What ails West Bengal?

Published: Dec 15, 2014

Author: Amit Banka

It is called the City of Palaces, and for a good reason. The first state to be colonized by British, nobody can deny the old world charm the city has. But today as I sit down to pen these thoughts, I can’t help but wonder why Kolkata continues to be old world even today. Be it companies, infrastructure, habits of the people or even state politics – nothing much has changed here.

My first impression of Kolkata was when I visited the city as a ten-year old. Those trips were mostly holiday visits, so all my memories are happy and pleasant. Since then trips have been regular to the place, first for personal and now for professional reasons.

I recently went back to Kolkata for meeting a prospective business partner – an entrepreneur. The city has some very gritty entrepreneurs like the Agarwals, Goenkas, and Lohias among others who have worked and survived in the system. And then there are others like the Birlas and Mittals who decided to move out, and subsequently built their empires someplace else. Last year, a World Bank survey done in partnership with International Finance Corporation (IFC) on doing business in India, ranked Kolkata at the end of the list at No. 17. That survey rankings summarised the ability to get permissions and complete formalities required in setting up businesses in the city. Think startups, and Kolkata hardly has any mindshare.

When the entrepreneurship wave is sweeping the whole country, why is Kolkata untouched? What makes it so tough to work in Kolkata? The city has so much character in every aspect - may it be business, mouth watering food, top class literary talent – each has its own charm. The only new addition to the city’s fabric is the metro that has replaced trams as the preferred mode of transport.

0?e=2122128000&v=alpha&t=t7efE5KXdAlWvOkLddSkBB3PD1ghcc771MwmxnbgqXcTo my mind, there are two things that are probably also the main reasons why growth in the city has stagnated, both reliant on each other for its own existence – the citizens and the government. On one hand you have businessmen, who have worked relentlessly to build their businesses and then there is the actual workforce who seem to lack inspiration in life, or maybe are wrongly inspired.

There is much documentation on the rapid growth of Calcutta under the British rule, and its subsequent degradation owing to the violent Marxist – Maoist movement in the 1960s and 1970s. The communist politics of CPI(M) for over three decades further slowed down the city. Although the political party has now changed, there is not much change in the employment fortunes of the city -- pull-out of Tata Nano from Singur being the most recent example.

Why does such an enterprising city not feature in top growing cities in India? Is the political leadership only to be blamed or is it just the intrinsic low motivation among locals to blame? When India got liberated, Kolkata gathered some momentum due to the economic reforms at the centre. Instinctively I feel that the city is up for a massive churn, up move and change. When the entire country is talking change, progress, growth, it is impossible to remain unaffected. Scions of five very wealthy Marwari business families — the Kanorias, Salarpurias, Dalmias, Patodias and Kayans have formed an angel investment group -- Calcutta Angels, to support startups. Even for Business Doctors, the action in Kolkata has just begun, and going by the initial rushes, this ride promises to be adrenaline pumping!

Posted In: Business Transformation