The West Bengal government is focusing on “people-centric applications” in adopting emerging technologies and its goal is to take these technologies to the grassroots level, state commerce and industries minister Amit Mitra said on Saturday.
Speaking on the second day of the two-day “Emerging Tech Conclave”, organised by The Express Group here, Mitra, also the state finance minister, said that major tech companies are now flocking to Bengal to compete for orders convinced by the “transparent and competitive bidding process, embraced by the Mamata Banerjee-led government.”
During a “Fireside chat” with The Indian Express executive director Anant Goenka, the minister said, “Overall, our goal is people centricity in technology. We want to take technology to the grassroots level…We must have technology, which affects, positively, the common people.”
On adopting emerging technologies, he said, “What we are looking at is where exactly can we apply blockchain. We have massive amounts of land records. We are looking at whether it is possible to use blockchain, we are also looking at the health sector. We are looking at adopting blockchain in the city traffic control system.” In the process of soil testing for agricultural growth in the state, the government will look at high-level technology like artificial intelligence (AI).
To a question raised by Goenka on how difficult it had been for the state government to work with major IT companies, Mitra said, “How did we engage with tech companies? We have absolutely, transparently and competitively bidded out, where nobody could raise a finger… After seeing the transparent tendering process, the tech companies are flocking to Bengal to compete for orders.”
The minister said it was not easy for the Trinamool Congress government to change the mindsets of the people and government employees after coming to power in 2011 by defeating the 34-year-old Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front. “I think the change has been huge, the challenge was huge. The year before we came to office, the man-days lost was 78 lakh due to strikes. It took two years to bring that to around 5,000 man-days lost in a full year. And within the fourth year, it was zero, and is persisted to be zero.”
His government focused on capital expenditure on creating physical assets like roads, hospitals and schools, Mitra emphasised, adding that capital expenditure increased 8.5 times during its rule. According to him, other states are now emulating West Bengal’s e-governance system. “Punjab wants to emulate the excise model of our e-based excise. Bengal got the highest award in e-taxation in India. The state has also got the highest award in Integrated Financial Management System,” he informed.
To a question, Mitra averred that despite the Tata Nano controversy at Singur, the Tata group had witnessed the largest growth in the state compared with any other groups. “TCS (Tata Consultancy Services) today employs around 40,000 people in Kolkata, they have applied for a piece of land, and we have agreed… Tata Hitachi and Tata Metaliks are also expanding here.”
The minister said Reliance Jio will be opening a unit on 40 acres of land at the ‘Bengal Silicon Valley IT Hub’, the state’s flagship project. Last month, chief minister Mamata Banerjee said her government had received applications from four major companies for setting up units on around 74 acres out of 100 acres of land at the Silicon Valley IT Hub. The big names include Reliance Jio, TCS, Capgemini and Firstsource Solutions, among others.
Notably, the government is developing the project in the style of ‘Silicon Valley’ in California for knowledge-based enterprises with the objective to invite large investments in the information technology sector for higher industrial growth and employment generation.
The chief minister had unveiled the state’s own Silicon Valley, spread across 100 acres in New Town, in August this year. Banerjee had urged IT companies to choose Bengal for fresh investment, highlighting availability of physical infrastructure, adequate talent and low attrition rate as key ingredients that the state could offer. The government is now planning that the area earmarked for the hub would be doubled to 200 acres, buoyed by ‘warm’ response.