'Land acquisition disputes, downturn cripple West Bengal's economy'

Friday, 28 November 2008, 11:03 Hrs
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Kolkata: The Tata Nano is gone; tyre maker Dunlop has suspended production in its Sahaganj unit and projects ranging from a ship repairing yard to power station are locked in land disputes. All these developments point towards one major question - Is West Bengal's industrial future bleak?

The state's industrial scenario, which looked upbeat even earlier this year, now suddenly seems bleak. On top of that, the global economic downturn has only made things tougher for the state's industrialists.

The state faced several problems since Oct 3, when auto major Tata Motors shifted its plant to produce the world's cheapest car, Nano, from the state to Gujarat's Sanand due to farmers' unrest over alleged illegal land acquisition.

The next big blow came when Dunlop India stopped production at its Sahaganj unit Nov 17, citing global recession.

"The state's prospect is bleak. The state is not receiving many investment proposals, and chances for major investments remain thin during this time when the world is reeling under recession," Abhirup Sarkar, a professor of economics at Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata, told IANS.

But some other experts think things would turn around after some time.

"The economic picture is gloomy not only in India but all over the world. Rather than being critical we have to be patient now," said Bikram Dasgupta, chief executive of IT company Globsyn Technologies.

"Lots of people have invested in the state and I hope things will change towards a positive direction from the second quarter of 2009-10," he said.

According to Harshavardhan Neotia, chairman of infrastructure major Ambuja Realty Development: "No new investment can happen anywhere at this time. We have to wait till the general economy revives worldwide."

He thinks the economic situation will start becoming better in a year or two.

On Nano pullout and Dunlop shutdown he said: "Though these incidents have had a bad impression on the image of the state, people are now more worried about the economic meltdown."

On a similar note, Sanjay Budhia, president of the Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told IANS: "West Bengal is not the only state that is hit by the economic downturn. Closure of factories and layoffs are happening everywhere in the world."

He added that the companies should focus on cost-cutting, and the workforce should pay more attention to increasing productivity.

However, the youngsters of the state seem extremely pessimistic about the current economic scenario, as insecurity in the business has slowly started affecting them.

"This liquidity crunch has taken away our peace of mind. Every one of us has run up huge credit card bills. The market is down and we don't know what lies in store for us in the future. Many of us are also falling sick due to tension," Niladri Das, 27, employed with a private bank, said.

"In West Bengal, we were very upbeat even six months back about the future. But the land disputes that started off with the Nano project, seem to have stalled all industrialisation bids. Nothing seems to be happening which can make us hopeful," Das said.

The tussle between the government and farmers over land acquisition for industries has nit not only the private sector.

The state-run West Bengal Power Development Corp's 3,000-MW super-thermal project at Katwa in Bardhaman district has also run into trouble after the authorities tried to acquire land.

The landowners, mostly poor peasants, refused to part with their fertile land.

A question mark also hangs over Apeejay Group's ship building yard at Geokhali in East Midnapore district. Though the government has issued a notification for land acquisition, a large number of land owners are steadfastly opposed to giving their land.

The economic gloom has severely affected the job market.

Prosenjit Dutta, 33, a multi national bank employee, said: "There is employment freeze everywhere. This will shortly lead to huge unemployment problem."

"Though the government is assuring of economic stability in the country, still we are sceptical how far it can insulate people from the present shock," he added.
Source: IANS
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