RAGHUNATH VISHWANATH DESHPANDE, Karnataka’s Minister for Large and Medium Industries, has been a busy man for months, preparing for Invest Karnataka 2016. He led delegations to several Indian cities and visited Lima, Mexico City, Dubai, Paris and San Francisco in a bid to woo investors for the event. Excerpts from an interview he gave Frontline :
What are the takeaways from Invest Karnataka 2016?
We want to make Karnataka “The” destination for investment in India. But… we are not going to make the same mistake of being unrealistic and just quote big numbers. This time the focus was on realistic achievements, realistic targets. We wanted to meet investors and showcase Karnataka to them, show what Karnataka has to offer by way of infrastructure, facilities, transparent tax policies, rules and regulations, fiscal benefits, massive investments in human capital, ease of doing business, responsible and stable government. We wanted to provide the platform for interactions between investors and the government. And I can say with all humbleness that we succeeded in doing all this. There was a tremendous response from the investor community, trade bodies, the political establishment, consular offices. And it was not just Bengaluru that we wanted to showcase, we are creating infrastructure and encouraging investment in our tier-2 cities, be it Mysuru, Manguluru or Hubballi.
You seem very bullish…
An E&Y [Ernst and Young] report I released in New York last December clearly indicates that at the present juncture when many economies are experiencing a downturn, India has the best potential to attract FDI [foreign direct investments]. And in India, Bengaluru is the preferred destination. India, besides being a huge market in itself, is also a good platform for the South East Asian markets. The government must develop the infrastructure and give it to investors. Industry is a partner in our growth.
Previous Global Investor Meets have turned out to be exercises in numbers. Many promised projects did not take off.
Yes, I am aware of this criticism. That is why we were not preoccupied with signing MoUs. That was not the focus. But I must highlight that we have already cleared projects worth Rs.1.75 lakh crore and after very careful consideration and vetting, signed MoUs worth a further Rs.1.33 lakh crore. In order to ensure that the MoUs and the interest shown by investors are realised and turned into actual investments, I have directed that a senior official follow up on every investment offer of over Rs. 200 crore and give a report by May 15 and see that all projects are approved by high-power committees and single-window committees before May 15. During this global meet we perhaps for the first time identified 145 projects that were ready for investment in the State.
You were able to rope in a number of Union Ministers for Invest Karnataka 2016 despite them belonging to the political opposition. Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley called you the “moving spirit” behind the meet. Are you surprised?
When it comes to issues concerning development there is nothing like States and political rivalries or opposing personalities. The Centre and the States will have to come together to make the country investor-friendly. That is what we have tried to do. Inviting the Union Ministers was done in this spirit and they responded most positively. Make in India is the Centre’s flagship programme. Karnataka, besides having its own programmes, is also in tandem with the Make in India initiative. Yes, there is competition among the States to attract investment. But that is good. I am also happy with the Centre’s move to rank States on the basis of ease of doing business. This will enable investors to know exactly where each State stands. The neighbouring States, be it Telangana, Tamil Nadu or Andhra Pradesh, have also had similar events to attract investment to them and create jobs. They have also offered a number of incentives. But incentives are not everything. You can’t beat the ecosystem, law and order, stability and knowledge pool that Karnataka has.
Finally, are these mega meets needed at all?
Investments are a key to the prosperity of a State. Without investment there can be no jobs and no funds in the exchequer for social and economic uplift of the weaker sections. These summits demonstrate the responsiveness of the government machinery to meet investor expectations. It is also an opportunity for SMEs [small and medium-sized enterprises] and young entrepreneurs to interact and learn from global business leaders.