avi Das

Avi has over 3 decades of experience as a communication professional. His experience has prepared him to go deep into complex and abstract topics to unpack and explain them in a simple manner to the target audience of his clients. This skillset he applies to his other interests, be they defence, strategy, Indic Studies, history and any topic which has an effect on India’s future.

The Nine Steps Bengal can take to revive its economy.

1. REINVIGORATE METROPOLIS:

Urban centres are the hub for providing employment, entrepreneurship and innovation. This is where service innovations can happen. Yet, most of our urban centres are now an ill-planned mess. The focus should now be regentrification and rethinking the old, while creating pockets of new.

Way Ahead: Create a super-urban megapolis around Kolkata (Baruipur to Kalyani). Create new urban centres around Kharagpur (education, entrepreneurship), Siliguri (logistic), Durgapur (industry). Similarly create other Educational Townships (this leads to the second point).

2. REINVIGORATE HIGHER EDUCATION:

Bengalis tend to take to education like duck to water. But, for too long the best of the state have been moving out – an erosion that has converted the place into a geriatric ward. The need is to depoliticise educational institutions and get private institutions to open-up a variety of niche academies. Unless we retain our talent, we would continue to erode the value of the state. This talent can not only fuel sunrise areas such as Robotics, AI, but also enhance creation of widespread education tourism standards.
Kolkata is the hub for East and North East. The state provides great scope for attracting students from all over, especially the North East to come and study here. Kolkata, Kalyani, Kharagpur, Durgapur, all have great scope of turning into educational centers, provided professional educational excellence is prioritized and is not treated as a greenhouse for sprouting political cadres.

Way Ahead:
– Allow for ancillary and cutting-edge technical institutes to come up around Kharagpur.
– Create a variety of institutes towards design, arts, architecture, creative arts around Shantiniketan.
– Allow pure science and allied streams (be it semiconductors or other cutting-edge application) to flourish.
– Allow university townships to be created within 50 km distance from Kolkata.
– Beyond medical college, service, and hospitality, create agricultural and food processing institutes (minimum one each for each district).
– At least double the intake of medical seats from the current capacity. Allow these to come up in a cluster with medical management and engineering/technology institutes. Associated medical requirements will only grow.

The Educational sector can prove to be both a builder and earner for the state. Keep the young in the state. Make the state talent rich; that will provide incentive for industries to access talent. They will marry where they study and the future they focus on building, will help build the state.

3. REINVIGORATE MEDICAL INFRASTRUCTURE OF THE STATE:
Kolkata is the gateway to medical access for Bangladesh and the North East. Now, a huge number go to Vellore and the South. This state used to be the seat of medical education as also medical services. Now, no more so. And COVID has exposed the sorry state which the state is in. This needs priority attention.

Way Ahead:
– Improve the infrastructure.
– Along with medical colleges, increase the number of hospital beds. Not only will the Human Index rise but will also create a demand to help set up medical supply and instrumentation industry.
– Replicate the success of Vellore and soon the state will not only be pumping health into the economy, but also increasing the attractiveness of the state as an industrial destination (provided other factors are also looked into).
– Just like Vellore, focus on creating a medical township in the outskirts of Kolkata, Malda, Siliguri.
– Convert West Bengal into a medical hub not just for NE or Bangladesh but also for countries like Myanmar.
– Grow medical and hospital equipment manufacturing hubs. Give these hubs government contracts to start supplying to hospitals in Bengal and use them as springboards to supply to others.

4. PROFESSIONALISE THE POLICE SERVICE AND REIN IN RENT SEEKING:

I don’t even know if this is politically possible. Yet, I don’t see the state attracting industrial investment until there’s an impression that rule of the law is instituted here. Moreover, a police service which is focussed on creating harmony instead of acting as a rent seeking arm will only raise the stature of the state to help professional organisations open centres and manufacturing units here. Not just them, the political parties will have to truly look upon acting as facilitators to industries, rather than leading them in only to act as parasites.

5. REVITALISE AND PROFESSIONALISE PORT AND LOGISTIC OPERATIONS:

It makes more sense for Nepal to use Visakhapatnam port than to use Kolkata, despite the distance. That speaks for the efficacy and efficiency of our Port. Were the Port to be optimised organised and professionalized, its throughput increased to international levels, not only would it become the natural gateway to NE, but would also provide the foundation on which SEZs/industries can flourish.

6. GIVE MSMEs THE ROYAL TREATMENT:

After the fiasco of Nandigram and Singur, big industries keep paying lip service, but refuse to enter Bengal; they just wait and watch. MSMEs, sunrise industries, niche industries however can be enticed in. They will be greater risk takers and faster decision makers. Once they start reporting success, other industries will follow suit. Thus, as they say in cricket, focus on getting your ones and twos; the boundaries will follow.

7. LOOK UPON BANGLADESH AS A MODEL AND ATTRACT LABOUR INTENSIVE INDUSTRIES FOR SEMI URBAN AREAS:

Be it garments, leather, whitegoods, electricals, as people look at moving production out of China, readying Bengal to be a destination is an idea. We need to focus on getting low-skill, labour-intensive organised mass employers set up in the state so that we are able to move people from lower/lower-middle to middle/upper-middle class. This used to be an area that Bengal once thrived in. It will need some strategic mapping to rekindle and revitalise it.

8. IMPROVE INFRASTRUCTURE SO THAT BENGAL CAN EXPLOIT ITS TOURISM POTENTIAL:

There’s a lot of tourism micro and mid enterprise happening in the state. They need a leg up. What they need is accessibility, organisational support and help, and a state department providing them help in generic support in publicity, management, story building, performance audits, benchmark and standard setting. The tourism potential of this state, despite its rich history, biodiversity, sea to mountain presence remains grossly under-exploited.

9. USE LOCAL NEEDS TO SET UP LOCAL INDUSTRIES, WHILE FOCUSSING ON INDUSTRY 4.0:

Bengal can be many things (like an aerospace hub for instance). Get onto the IOT bandwagon. Given that it has been without industry for so long, it has no legacy burden to bear. It can jump into the latest areas pretty fast. But, beyond that, it will need a base of low tech and mass-employable production. From creating the electric Toto, creating new urban transport, to creating medical and hospital requirements, Bengal should look at becoming a manufacturing hub which has a ready local market. There’s a whole ship building industry on which Dhaka is stealing a march, which we could well have serviced.

Summary: We have to ENVISAGE & CREATE A BENGAL WHICH SERVICES FROM Chattishgarh to its West to Myanmar in the east and every area in between. In short, through Public Private partnerships, the state could well focus towards crank up its economy to reach $500 billion in the next 5-10 years.

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