With ‘tied hands’ CM woos investors

Builders' body lists obstacles, but Mamata & Co keep mum.

"My heart is with you but my hands are tied." With these words Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Thursday conveyed to the industrialists that her government, which is under a "collosal debt", has very few options to help them in investing in the state.

Speaking at the three-day conclave on urban infrastructure development "Bengal Builds" that began at Kolkata's Milan Mela today, the Chief Minister indicated that her government cannot offer fiscal sops and benefits to lure industry like others due to its financial constraints. "What Mumbai, Delhi, Gujarat, Chennai can offer we cannot as our situation is different from them," Mamata said and as usual she blamed it on the "legacy of 34 years of Left Front rule".

"The demands (of companies) are genuine but our options are limited," she said, adding that the situation is so grim that the state has to even think how to pay its employees their salaries on time.

However, according to her what could lead the business houses to invest in Bengal is that the rest of investor-friendly states have become "saturated". "We have not. So people should come and invest here,'' she added. Among other positive aspects of investing in the state, she said, was the reduction in the loss of mandays — "from 68 lakhs in 2009-10 to 60,000 in the first six months of 2011-12".

However, the Chief Minister soon had to face tough questions from Confederation of Real Estate Developers Association of India (CREDAI). The association's president Lalit Kumar Jain asked her to usher in reforms to make housing for the masses affordable. Jain urged the CM to repeal the Urban Land Ceiling Act and pointed to the bureaucratic delays in getting permission for the projects. "Delay in getting approvals raises the project's cost which ultimately leads to an escalation in the price of property. Unless there is fast approval, mass scale development in the housing sector can never happen," Jain said and added that repealing the Urban Land Ceiling Act would boost housing business. He also said "high rate of tax on property" was hindering the growth of the housing industry.

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