West Bengal is rolling out red carpet to entrepreneurs as it looks to shun the anti-business image of the state and attract investments to create jobs and erase pain caused to the world-famous Darjeeling tea industry by a long-drawn strike in the hills. The year 2017 started on a mixed note with the bullish outcome of the annual Bengal Global Business Summit and prolonged strike taking a toll on the tea industry. The annual business summit, a pet initiative of chief minister Mamata Banerjee to draw investments into the state, was attended by leading industrialists of the country and had received investment proposals worth Rs 2.35 lakh crore across sectors. These proposals, Banerjee said, would help the state to erase away its negative perception of not being very investor friendly as compared to others like Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and the like.
However, the Darjeeling tea industry faced a severe crisis during the crucial second flush season after the hills’ political parties spearheaded by Gorkha Jan Mukti Morcha (GJMM) called an indefinite strike for separate statehood from the first week of June this year.
The second flush commands a huge premium in the export markets, particularly in the orthodox variety consuming countries of the UK and Europe. The Darjeeling Tea Association (DTA) estimated the industry was staring at a loss of around Rs 250 crore as there was no production as well as loss of export markets, and subsequently approached the Tea Board for a financial package.
Even after the strike which continued for 104 days, the tea planters were unable to resume production primarily on two counts.
Firstly, the tea bushes had grown beyond plucking and the estates had virtually turned into forests owing to lack of upkeep during the strike period, and secondly, the workers had deserted the localities in search of alternative employment opportunities elsewhere. A comforting news was that IT major Infosys agreed to set up its maiden software development centre in West Bengal without the SEZ tag, which it was seeking for long and put the project on hold for years. The state government agreed to provide sops to the IT firm which would help in reaping some benefits.
IT minister Bratya Basu had said that the advent of Infosys would send a strong message to other companies in the similar domain to get enthused in coming to the state.
However, the subsequent blow of the GST, implemented from July across the country, left many small businesses in the state in a quandary and many of them had to close down owing to their inability to upload to the GSTN portal. Banerjee and finance minister Amit Mitra had vehemently opposed the ‘hasty’ decision of the Centre to introduce the GST from April and urged to postpone it till the portal software stabilised. Recently, Mitra said that GST was causing revenue loss for the states and the compensation amount fixed by the Centre would seem insufficient.
For the first time in India, international think tank Horasis organised its Asia meeting in the metropolis.
The state was able to showcase itself before a galaxy of international thought leaders and businessmen during the meet with the promise of attracting investments. In a major initiative, the state government has decided to invest heavily to the extent of Rs 12,000 crore over the next two to three years in infrastructure development to build roads, highways, bridges and water projects.