Given Gujarat got R25 lakh crore of investment MoUs in its just-concluded Vibrant Gujarat summit, West Bengal’s R2.43 lakh crore seems minuscule. But what’s important is the enormous distance West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has traversed since, in 2008, she launched an agitation against Tata Motors acquiring land in Singur and successfully drove it out of the state, into the waiting arms of Narendra Modi, then chief minister of Gujarat. Today, as full-page advertisements in various newspapers including this one will testify, the state is proudly proclaiming the success of its Bengal Global Business Summit. It is too early to say whether this new-found enthusiasm will translate into ease of doing business on the ground—should the investments actually fructify, each one of them will for instance, require land, so it remains to be seen how Banerjee deals with this. Yet, there can be no doubt there has been a big change in how the state functions today.
Thanks to the online collection of taxes and digitisation of tax systems brought in by the Trinamool Congress, without any hefty increase in the tax rates, the state’s revenue receipts—as a percentage of GSDP—have risen from 10% in FY11, the last year of the Left rule, to 11% in FY12, 11.6% in FY13 and 12% in FY14. The state’s own revenue, which is a better yardstick to judge the state’s efforts, has risen from 4.5% in FY11 to 4.7% in FY12, and 5.2% in FY13. While it would beincorrect to give all the credit for this to the Trinamool since other states have also witnessed a hike in tax revenues, largely due to better VAT compliance, the growth could have been lower as it was during the Left years. The state’s latest budget has, for instance, reduced the profession tax schedule from 100 entries to just 4 and has introduced automatic web-based registration for dealers. There is a Large Taxpayer Unit for big taxpayers to get single-window clearances for all taxes, attempts have been made to end the inspector raj and no sales tax officials can now visit any registered dealer without a written instruction from their superiors. Labour reforms are still a long way off in a state with the highest lockouts in the country, and that may still trip up the Bengal Global Business Summit, but this is a good beginning.