In a financial mess, Punjab hard sells investment to industry

Last Updated: Mon, Dec 09, 2013 12:10 hrs

Mohali (Punjab), Dec 9 (IANS) Faced with mounting debt, no new investment, flight of industry and out of control land prices, the Punjab government has ventured into its latest exercise of attracting investment for "Progressive Punjab" through a high-profile investors' summit which began here Monday.

On the face of it, Punjab's Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, who is himself a successful billionaire businessman with interests in hotels, media, real estate and agriculture, is targeting an investment of Rs.50,000 crore and more as he hosted giants of industry and trade. The summit is being held at the Indian School of Business (ISB) campus here, 10 km from Chandigarh.

Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani, steel tycoon Lakshmi Niwas Mittal, ITC chairman Y.C. Deveshwar, Hero MotoCorp's Sunil Kant Munjal, Biocon chairperson Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Bharti Airtel chairman Sunil Mittal, G.V.K. Reddy from GVK Group, DLF vice chairman Rajiv Singh and other leading industrialists are in town for the summit.

At least 21 memorandums of understanding (MOUs) were signed Monday by various industrial houses and the Punjab government.

"We have got tremendous response from industrial houses and will make this event an annual feature," Sukhbir Badal said in his opening address at the summit.

"Our mission is to make Punjab the most preferred investment destination in the country. We are welcome to suggestions from the industry to make that change to take Punjab forward. We have excellent work environment, excellent infrastructure and incentives in Punjab," Badal said.

Badal, who heads the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal and is known for his corporate style of functioning and decision-making, pushed the state's bureaucracy and official machinery to roll out the red carpet for the top honchos. Badal had, in the last two months, travelled to Mumbai, Bangalore and New Delhi and met top industrial and IT sector bosses to convince them to invest in Punjab. He even gave power point presentations to them himself.

Badal sent a delegation of top government officials, including Chief Secretary Rakesh Singh, with industrialists to Taiwan in October to explore investment opportunities.

Looking like a man in a hurry, Badal does not want the investors' summit announcements to remain just announcements. He wants these to be implemented on the ground in the next six months.

The Punjab government, which faces a mounting debt burden running into thousands of crores, has identified areas like housing, infrastructure and renewable energy, biosciences and healthcare, information technology, agro and food processing and textiles for investment.

"The investor summit is a welcome step. Punjab has lagged behind in the industrial sector in the past over two decades. This will help change the future of the state," Rajiv Bali, chairman of the PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Punjab Council, told IANS.

To show that it meant business in this regard, the Punjab government has even notified a new Industrial Policy-2013 "to provide biggest ever incentive package for industry".

Punjab Industries and Commerce Minister Madan Mohan Mittal said: "This policy will change the industrial scenario in Punjab. The Punjab government has established world class infrastructure in the state."

However, not all are impressed by the investment figures being trotted out.

"Some of these industrial houses like Reliance, Hero Group and Lakshmi Mittal's companies already have investment in the state. It remains to be seen how many new investors actually bring in money here," a senior bureaucrat in the Punjab government, requesting anonymity, told IANS.

Punjab, which has been facing acute shortage of power in recent years, claims that it has become a power surplus state. Scores of industrial units in the state have shifted base or invested in hill states like Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir and Uttarakhand due to huge tax holidays offered there.

The biggest promises being made by Badal to the industry are making available acquired land at subsidised rates, ensuring uninterrupted power supply, a slew of tax exemptions, especially VAT (value added tax), and other concessions. A newly created Punjab Bureau of Investment Promotion has been set up to facilitate single window clearances for investors.

The state government is offering VAT and other tax incentives up to 80 and 90 percent in some categories for new investment. Exemptions have also been offered on electricity duty, stamp duty and property tax.

More from Sify: