On the road to all-round growth

Published : Jan 02, 2004 00:00 IST

West Bengal is making rapid strides in the fields of industry, tourism and culture, and this fact has increased outside interest in the State.

in Kolkata

THE World Bank, in its report published in February 2002, adjudged West Bengal one of the two States in India with the strongest focus on growth. The State's performance has been impressive in recent years. Industrial production has grown at an annual rate of 4.6 per cent. The average annual growth of State domestic product (SDP) during the Ninth Plan stands at 7.2 per cent as against 5.4 per cent in the case of the gross domestic product (GDP) of the country during the same period. During 1991-2002, as many as 3,044 proposals for industrial investment in the State, totally valued at Rs.60,454.55 crores, were received, and 658 projects, involving an investment of Rs.22,101.15 crores, were implemented, providing employment to 89,895 people. Last year alone, the total investment in different types of large and medium industries was Rs.4,683 crores, a significant jump from the Rs.1,541 crores the previous year.

Some of the major projects implemented last year included the construction of two five-star hotels (Asian Hotels Ltd of the Hyatt Group and ITC Sonar Bangla), the upgradation of blast furnace 3 of Durgapur Steel Plant, a cement plant of Larsen & Toubro (L&T) at Durgapur, the gas turbine of the Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) at Haldia, an edible oil plant of M.P. Glychem at Haldia, and the cotton processing plant of Ruia Cotex Ltd. One of the major projects implemented in the current year is the polyethylene terephthalate (PET) resin project of South Asian Petrochemicals Ltd. This project is at Haldia and was set up at a cost of Rs.450 crores. Some of the other major investments made are in the IOC's refinery at Haldia and in a large number of small iron and steel plants.

The industries in the downstream sector of Haldia Petrochemicals Ltd. (HPL) have been developing steadily. Since 1998, 537 HPL downstream industries have come up - 499 in the small-scale, 34 in the medium-scale and four in the large-scale sector. These units have brought in investments to the tune of Rs.382 crores and provided direct employment to around 13,161 people.

The State government in its pursuit of industrialisation, has been ably assisted by the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation (WBIDC), the premier State government agency responsible for the promotion of industrial and infrastructural investment in the State. Apart from this, the WBIDC has taken up two projects - the Gem and Jewellery Park and the Toy Park - under a `build and transfer' scheme. The West Bengal Electronics Industry Development Corporation (Webel) is the nodal agency for the development of the electronics industry and is the facilitator for the development of Information Technology (IT) in the State.

The West Bengal government has identified IT as a priority sector to be developed into an engine of growth. A NASSCOM (National Association of Software and Service Companies) study, published in August 2002, on the competitiveness of nine Indian cities for the IT-enabled services (ITES) industry, ranked Kolkata fifth. The State government wants the State to emerge as one of the top three IT States in India by 2010 and account for 15 per cent of the country's total IT revenue. Today its contribution stands at around 3 per cent.

For the benefit of investors, procedures under existing labour laws have been simplified to ensure smooth operations. All IT companies have been granted the status of Public Utility Service providers under the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947. They have also been awarded special status under various Acts to improve infrastructure availability.

Some of the big names in IT to have set up shop in Kolkata include Wipro, GE Caps, Satyam, Reliance, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), IBM, Cognizant Technology Solutions, and United Sky Tech. According to government sources, 12 big international companies have shown interest in setting up units in the State and are in touch with the West Bengal government.

For IT development, Kolkata has some inherent advantages over other cities. First, the State has a huge pool of talent to draw upon. There are 52 engineering colleges, with more being added every year. West Bengal also offers IT investors one of the lowest operational costs in the country. This is reflected, reports a CMIE (Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy) study, in the low consumer price indices as compared to other key IT destinations in the country (355 for Kolkata as against 454 for Chennai, 413 for Bangalore, 410 for Hyderabad, and 401 for Delhi). Another important factor going for Kolkata is the low attrition level, which has prompted NASSCOM president Kiran Karnik to observe: "Kolkata's strength is the low attrition rate, which is embedded in the culture - people will not leave jobs for a Rs.500 a month increment." This in turn reduces the training cost incurred by employers. In Kolkata, the attrition rate in ITES stands at only 10 per cent, as against 25 per cent in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore, and 15 per cent in Chennai and Hyderabad.

Kolkata offers about 580 mbps (megabits per second) of international satellite connectivity through Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd. (VSNL) and Software Technology Park of India (STPI). About 70 per cent of this bandwidth is available to new players. The State government is planning to set up two more earth stations, at Kharagpur and Durgapur. West Bengal is also one of the few States that can boast of being power-surplus.

Moreover, the State offers excellent physical infrastructure to IT investors - such as the STP2 in the Salt Lake IT hub and privately constructed parks like Bengal Intelligent Park and Infinity. The State also makes plots available for new IT projects at an enormously subsidised rate of Rs.40 lakh an acre (Rs.1 crore a hectare), which is 15-20 per cent of the market price.

"Looking at the intrinsic strength of West Bengal, it can be said that the State is poised for a major IT revolution. We have been aggressively marketing West Bengal as a major IT destination through seminars and conferences like `Infocom 2003' in November and `IT East' in September and others," G.D. Gautam, Principal Secretary, IT, told Frontline. Since 2001-2003, Kolkata has achieved a 119 per cent growth in the sector, while Chennai has achieved 46 per cent, Maharashtra 45 per cent, Hyderabad 36 per cent and Bangalore 29 per cent. The all-India growth rate is 36 per cent in the said period.

The State has also undertaken an aggressive e-governance programme to inter-connect 3,600 gram panchayats and all the municipalities, in order to ensure community participation of people.

The Indian tourism scene leaves much to be desired. Despite having a wealth of attractions - natural, historical and cultural - India accounts for only 0.4 per cent of the global volume of foreign tourist inflow. The average number of foreign tourists coming to the country annually is only two million (as against a domestic tourist volume of 100 million), and the total foreign exchange earning is only around Rs.7,000 crores. But the tourism industry is considered one of the largest net foreign exchange earners in the country and also one of the biggest in terms of employment generation.

West Bengal, in spite of having practically all that is required to make it a tourist hub - from the Himalayas in the north to the Bay of Bengal in the south, wildlife, forest areas, the Sunderbans, historical sites and heritage places - accounts for only 5 per cent of India's tourism, while Mumbai and Delhi together account for nearly 80 per cent. Of the annual domestic tourist movement of 100 million, West Bengal's share is only 4.3 million. The State government has therefore come up with a policy that will aim, among other things, to achieve the following:

(1) To promote the kind of tourism which is in keeping with the established value systems and based on local traditions, culture and art, and at the same time, adhere to rules and regulations relating to environmental protection. (2) To promote West Bengal as a desirable tourist and investment destination. (3) To create adequate employment opportunities for the people of the state and augment the general revenue earnings. (4) To improve the quality of life in general. (5) To increase the foreign exchange earnings of the country. (6) To create infrastructure in the form of hotels and resorts essentially to serve as a base for promoting tourism in a planned manner to support future growth of industries in the State.

On September 11, 1996, the State government declared tourism as an industry, amending the West Bengal Incentive Scheme, 1993 (for medium- and large-scale industries), so as to incorporate a group of tourism units (those commercial establishments in West Bengal providing facilities and services to tourists) for benefits thereunder. As a result of this amendment, the incentives and benefits under the West Bengal Incentive Scheme, 1993, will be available to the following tourism units: hotels, motels, heritage hotels, yatri niwases, yatrikas, resorts, railway travel projects on the pattern of `Palace on Wheels', aerial ropeways, and camps and facilities encouraging adventure tourism.

The State government has also drawn up a 10-year perspective tourism master plan, envisaging an investment of Rs.475 crores. The district administrations have been asked to identify virgin spots that can be developed as tourist destinations and also land for setting up tourism projects. The State Department of Tourism is in the process of upgrading existing lodges run by the Tourism Directorate and West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation Ltd.

In hill stations like Darjeeling, Kurseong, Kalimpong, Mirik, Sandakphu, Phalut and Ghoom, the facilities available are not adequate to promote `quality tourism'. Although these places are major tourist attractions, it is mostly `budget' tourists who frequent them. In order to make them destinations of `luxury' tourists as well, the State government, in consultation with the Darjeeling Gorkha Autonomous Hill Council (DGAHC), is in the process of setting up tourist complexes in the interior hill areas. Steps are also being taken, through private sector investments, to provide adequate facilities for `luxury' tourists.

The Sunderbans is another priority area that the State government seeks to develop into a tourist destination. On November 28, a Memorandum of Agreement was signed between the State government and Sahara India Ltd for a Rs.500-crore "world class floating city project" and also for promoting the Sunderbans as a "global destination". The project will spread across 250 sq km, complete with an artificial sea beach, a tennis court, a cricket ground, health clubs and restaurants. Sahara India's working president Subrata Roy assured the government that preserving the environment would be Sahara's first priority.

The State government has also launched an awareness campaign to promote eco-tourism in the State. Darjeeling Hills, the Dooars, the western forest tracts and the Sunderbans are the thrust areas identified for developing eco-tourism.

Another thrust area for the Department of Tourism is heritage sites, historical buildings, palaces, churches, mosques, temples and monuments. Places such as Murshidabad, Malda, Bankura and Vishnupur, among others, which are rich in history, are being promoted as tourist destinations. Efforts are on to restore and preserve historical structures. The State government is also reportedly considering setting up a Tourism Advisory Council and a Tourism Advisory Committee to further the scope of tourism in the State.

Kolkata has all along prided itself as being the `cultural capital' of India, even at the expense of being accused of cultural snobbery. There is, however, no denying the fact that many talented film directors have made their mark in recent years, carrying on the tradition set by giants like Satyajit Ray and Ritwik Ghatak. It is no fluke that Bengali films bagged a large number of national awards the last year. This year too, the State government, in spite of a financial crunch, organised the international film festival at Nandan, the cultural hub of Kolkata. Complete with a library, art gallery, auditoria and cafeteria, Nandan is patronised by, among others, Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee himself, who is a poet and playwright of no mean distinction. His interest in culture is vouched by the fact that he continues to hold the portfolio of Information and Culture in the State Cabinet, and was the inspiration behind the setting up of a number of auditoria in different parts of Kolkata to promote quality programmes. "We have been relentlessly pursuing the task of building up a mass-oriented cultural ambience, giving necessary thrust to promoting indigenous culture," Bhattacharjee has said.

The State government runs 33 Rabindra Bhabans, one in each district, set up as part of the birth centenary celebrations of Rabindranath Tagore in 1961. (The idea was to provide people a venue to express their talent, particularly through the poems, songs and plays of Tagore. In some places they were set up as registered societies, in others they function under the government.) It has established five academies and councils, namely, the Paschimbanga Bangla Akademi, the Folk and Tribal Cultural Centre, the State Music Akademi, the Rajya Charukala Parishad, and the Natya Akademi, each pursuing its own defined objectives. The Paschimbanga Bangla Akademi has for the last six years been an autonomous body under the Department of Information and Culture (I&C). Other than conducting research work on different subjects, the Akademi also maintains close contacts with individuals and other institutions engaged in literary and linguistic pursuits. Similarly, the Rajya Charukala Parishad, which is directly under the administrative control of the I&C Department, plays a pivotal role in the field of art and sculpture, organising workshops and seminars in various parts of the State and also an annual three-month art appreciation course.

Arguably the biggest cultural event in Kolkata is the annual Book Fair, which is perhaps the second-largest fair of its kind in the world after the Frankfurter Buchmesse. For years, the book fair was held in the Maidan area of central Kolkata. But the Calcutta High Court recently stipulated that that site should not be used for exhibitions and fairs. The State government, however, has promptly found an alternative site near the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass.

The State government is also very active in promoting films not only in Kolkata but also at the district and subdivisional levels. Although there is no dearth of talent in the Bengali film industry - the national and international awards that have come its way over the years speak for themselves - unfortunately, it has been in the doldrums for quite some time. To arrest this trend and also to protect the interests of cinema hall owners, the State government has removed the upper ceiling on the basic rates for the halls. Moreover, Nandan organises an annual film appreciation course.

The West Bengal Film Development Corporation (WBFDC) is engaged in the screening of films as well as their distribution. Its colour film laboratory, Rupayan, extends post-production infrastructure for film-making to eastern and southeastern India.

The State government, through its Directorate of Archaeology and Museums, is engaged in the excavation and exploration of archaeological sites and the conservation of monuments. It also holds exhibitions and brings out publications.

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