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Bengal is first off the block, to woo investors today as pandemic makes way for business

Gautam Adani, K.M. Birla & Businesspersons From 14 Countries Set To Attend. Summit Was Annual Event Before Covid, But Questions Were Raised About Its True Impact On Investment.

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File image of West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee (centre) and Finance Minister Amit Mitra (right) with global industrialists including Mukesh Ambani at the Bengal Global Business Summit in February 2019 | Photo: ANI

Kolkata: When it comes to wooing investors, West Bengal has stolen a march on other states to hold India’s first business summit since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Industry stalwarts including the likes of Gautam Adani and Kumar Mangalam Birla are set to attend the two-day Bengal Global Business Summit (BGBS), which is being held in Kolkata Wednesday and Thursday.

Last week, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had said that businesspersons and industrialists from 14 countries would participate. 

“No state has dared to hold a business summit in the past two years in this Covid situation. West Bengal will be the first state to hold one. I believe there is no gain if there is no pain, so I have taken the risk. Fourteen countries will be participating. Industrialists should not be scared; they should be encouraged,” Banerjee had said at an event in Kolkata last week.

In November last year, Banerjee had met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and requested him to inaugurate this sixth edition of the summit. But there was no clarity till even a couple of days before the summit whether he would do that. 

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The BGBS became an annual event of the state government in 2017. However, it could not be held in 2020 and 2021 because of the Covid-19 pandemic and the resultant lockdowns.

The state government has, over the years, faced criticism for being unable to bring major investment to West Bengal, a former industrial hub. Two big projects currently in the pipeline are the Tajpur deep-sea port, which entails a Rs 7,000-crore investment, and the Deocha Pachami coal block — the largest mining project in India — which hasn’t begun yet. 

According to Amit Mitra, principal chief adviser to the CM and former state finance minister, West Bengal had received investment proposals of Rs 12.3 lakh crore through the BGBS from 2015 to 2019. “50.27 per cent of the investments received till 2019 are in implementation mode. Employment generated through these investments is to the tune of 28 lakh,” he wrote in a letter to Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar last year. 

West Bengal is among the few large states in India that saw a positive GDP growth of 1.06 per cent in 2020-21, despite the pandemic and Cyclone Amphan ravaging the state and its revenues. Bengal ranked ninth in the Business Reform Action Plan 2018-19, a ranking by the Centre on the basis of states undertaking reforms in 12 major areas including “access to information, single window system, labour, environment, etc.”

Rajiva Sinha, chairman of the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation, said in a press release, “West Bengal has registered growth during the pandemic. The government has taken major strides in the ease of doing business. As a result, compliances have been reduced and business laws have been simplified. The government is geared to provide training and bear the cost of training labour. Man hours lost by businesses owing to strikes and lockouts is almost nil.”

‘Highest economic growth’ claim

Just ahead of the summit, the West Bengal government had placed a full-page advertisement in newspapers, inviting investment. The advertisement said the state had the highest economic growth in 2020-21. This was in reference to the growth in the per capita state domestic product (SDP). 

This indicates the value of output that can be attributed to each individual in the state in 2020-21. Simply put, it determines the prosperity of a state by economic growth per person in that state. Economists often use the SDP data when comparing growth rates among different states. 

However, data with the National Statistical Office shows that in 2020-21, Mizoram was the top state in per capita SDP growth at 12.03 per cent, with Bengal coming second at 7.72 per cent. 

Additionally, this data is in terms of current prices, indicating the nominal value of the output. In contrast, when per capita SDP growth at constant prices — adjusted for inflation — is considered, the rankings are different.

In terms of SDP growth at constant prices in 2020-21, the data shows that West Bengal at 1.06 per cent ranks ninth, after Mizoram (13.03 per cent), Tripura (3.96 per cent), Sikkim (3.73 per cent), Manipur (3.19 per cent), Bihar (2.50 per cent), Goa (1.62 per cent), Tamil Nadu (1.42 per cent), Andhra Pradesh (1.39 per cent).

In the last three years to 2020-21, West Bengal’s SDP growth at current prices declined from 13.09 per cent to 7.72 per cent. In 2020-21, at current prices, the agriculture, manufacturing, and service sectors made up 23 per cent, 20 per cent, and 57 per cent of the economy.