Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee became the Chief Minister of West Bengal on October 28, 2000, after Jyoti Basu stepped down from the post. As a senior member of the Jyoti Basu Cabinet, he held the portfolios of Home (Police) and Information and Culture. He began his new assignment with the slogan 'Do It Now'. In an interview to Kalyan Chaudhuri, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee spoke about his experiences of the past year and his plans for the State's development. Excerpts:
You have completed one year in office. What are the major achievements of your government in this period?
We have consolidated certain areas in the field of agriculture. While maintaining the spectacular success in food production, we have been emphasising agro-based production and trying to diversify into horticulture and fruit cultivation. What is most encouraging is our achievements on the industrial front. The flow of investments here, compared to the rest of the country, has been quite high in the past year. We are certainly in a better position, considering the economic uncertainty prevailing in the country now. Investment-wise, we have already attained the fourth position among the States.
You have been talking about transparency in the functioning of the government. How successful have you been in making the administration more transparent?
This is a continuous process. We shall always try to be as transparent as possible in our activities. It cannot be brought about overnight. Government employees have also begun to realise what this government truly wants and are acting in such a way as to bring about the necessary changes.
What has been the response to your slogan 'Do It Now'?
I sincerely believe that unless we finish immediately what we have started, we shall never be able to progress. There has been some positive response from a good section of the administration to my appeal to work hard. Of course, this is not the case at all levels. I hope it will be so soon.
West Bengal's success in the agricultural sector is well-known. Recently some problems have arisen with the farmers not getting proper price for their produce.
The price of paddy this year has come down abnormally and farmers have been forced to sell their produce at throwaway prices. This is a problem not just in West Bengal, but in all the States. We should think seriously about giving subsidy to the farmers, and every State government should come forward to buy the paddy at a proper price. Finance Minister Asim Dasgupta and I have already talked to Reserve Bank Governor Bimal Jalan about financial help from banks for the direct purchase of paddy from the farmers.
Of late, multinational companies have shown interest in agriculture. Do you not think this will work against the interests of farmers?
We want foreign investment, particularly in the fields of horticulture and the cultivation of fruits and herbs. But we must make sure that all this is not achieved at the expense of poor farmers. We should not forget that the strides in the field of agriculture and allied sectors have created the necessary base for industrial development.What are your plans to develop industry?
The Left Front government has no hesitation in welcoming foreign technology and investment on mutually advantageous terms. Our industrial development policy is directed towards promotion of employment and productivity, rehabilitation of sick industries through a process of reconstruction, modernisation and diversification, and protection of the legitimate interests of the workforce, taking into account the overall health and productivity of the industry. We have been able to attract Rs.14,961 crores as investment over the past three years. The industrial situation in West Bengal is now undoubtedly congenial for attracting investments. Earlier, big industrialists had a misconception about the State. Our main objective now is generation of employment. Already big companies such as Larsen&Toubro, Mitsubishi, IBM, Hindustan Lever and Siemens have entered the State. Quite a few more have shown interest in investing in West Bengal.
What is your opinion on the survey report of the U.S. consultancy firm McKenzie Group, which has identified certain thrust areas in the State for industrial development?
The McKenzie report is encouraging. It has identified potential investors in information technology (IT) as well as agro-based industry. In IT, our growth is tremendous. IT-related services are growing. For investment in IT and agro-based industry, we have started a dialogue with some leading companies.
Despite the expansion of job opportunities owing to new investment, the unemployment problem is still acute in West Bengal. Why?
Industrial slump is a countrywide phenomenon. West Bengal has also been hit. The situation is really bad. On the one hand, new industries in the State are creating job opportunities. On the other, the Centre is closing down public sector units, throwing a large number of workers out of jobs. Last year the plastic industry alone employed over 19,000 people. IT created jobs for nearly 16,000 people. But a large number of employees have been thrown out of jobs, with the Centre closing down 21 of its engineering units. It has already declared that nine of the 12 mills under the National Textile Corporation will be closed down soon. We shall have to find a solution in this difficult situation. Our emphasis should be on the development of small-scale industries such as those in leather and hosiery.
What is your record in the areas of health and education?
The literacy rate in West Bengal is over 70 per cent, more than the national average. Our universities are rated highly. We have set up quite a few medical and engineering colleges.
Regarding health services, West Bengal is the only State where the public health system provides health care to 70 per cent of the population. This proves that unlike the governments of most other major States, the Left Front government has not avoided its responsibility of playing a crucial role in an important social sector like health. The latest State-wise figures regarding this crucial sector, published by the Central government, reveal that in spite of limitations, the Left Front government of West Bengal has been able to achieve a lot of success in advancing health services. The Left Front government has now undertaken a scheme for further development of the health sector with the help of the World Bank at a total cost of Rs.701 crores.