Bengal might need special package to fight debt crisis

Written by Sudipta Datta | Indronil Roychowdhury | Updated: May 16 2011, 07:21am hrs
Just a day after the landslide win, Amit Mitra, key points man for Mamata Banerjee's agenda of change for West Bengal, took some time off his busy schedule to talk to FEs Indronil Roychowdhury and Sudipta Datta. Heaping praises on Mamata Banerjee, he said she is courageous to the core, and alone took up the challenge to end 34 years of Left rule but admitted that there's a weight of responsibility on him and the new government. Once he took the decision to join Banerjee, Mitra was instrumental in formulating the vision document or manifesto of the Trinamool Congress, setting 200-day and 1000-day targets to bring about a change in industry, agriculture, healthcare, education, tourism. Closer to the end of the six-phase polling when it became clear that change was imminent, Mitra went into a huddle with the TMC top-brass in policy-making meetings. Mitra, who is widely expected to be the next finance minister of Bengal, says he is already in talks with investors to woo them to the state, but declined to reveal names, just yet. Excerpts:

Bengal is cash-strapped and needs urgent investments. Should we expect announcements on this count soon After all, you have set yourself a 200-day target to revive industry and other sectors.

I have already proposed to 10-12 industrialists to invest in West Bengal and all of them gave a very positive response. I cannot name these industrialists yet. But immediately after my victory, I started getting congratulated by many of my industrialist friends. I quickly asked them to invest in West Bengal, telling them that just congratulations do not mean anything to me. Many of them earlier had facilities in the state but shifted because of the environment was not conducive (for investment). But now they feel that West Bengal may be a suitable industrial destination.

What according to you are Bengal's strengths and which are the sectors where the state can expect private investments

West Bengals key strengths are its mineral resources, strategic location and abundant water for industrial growth. But most importantly, there is a clear mandate, which brings political stability for five years. So, the new government will bank on it for industrial growth.

What are some of the steps you expect the new government to take

Well, the announcements will come from Mamata Banerjee. But we have been continuously holding meetings on policy matters. As you know, we have set specific goals for the first 200 days and 1,000 days - to revive Bengal.

We gave a lot of time to the vision document and Banerjee has taken a direct interest in it. Her knowledge of the land of Bengal has been of immense help to us in the formulation of these plans.

For instance, in our manifesto, we have said that we will set up 17 clusters across the state in the first 200 days. Banerjee asked us exactly which cluster should come up and where. We also want to attract private investment in engineering, steel, tea, jute, power, mining and so forth.

One of the key concerns is that the Bengal government is sitting on a huge debt...

The outgoing government has made it (the debt situation) worse by borrowing more than Rs 5,000 crore in 45 days. That reduces our borrowing capacity by 50%, and ruins half of our chances. We might need a special package to get out of the crisis.

What has been your experience in your constituency, Khardah

If you take my constituency as a microcosm, a rural/urban mix - and it was represented by a heavyweight, finance minister Asim Dasgupta - I was appalled to see that there still issues like water, lack of power, lack of drainage etc. This is not a back-of-beyond place, it's just half an hour from Dumdum. We have our task cut out. The Left hasn't been in touch with ground realities.