Thursday, May 22, 2008

America’s Bengal diagnosis

Calcutta, May 21: The day parts of rural Bengal fired a shot across the industrialisation bow, America, too, let loose a warning volley.

A cocktail of plentiful bandhs and scarce infrastructure is not a nourishing tonic for industrialisation, the outgoing US consul-general, Henry V. Jardine, reminded Bengal today.

Jardine, who was speaking at an interactive session at the Indian Chamber of Commerce, said a culture of intimidation and threats through bandhs was not conducive to industrial growth, especially when many American companies were thinking of expanding operations in the state.

“You could get hurt if you go to work; this kind of strategy cannot be conducive to industrial development. Such forms of intimidation and threats cannot be a legitimate way of expression in a vibrant democracy like Bengal and India,” Jardine, who is nearing the end of his term, said.

Political parties, he added, should pause before they call a bandh.

Sectors badly affected by bandhs are IT, IT-enabled services and consultancy that have the maximum presence of American companies such as IBM, Genpact, PwC and Deloitte.

The IT and ITES sectors have been conferred the status of public utility service provider to ensure companies can work through the year, but 74.19 per cent of such companies surveyed in the city recently by a chamber had said the “reality” was different.

“On paper, we do have the status. However, the way things have been in the last six months, with frequent bandhs, it does create a lot of problems for any 24x7 operation,” said a top IT official who declined to be named.

Jardine struck a warning note on infrastructure, too — an issue with longer-term implications than bandhs. The US envoy made it clear that addition of a few roads was not enough to create infrastructure for development.

“Though the government is seeking foreign investment in these areas (infrastructure), these projects need to be large and visionary in scope to create potential for future investment and development,” he said.

Asked about the issues raised by Jardine, state commerce and industry secretary Sabyasachi Sen said: “This is not an opportune moment to comment on such issues. People are entitled to their opinion.”

Some of Bengal’s major road infrastructure projects that have hit a stumbling block include the Haldia-Kolaghat connector and expansion of National Highway 34, while the deep-sea port project off the Nayachar islands is tied in red tape.