AmCham – USIBC Interactive Breakfast Briefing at the Bengal Global Summit
On 8th January 2016, AmCham and USIBC organised an Interactive Breakfast Briefing on Friday, January 8, 2016 at the Pan Asian in the ITC Sonar Bangla for the USIBC delegation and AmCham members. The briefing session commenced with an introduction by Mr. Ajay Singha, Executive Director, AmCham, who began with an overview of AmCham’s support to the Bengal Global Business Summit. He then invited Mr. Joydeep Datta, Partner, Deloitte, to make his opening remarks. Mr. Joydeep Datta stated that Bengal is rich in natural resources, agricultural commodities, food grain cultivation, jute, marine products, inland aquaculture and human resources. He added that Bengal must build on its strengths as it had great potential.
The next speaker was Mr. Dinesh Agarwal, Partner, EY India, and Chairman, AmCham Eastern Region, who said that Bengal is now open to business and there is a buzz in the air about the favourable economic conditions in the state.
Mr. Ajay Singha then invited Mr. Sanjay Nayaar, leader of the USIBC delegation, and CEO, KKR India, to make his remarks. Mr. Nayaar stated that things are changing in Bengal and the perception is good now, albeit there is a lot more that needs to be done, given the potential that the state has for economic development.
The special invitee from the Government of West Bengal was Mr. H. K. Dwivedi, IAS, Principal Secretary – Finance, who at the outset stated that Bengal is now poised for growth and a lot has been done by the present government. He mentioned that though land is an issue in Bengal, given the huge population and the pressure on land availability, the state government has a land bank of over 4,000 acres earmarked for the manufacturing sector. He added that due to certain unfavorable instances in the past, there is a perception issue, which needs to be managed proactively and that the Bengal Global Business Summit will address these issues. He said that the state is on the growth trajectory and that the bureaucracy is empowered. The state has several projects under the PPP mode, while government expenditure on infrastructure and the social sector has grown several fold. Mr. Dwivedi added that the government is now easily approachable and invited investors to see Bengal in a different light and to ride the growth in Bengal by investing in the state.
Consul General Craig L. Hall began by recalling that the United States has a historic and commercial relationship with Kolkata that goes way back to 1792, when the first diplomatic and commercial post was established in Kolkata. He added that the U.S.-India relationship is on track to grow into a truly defining relationship encompassing many spheres spanning across education, economic, tourism, business, defence etc., of which the economic relationship is the foundation. He added that the old stories of inertia in Bengal do not hold good anymore and the state needs more FDI. He went on to say that domestic businesses are happy in Bengal and that today there is competition between states to attract investment. He said that a strong relationship with the neighbouring states of Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar and Bhutan is good for India. Consul General Craig Hall emphasized that what India and the U.S. working together in the areas of health, environment, education etc., is incredible and is more than any other geo-political relationship.
During the interactive session, Mr. Mallik of CISCO extolled the rich and varied resources of Bengal and it was for the state government to work on perception management, talk about success stories and leverage technology to leap frog in the growth index. He added that CISCO has recorded 45% growth YOY in the eastern region and it is the best in the last 5 years.
In response, Principal Secretary Dwivedi said that the state has a clear plan to improve the ease of doing business, dispelling negative perception, adopting technology, developing a growth oriented ecosystem and work on media management.
Mr. Sanjay Nayyar said that perception over riding reality and clearly the need was to sort out issues with respect to land and industrial relations.
Mr. Rajat Banerji of Amway stated that his company was proud of the fact that their business model is providing livelihood to hundreds of thousands in Bengal and the East of India.
Mr. Ashish Bose of RDSI mentioned that infrastructure projects should be expedited within the set time frame for people to see progress. He added that the cost of doing business in Kolkata was the lowest when compared to other metros.
Mr. Debashis Chatterjee of Cognizant said that Bengal was missing the bus by not permitting SEZ’s to operate in the state.
In response, Principal Secretary Dwivedi said that the land issue is a national issue and that the Land Reforms Act needs to be amended. He added that only the manufacturing sector required large chunks of land, which was available with the state and can be given on a case-by-case basis. He added that cropping was extensive in the state and the pressure on land is high. On labour, he said that there has not been a single IR issue in the last 5 years in the state. On the ease of doing business, he said the Factory Act has been reformed, a single window system has been introduced for speedy clearances, land conversion and land mutation have been made transparent and is being done in a specific time frame. The state is continually improving and improvising too he said. The Principal Secretary also said that the power situation in the state is very good and over Rs. 13,000 crores has been spent on infrastructure. There is transparency in conducting business with the government and e-tendering is now mandatory for all procurement.
On the SEZ issue, Principal Secretary Dwivedi replied that there is a general aversion to SEZ’s in Bengal and that the subject is still being discussed. He added that when GST is introduced, nothing is exempted and that there is no incentives as far as tax is concerned. He said that the state is considering opening of coal mining and introduction of a policy for extraction of iron ore and other minerals. He added that the state has approved a policy for a deep sea water port at Sagar Island and a JV is on with 35% state equity.
On skill development, Secretary Dwivedi said that the state has build capacity for 16 lakh people in low and semi skilled trades and has a conditional placement policy in force. He added that 341 ITI’s and 100 polytechnics in the PPP mode have been operationalised and the second NASSCOM incubation center is being established in Kolkata.
Mr. Ajay Singha thanked all participants for their time and valuable inputs and requested the Principal Secretary if AmCham can begin a dialogue with the state government, by conducting a survey amongst AmCham members in Bengal on issues that they needed a resolution, which could then be discussed with the government with Principal Secretary Dwivedi as the point of contact. Mr. Singha thanked Mr. Joydeep Datta and Deloitte for graciously agreeing to sponsor this breakfast briefing session.
All participants then proceeded to Milan Mela for the opening plenary session of the Bengal Global Business Summit.