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Bengal Global Business Summit: It’s Again ‘Much ado About Nothing’, say Critics

Industry observers say that signing MoUs does not mean real investments are coming, as seen in earlier such summits held in the state during TMC rule.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee with ITC Chairman and Managing Director Sanjiv Puri, former West Bengal Finance Minister Amit Mitra and other industrialists during a valedictory session of the Bengal Global Business Summit 2023, in Kolkata, Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2023.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee with ITC Chairman and Managing Director Sanjiv Puri, former West Bengal Finance Minister Amit Mitra and other industrialists during a valedictory session of the Bengal Global Business Summit 2023, in Kolkata, Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2023. Image Courtesy: PTI

Kolkata: The Bengal Global Business Summit (BGBS) held recently in Kolkata has once again proved to be a costly affair for the state exchequer, with corporate captains being hosted by the government. Once again, investments worth crores in the form of memoranda of understanding (MoUs) with corporates were announced, which, in terms of actual projects, are a far cry, as seen in the earlier six summits, say critics.

This year, the West Bengal government also cancelled the tender given to the Adani group for construction of Tajpur port and has called for open tender again.  Interestingly, unlike the past two years, when the chief guest was Gautam Adani, this year he was present. This year’s chief guest was Mukesh Ambani, who reportedly announced investments worth Rs 40,000 crore in the state in phases over the next few years.

Addressing the BGBS, Ambani referred to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee as ‘Agni Kanya’ (Woman of Fire), as the Trinamool Congress leader was named by former Prime Minister and Bharatiya Janata party leader Atal Bihar Vajpayee.

This seems to be the only take-away from the corporate summit by the Chief Minister, who was interested in making this summit more of a political statement, said an industrialist who attended the summit but did not wish to be named.

In 2015, after the BGBS summit, the state government had announced MoUs worth Rs 2.43 lakh crore, in 2016, the signed amount was Rs 2.50 lakh crore, in 2017, it was of Rs 2.35 lakh crore, in 2018, Rs  2.19 lakh crore and in 2019, the total sum of the MoUs signed was Rs 2.85 lakh crore.

In 2022, the West Bengal government announced that 137 MoUs had been signed, worth Rs 3.42 lakh crore.  But the BGBS press note is silent about the rate of actual conversion of these MOUs into projects in the state. According to the Central government’s department of policy and promotion, only 4.16 % of these investment proposals are in pen and paper.

Furthermore, it has been learnt, that according to a disclosure made in the Assembly, the state labour minister informed the House that in the past few years in the state, about 177 factories had closed and 29,084 workers had lost their jobs. The number of factories closed during the erstwhile Left Front rule was 83, which has now gone up to 177, which includes 94 big and mid-level factories.

In 2008, when the Left Front government was in power, investment proposals worth Rs 95,000 crore had come in. During that time, to stall the industrial progress of the state, the TMC had created a law and order problem in the state that led to the state losing a big project in Singur, which was almost 80% complete, say Left sources.

After coming to power, the TMC government is now finding it hard to attract investments. According to TMC critics, the ruling party, in its political urge to showcase something to the people as a positive outcome from the BGBS, is tom-tomming that it has roped in cricketer Sourav Ganguly as the brand ambassador of Bengal after the summit. Ganguly, who recently invested his shares, obtained after acting as the brand ambassador of a TMT bar making unit, in a factory in Kharagpur, has just about started as an industrialist.

According to political commentator Anjan Bera of Calcutta University, the business scenario in the state is gloomy, hence there is “no question of newer companies coming to the state to open shop”.

Amidst such a scenario, West Bengal is now becoming one of the biggest sources for cheap migrant labour for the entire country, with people flocking outside the state to do menial jobs. All because job opportunities are steadily shrinking in the state, he told NewsClick, adding that announcements made in the summit are “much ado about nothing”.

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