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EastlyExpress: West Bengal, North East & the pandemic

, May 19, 2021, 0 Comments

pandemic-coronavirus-india-north-east-countries-marketexpress-inInsights on Trade Relationship between India & its North East Neighbours with Pratim Ranjan Bose, Co-founder- Eastly Express | Researcher, Kolkata.

Ezilarsan PKP: As Election has concluded in WestBengal, From your point of view, which are the three areas the new government should focus on and why?

Pratim Ranjan Bose | EastlyExpress:   First and foremost, the State should gear up for private sector-led economic growth to improve employment outlook. Such an initiative requires creation of a pro-business eco-system which will help attract large investments. This is currently lacking.

Behind the garb of high GSDP growth rates and high employment ratios, West Bengal is a basket case for low-level equilibrium and low affordability. The employment numbers we see do not talk much about the quality of jobs, which is abysmally poor in the State.

The agricultural wage hovers between Rs 150 and Rs 250 a day in peak seasons. This either makes a large section of the population unduly dependent on income support schemes like NREGA or they go out of the State, as seasonal labours, better returns.

The educated and aspiring are the worst sufferers of the stale job scenario. The share of the 20-29 year age-group is alarmingly low in Kolkata when compared to any other Indian metro, indicating flight of quality human resources.

Such exodus of quality manpower further weakens the State’s prospect in attracting quality investment. This must change.

Second, West Bengal must shun its confrontationist attitude and maintain good relations with the federal government so as to extract maximum benefits for the State.

eastly-expressEastlyExpress is a management consulting firm, focusing on these countries – Bhutan, Nepal, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand. It conducts research and analysis in the social sciences, primarily focusing MSME policy, economy and economic development. For consulting and strategies: Connect with us : eastlyexpress@gmail.com

Prosperity rarely comes in a conflict-ridden environment. To break the vicious cycle of low-level equilibrium, West Bengal needs rapid industrialization, which is possible when the Centre and State work in tandem.

Unfortunately, such an environment has been lacking in Bengal for nearly four decades. Tamil Nadu made full use of the economic liberalization to report dramatic growth in investments between 1991 and 2001. West Bengal wasted precious time in opposing liberalization. The State grudgingly opened the doors to private capital in 1994.

The positive effects of good Centre-State relations were proved beyond doubt over the last two decades. West Bengal remained when Odisha and Sikkim reported dramatic growth in industrialization. The regional politics in both the States were consistent in ensuring good relations with each and every government in Delhi.

Third, assuming the State shuns confrontationist politics and focuses firmly on growth; it should work on two important aspects: modern urban infrastructure and logistics.

The share of urban population is distinctly high in West Bengal. However, there is a distinct lack in modern urban infrastructure. All major States have more than one prominent city.

Apart from Mumbai, Maharashtra has two major economic hubs in Pune and Nagpur. In MP, Bhopal is the political capital but Indore is the commercial centre. Tamil Nadu, Karnataka has a number of large towns and cities with all city amenities as available in Chennai or Bengaluru.

But, in West Bengal almost everything is centered in Kolkata. It means, they lack either in terms of urban infrastructure or connectivity. West Bengal needs to address this for fast economic growth.

For example, Siliguri has all the potential to redevelop a premium private education hub. The State is witnessing a huge exodus of students to other States and South Asian countries, for costly quality education. Why cannot these top-notch universities, schools establish campuses in Siliguri and attract students from the entire North East and neighbouring Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan etc?

Improving transport logistic is a prerequisite to go for this big game. North Bengal suffers from a perception of isolation. We need top class highways, high-speed rail, multiple major cities, modern airports and last but not the least a sea-port to break the jinx and start afresh.

Ezilarsan PKP: Can WestBengal become a gateway of prosperity for North Eastern Countries?

Pratim Ranjan Bose | EastlyExpress:

To put it differently, it will be difficult for Northeast India to optimize its growth potential unless and until, West Bengal thrives. A few examples can prove this point. Though the North East is overall import dependent on food, seasonal production in the region suffers from low price due to low demand.

The problem can easily be solved, by exporting a part of the seasonal production. North Eastern States, like Assam are trying that but the results are not very encouraging so far, due to remoteness of the demand centres in Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru etc. A thriving West Bengal could have offered wider opportunities to North East India.

There are many such examples.

Ezilarsan PKP: Coronavirus has affected all states. In that context, what are your two suggestions to the Central Government by which we can all fight the pandemic effectively.

Pratim Ranjan Bose | EastlyExpress:

(a) In India federal structure, Centre can formulate the policy but States own complete control over the delivery mechanism. In India there is wide disparity in this delivery mechanism between States. The recent controversy over ventilators proves this point.

Taking a lesson from the first wave, the Centre went whole hogged in procuring ventilators and distributing them to States. The initiative failed to yield optimal results during the second wave as many State hospitals do not have the basic prerequisites – like piped oxygen supply or technical staff – to make use of these life-saving apparatus.

For better readiness and improved healthcare in the country, India therefore needs an immediate audit of the country-wide health infrastructure, mitigating the gaps on an urgent basis and putting in place an institutional mechanism to prevent any repetition of such neglect in the future.

 (b) This is a little long-term initiative. India probably needs a body, preferably a constitutional body, beyond the immediate control of either the central or State governments to keep an eye on health issues and flag non-implementation or delay in projects on a real-time basis. Health cannot be an issue of one-upmanship at central or State level. Also, there cannot be any excuse to not ensure adequate health facilities of a consistent standard, across the country.

We learnt many lessons from the first wave. We rapidly increased the testing facilities from barely two in the country to a few thousand in a couple of months. But once the wave slowed down, everyone lost focus. States diverted attention from creation of testing capacity. Money was allotted from the PMCares for oxygen plants in States, but its implementation suffered.

An efficient, independent, neutral body can make timely intervention to  flag such issues and make its recommendations binding to both the Centre and the States.

EastlyExpress is a management consulting firm, focusing on these countries – Bhutan, Nepal, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand. It conducts research and analysis in the social sciences, primarily focusing MSME policy, economy and economic development. For consulting and strategies: Connect with us : eastlyexpress@gmail.com