vibrant’ States to shame. True, after three decades of Left rule, Bengal was desperate for a ‘magic pill’.

So, when Tatas decided pull out of Singur, the mainstream media branded Didi as ‘anti-industry’. The West prefixed before Bengal was laughingly referred to as ‘Waste’ meaning there was no hope left for the State. We always maintained we are not against industry. Investors are most welcome to Bengal. However, the manner in which multi-crop fertile land was acquired using cadre-power, the scant regard shown for due process, the sheer arrogance of the CPI(M) propelled the hapless people to rise up against the establishment. The Supreme Court verdict has only vindicated our stand.



Mamata Banerjee in Munich


The Singur verdict will embolden Mamata Banerjee. That she is not against private investment has been demonstrated in the two successful seasons of Bengal Global Business Summit and her trips to UK and Singapore. Despite the huge legacy of debt inherited from the Left Front Government, Bengal has been growing by leaps and bounds. The State’s GVA growth is 12% compared to 7% of India. The industrial growth of the State (8.3%) is also much higher than the national average (5.6%).

In this light, the CM’s trip to Germany was extremely significant. From 5-9 September, Team Bengal (the Chief Minister was accompanied by the State Finance, Commerce and Industries Minister Dr Amit Mitra, Mayor of Kolkata, several departmental secretaries, 29 industrialists and other members of the press) held several meetings at Munich, Stuttgart and Dusseldorf.



Team Bengal at BMW HQ in Munich


At a business conclave at Munich, Bengal CM made an impassioned appeal to investors to come to Bengal. She talked about easy availability of land, power, labour. She made a strategic appeal to move over an incident in the past. The response in Germany has been impressive.Top-level officials of BMW made presentations to Team Bengal during a three-hour meeting. Dusseldorf has expressed interest in making Kolkata their ‘Sister City’.

The opinion about Bengal is changing in the global market. A State which was once known as the Bandh Capital of India was running like any normal day on September 2, when 17 trade unions had called for Bharat Bandh. In fact, the man-days lost in Bengal due bandhs has come down to zero in the last five years. Business conclaves like the one in Munich help bolstering the message ‘Bengal Means Business’.



Standing ovation for Didi after Business Conclave in Munich


The seeds have been sown. The efforts of the State government to woo investors is clearly visible. All eyes on Bengal Global Business Summit, 2017. One thing is for certain: Bengal is back on the business map.


Photos courtesy: Ashok Majumder


Railways Derailed?

As i write this blog entry, news channels tell me that 3 coaches of the Awadh-Assam express were derailed near Moradabad, injuring many passengers. Such is the irony of The Indian Politics that barely thirty six hours after the Minister in charge of the Railways announced frequency of accidents have gone down from 0.25% to 0.17% such an accident had to occur.

The Indian Railways is perhaps the biggest network in the world connecting people across divisions from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. Catering to almost 1.74 lakh people daily, it is also the biggest service provider in the world. Hundreds of thousands earn their livelihood in association with the Railways. Hence managing such a huge organisation and being responsible for such a magnanimous institution is no kid’s play.

Hum Aah Bhee Karte Hain Toh Ho Jaate Hain Badnaam
Woh Katl Bhee Karte Hain Toh Charcha Nahi Hota

In her opening statement to the House, Mamata Bannerjee made it clear that development with social responsibility was the Mantra of her Ministry. While it is known that the Railways is going through a period of “financial instability” with dwindling revenue earnings, the Minister was candid enough to admit that the proposed target of Rs 96000 crore could not be achieved for the last fiscal year. She informed the nation that high operating ratio of 95.3% was a cause of concern, but however, she went on to explain that had the Ministry not had to bear the huge payoffs for the 11th Planning Commission and arrange for the allowances for the Railway family, the operating ratio would have been in the 70s. She also lamented that the effects of inflation were unforeseen. A ray of hope is looming in the sky with improved earnings in January and February, which could eventually bring down the figure of revenue shortfall from Rs 1800crore. “The worst is over” announced the Minister while putting budget estimates of Rs 57634 crore for 2011-12 and making a claim that Railways will exceed 1 lakh crore mark in earnings in the coming year. She did not explain though, how she thinks that could be achieved and with an operating ratio of 92.2% projected, what good such high earnings would be.

Inflation has been a cause of worry for everyone in the government circles for quite sometime now (much to the alacrity of the Opposition) and the citizens of this nation have been the hapless sufferers of the same. The Minister announced she would not burden the people in such scenarios with a fare hike. The industry sector was also spared of any hike in freight rates. In tune with her socialist image Mamata declared many schemes which if implemented could bring about a social revolution in the country, Railways leading the march. Such schemes included housing schemes for 10000 living in urban slums built by the side of Railway tracks in major cities like Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Siliguri. The age for availing senior citizen concessions was brought down to 58 from earlier 60. The success of Izzat scheme boosted the Minister’s confidence and she will roll out the same in new areas.

But in her enthusiasm for populism, she did not forget the growth of Railways. In an attempt to improve the finances of the Railways, Mamata announced the introduction of PPP projects, informed the nation of the MoUs the Railways has signed with several IITs and universities for technological development. Adding social responsibility to the pursuit, Mamata chose such areas for factories which were under developed and facing separatist activities. Jammu and Kashmir landed up with two projects, Darjeeling got one, Manipur and Assam were also recipients of projects. Singur and Nandigram – the symbols of Bengal’s renaissance against Left – were awarded a project each.

Contrary to popular perception, the budget was not biased towards Bengal. In fact Bengal had little to gain from this Railway Budget. A quick read through the text would validate my point. However, the Minister unequivocally iterated the fact that she will work for all states, just like she works for Bengal.

To boost the growth of Suburban Network in major cities, Mamata announced special services for an Integrated Suburban Network in Mumbai, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Chennai. The railways will expand its network to more than 200 new routes, survey for which were announced. Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Bengal and Karnataka were major gainers here. Of the 68 new trains proposed by her, most pass through West Bengal, but other metros like Mumbai and Delhi also had their share. In a bid to strengthen the Metro Services (the only Metro owned by the Indian Railways) 37 new facilities were dolled out to the dying Kolkata Metro. After its creation in 1984, the Metro has seen such huge development plans for the first time.

The budget this year was in sync with the vision 2020 shared by the Minister in her last Budget. However questions of economic viability, services and amenities continue to haunt the Railways. Despite announcement, up gradation to world class station has not yet started. Many “Adarsh” stations are yet to be upgraded with proper services. A box full of promises, work undone, feats achieved and grand hopes for the future as co passengers, the Minister has indeed embarked on the GREAT INDIAN RAILWAY RIDE.

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