In the first ever World Bank Ease of Doing Business study released in late 2015, West Bengal ranked 11th among the states, one notch lower than Uttar Pradesh. Since then, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has been going all out to improve the tarnished image of the state, holding business conclaves and seminars and even flying to Mumbai and London in an attempt to woo investors.

 

But as mjunction CEO and MD Viresh Oberoi said, “Reputation, once acquired, is difficult to shed. West Bengal’s image as an industry-friendly state has taken a severe beating over the last few decades. Despite that, between 2011 and September 2015, Bengal saw investments of ₹6,871 crore. To be fair, that is certainly not enough. Also to be fair, the political and industrial climate has not always been favourable.”

 

West Bengal has been mired in financial controversies for the past few years. The Sarada Ponzi scam is a shadow over its head that it hasn’t been able to shake off till now, with top government functionaries being named and arrested. No sooner did the Sarada scam show signs of fading from public memory, a sting operation — Narada — brought more trouble for many Trinamool Congress leaders. The image the rest of the country has of Bengal is one of corruption and the “un-ease” of doing business.  

 

Reputation, once acquired, is difficult to shed. West Bengal’s image as an industry-friendly state has taken a severe beating over the last few decades. Despite that, between 2011 and September 2015, Bengal saw investments of ₹6,871 crore. To be fair, that is certainly not enough. Also to be fair, the political and industrial climate has not always been favourable

 

Just four days before Bengal went to the polls, the Enforcement Directorate filed its first charge sheet. The ED filed a criminal complaint under provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002, against former Trinamul Rajya Sabha MP Srinjoy Bose, a former minister Matang Sinh and his estranged wife and Sarada chief Sudipta Sen, besides six others.

 

To date, over a dozen Trinamool Congress MLAs and MPs have been accused in the Sarada case and several of them have resigned. Former Bengal transport minister Madan Mitra has been in jail for over a year now after the CBI accused him in the Sarada case. Another suspended TMC Rajya Sabha MP Kunal Ghosh is in jail while film star and MP Mithun Chakravarty expressed his desire to step down recently.

 

Also read: Amit Shah stings Mamata Banerjee on Narada Sting

 

Asked about how the Trinamool had fared in attracting industry to the state, Mohd Salim, CPM leader, said, “So Mamata Banerjee held these jamborees to cozy up to industrialists. But what was the result? Only fly-by-night operators came to Bengal.  The industries that were in the pipeline, which were being brought in by the last government, went back because of lawlessness and misrule.”

 

In spite of its many sins, many of Bengal’s top notch industrialists speak in favour of the Trinamool regime. Even as election fever rages through Bengal, which will vote the next government in the state to power on May 19, Banerjee met members of the Gujarati and Marwari business communities at a conclave in Bhowanipore of Kolkata.

 

Although the businessmen at the conclave sang praises of Banerjee and her “industry-friendly measures”, there were hush-hush discussions of getting more businessmen there to attend BJP national president Amit Shah’s rally in Bhowanipore.

 

“The biggest threat in the country today is “ease of doing business”. Let procedural issues be resolved. We shouldn’t have to fill out 100-page forms. The department of industrial policy and promotion has guidelines for states to follow so that India is no longer ranked poorly in terms of business environment,” said Sumit Mazumder, chairman MD of TIL Ltd.

 

Certain obstacles and issues remain in improving infrastructure which must be removed so that living in the city becomes easier. There is also a negative perception about West Bengal which needs to be removed through stronger branding

 

Harshavardhan Neotia, chairman of the ₹2,000-crore Ambuja-Neotia Group, said, “Certain obstacles and issues remain in improving infrastructure which must be removed so that living in the city becomes easier. There is also a negative perception about West Bengal which needs to be removed through stronger branding,” he said.

 

Sanjay Budhia, managing director, Patton Group, is a well-known industrialist in eastern India. “We have several plants in the state and have not seen one day of lockout or strike. There is a system of transparency with e-governance, e-tendering, e-procurement…. We applied for a new factory licence and got it within 24 hours. So, the proof of the pudding is in its eating. From the next government we want only one thing and that is growth, growth, growth,” said Budhia.