KOLKATA, INDIA: Didi rolled out the red carpet for industrialists, exhorting them to consider West Bengal as their 'Dreamland' for investment, but administrative mismanagement took much of the sheen out of the event. While the inaugural was well attended, with chief minister Mamata Banerjee being present, the next few days failed to draw crowds.
The 'mismanagement', as described by a section of the local media and industry lobbyists, came to the fore when automobile giant General Motors director Christopher E. Borroni-Bird, who was a guest lecturer, had to wait for hours on the empty dais in the near-empty pavilion to deliver his speech as officials of the state government arrived late.
Borroni-Bird was invited for a presentation on a proposed automated vehicle. The visit of the senior executive of the US carmaker, which is looking for a partner city to explore opportunities in technologically advanced and energy efficient concept car Electric Networked-Vehicle (EN-V), was significant as it raised hopes about the eventual setting up of a manufacturing plant over three years after the Tatas moved the Nano factory out of Singur.
So the initial reception meted out to him was a game spoiler. But industry minister Partha Chatterjee, who had camped at the venue to interact with the businessmen, saved the day as he rushed to the auditorium and took a front seat till the end of Borroni-Bird's presentation.
Later the minister urged him to consider Bengal for the EN-V pilot car project.
The business meet at the city's Milan Mela grounds, inaugurated Jan 9 in the presence of JSW Steel chairman Sajjan Jindal, ITC Limited chairman Y.C. Deveshwar, RP-Sanjiv Goenka Group chairman Sanjiv Goenka and Ambuja Realty Group chairman Harshvardhan Neotia, was marred by the absence crowds in the next five days.
Except the inaugural day that saw the grounds jampacked with industrialists, bureaucrats and the general public, the summit was mainly visited by curious onlookers.
"Bengal Leads", Banerjee's third tryst with industrialists after her Trinamool Congress came to power last May, took place amid statements that the government has no role to play in land acquisition for industrial projects and they need to buy it outright from land owners.
But the chief minister assured the industrialists at the meet that an industrial infrastructure committee would monitor appeals for setting up industries 'case by case', and if there was any 'serious case' the government would look into it.
At the end of the summit, the new government could claim it was a 'success', with the country's largest carmaker Maruti Suzuki proposing to invest about Rs 80 crore for setting up a logistics hub, two-wheeler giant TVS Motor betting big on its Bengal plant to drive sales in the east andP&H Joy Mining Equipment India (P&H Joy), a fully-owned subsidiary of US-based Joy Global Inc, deciding to set up a mining equipment manufacturing facility pumping in $25 million.
It, however, remains to be seen how the new government copes with the lackadaisical attitudes of its bureaucrats to send the right signal to the business community and what it does with its model of direct purchase of lands for industry, which even raised the eyebrows of Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz.
Stiglitz, a former chief economist of the World Bank, recently commented that this model will not work.