Advantage Assam: Happy with the little mind space of India Inc.

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By Utpal Kanta

A Chartered Accountant (CA) was there in Advantage Assam along with his team as Investment Consultant to 4 different firms signing MoU with State Government. On asking what these Investment proposals are, one he mentioned was about taking ATDC owned Prashaanti Tourist Lodges on lease. And when I asked whether there would be any bid for the same, chuckling, he replied, “If we had to go through this complicated process of bidding then why we have come to Advantage Assam?” Hope was flying in a palpable wave through big halls erected to accommodate them and so was lust raising its ugly head.

Despite the high decibel campaign, Advantage Assam made little impact on global audience and there was hardly any proposal which could be labeled as foreign direct investment. Though efforts put in by Assam Government were appreciable as so far no previous government attempted this type of state organized business conclave, the summit has not yielded as much as the state government would like others to believe. The government is now claiming to have attracted more than 1 lakh crore of investment commitments in which nearly 30, 000 Crore has come from Oil & Natural Gas PSUs operating in Assam which they usually invest regularly to scale up their production and meet the operational target. Several large scale MoUs signed by private players are old proposals tweaked further and repackaged in tune of Advantage Assam. For example, proposal of Infinity Infotech Park was biting the dust in different government departments since last several months and got a new lease of life in the charged atmosphere of Advantage Assam.

Next week the Maharashtra government is going to launch the first edition of its Global Investor’s Summit, titled Magnetic Maharashtra. West Bengal last month celebrated Bengal means Business. The list is amusing and so are the titles. You will hardly find any state missing from action in organizing such investors’ summits and surprisingly all are called Global and all fetch business commitments in range of hundreds of thousand crores. Actually sycophants are still in the illusion that it was ‘Vibrant Gujarat’ that made Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister. What they do forget is that Vibrant Gujarat was a phenomenon almost 15 years back and myth of these six digits/seven digits investment commitments has been busted with time. A book, “Gujarat Development Model: A Reality Check”, by Prometheus Publications says that while MoUs close to Rs 21 lakh crore were signed in the Vibrant Gujarat 2011 summit, just above 1% of the promised investments actually turned into reality. Keeping all these in mind, even at very optimistic level Assam is going to have not more than 10000 Cr of private sector investment in coming years.

Summit Theme line “India’s Expressway to ASEAN” itself was totally lost during the summit. No businessman speaking from the dais during the inaugural session even once mentioned about ASEAN. In actual, market of ASEAN countries are already occupied by highly subsidized Chinese, Taiwan and Korean companies and there is hardly any space left for Indian companies. Investment will come only with healthy viability. Most of the investment commitments made during the Advantage Assam are by domestic investors for domestic consumption and it was apparent by end of the summit that government was beating the drum on a wrong beat.

Most of the states disclose the investment committed during these summits along with the quantum of new job opportunities going to be created by these projects, it was not the case with Advantage Assam. Figures like investment intentions worth Rs 1 lakh crore ($16 billion) should create at least 25,000 new jobs. If the state is attracting so much of investments, no one in Assam including the semi-skilled blue collar worker, should be unemployed. Concern of Jobless Economic Growth should be addressed at each level which appeared missing in Govt’s actions at Sarusajai Stadium last weekend.

Appearance of Mukesh Ambani evoked extreme emotions. Several like me were hoping of some expression of Reliance’s interest in Assam’s Oil & Natural Gas fields. Here I agree that emphasis should not be on who came, and who didn’t, and who left quietly. As one of my friends said, “We got nothing but a little mind space of India Inc. for some time and we could happily live with this”.