KOLKATA: West Bengal needs to develop its infrastructure, including roadways and a deep sea port, to attract investment, former Chief Economic Advisor (CEA) Ashok Kumar Lahiri said. Lahiri, now a BJP MLA, also took on the TMC government over its populist schemes, stating that if anything is offered free of cost, “it is actually not free” as any spending has to be borne by taxpayers.
Listing the reasons for the dearth of investments in West Bengal, he said, “First is our unfortunate history of militant trade unionism. However, it (this culture) has improved.
“Secondly, infrastructure — I travel from Hyderabad to Bangalore, which is the same distance as Kolkata to Siliguri (576 km), in six-seven hours. I keep going to Balurghat from Kolkata by road, which is 472 km, but it takes me over 12 hours,” he added.
“The other thing is (the lack of) a deep sea port. Look at all the coastal states, from Gujarat to Odisha, everyone has a deep sea port. We have this riverine port of Kolkata, which may have been good enough for Job Charnock but it is not good enough for us.
“Unless infrastructure improves, it is impossible to develop industries,” he said, addressing a session at the Bharat Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday.
He said that if the state has to develop the MSME sector, it needs to rope in big industries — around which the small ancillary units will grow.
“In Bengal, the problem of MSME is that there is no supply chain. There should be a mother plant and then there should be ancillary units. Scaling up is also needed,” he said.
Asked about the pressure of population on land, which makes it unavailable for infrastructure developments, Lahiri told PTI, “We need infrastructure because of the population density, and it cannot be made an excuse (for not taking over land for infrastructure development). If the population density is very high we need better roads.”
Lahiri, a member of the 15th Finance Commission, also slammed the state government, claiming that it was infringing on the autonomy of institutions like the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) to continue its populism.
“I was surprised to see that parking fees were increased by the KMC, which is a self-governing body, and then the chief minister came in and said you cannot increase this. Cars are not driven by poor people. It seems to be populism all the time. I would be very happy if the government says that if you want good service, you have to pay more. Corruption should also stop.
“What is happening in many states, including West Bengal, that when the government says it’s free, it’s actually not free, it’s not available. I go to my district hospital and I am amazed by the situation of patients there. Those guys don’t mind paying Rs 50-100 a night (for treatment), but they want the service,” Lahiri said.