India’s premier policy think tank Niti Ayog on Tuesday released its first Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Urban Index report. The index based on 15 sustainable goals had a column that took into account a city’s ability to provide decent work and economic growth to an individual. The particular goal is based on 12 targets, which include providing equal pay for equal value, reducing unemployment, and promoting a safe work environment. And no prizes for guessing, it is the eastern state of West Bengal and its capital Kolkata that has boastfully earned a place at the bottom of the list by receiving a score of just three out of 100.
It is the lowest score achieved by any city in the country. It’s also pertinent to note that the average score of all cities with decent jobs was 38 which means Kolkata is nowhere near the average.
What went wrong with Kolkata?
Kolkata, which used to be the financial capital of the country till the late 60s, declined to today’s dilapidated level after almost five decades of Communist and TMC rule. The parochialism of the Left which banned English education in government schools below class 8 and harassed the Gujarati and Marwari businessmen – who were doing business in the city since Mughal times – led to the decline of the city.
The Communist government’s disdain for capitalists and industry forced many business houses out of Kolkata and restricted the entry of new businesses.
Today, thousands of middle-class Bengali people could be seen working across Information Technology, Media and Entertainment, and other corporate sectors as professionals, albeit in different cities.
Rigid labour laws, graft, trade unionism were other factors that kept these sectors away from cities of West Bengal, more specifically, Kolkata.
Domestic brain drain in West Bengal, especially Kolkata
The middle-class Bengalis started moving outside the state in search of opportunities. Bengali professionals with very familiar surnames could be found in top management positions in almost all large companies. But while Bengalis across the country thrive, Kolkata remained poor and badly governed.
The state has an abundance of ‘good human capital’ due to the introduction of modern education very early as compared to other regions of the country. But the modern service industries like Information Technology, Automobile, Banking and Finance firms never opened units in West Bengal due to the apathy of the Left Front government towards the capitalists.
Despite housing being one of the largest metros of the country (in terms of population), which still carries enormous economic weight, the state of West Bengal is among the poorest of the country in terms of per capita income.
Moreover, at the time of independence, Kolkata was among the most productive cities in the country. Now, as per the report by PwC, Mumbai will be 10th in cities by GDP (Purchasing Power Parity) by 2025 with 594 billion dollars and Delhi will be on 19th place with 482 billion dollars while Kolkata does not even appear on the list. At the time of independence, it produced a quarter of India’s GDP, and now it is on the sixth position, far behind Gujarat, whose population is almost half that of West Bengal.
Poor, malnourished population
However, per capita income would not be the right measure to describe the poverty, malnutrition in which the people of districts in rural areas are living because Kolkata’s relatively better indicators hide the reality of these districts when we see statewide data.
In the districts like Malda, Murshidabad, South Dinajpur, Birbhum and Nadia, many families have the purchasing power of fewer than 50 rupees per day and are living in a hand to mouth situation.
Many families have almost all the people unemployed because the state does not have industries and their family members are not educated enough to work in the services sector. These families are able to survive only because the Union government has a scheme for free ration under the National Food Security Act.
Mamta expedited the deterioration process
While Left started the deterioration, Mamata expedited the process. The Bengal CM came to power by opposing the few good ideas of Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, the Communist CM who came to power in 2000.
Bhattacharya wanted to bring private industries to West Bengal and acquired Special Economic Zone (SEZ), against which the Mamata Banerjee-led TMC organized a protest with the slogan of ‘Ma Mati Manush’ (Mother, Motherland and People).
This led to Nandigram violence in 2007. Later in 2008, Mamata Banerjee’s opposition to Singur Tata Nano Controversy also won her immense publicity and ultimately Banerjee was elected as the CM of West Bengal in 2011, thanks to her left to left stance on political economy.
Since then, the companies have been wary of setting their shops in the state, especially the capital city. Recently, after running a concerted campaign against indigenously developed Covaxin, she pleaded Bharat Biotech- the company developing the vaccine to set up a manufacturing unit in the state.
However, knowing that West Bengal is as much hell for industrialists under Mamata Banerjee as it was under Communists, Bharat Biotech obviously did not make the mistake of manufacturing vaccines in the state. Instead, the company is all set to start vaccine manufacturing at the Chiron Behring Vaccines unit in Ankleshwar, Gujarat.
A city like Bangalore which was nowhere near in comparison to Kolkata a few decades back has used the technological boom across the country to leapfrog the former national capital of the country.
Bangalore houses who’s who of the technological, fintech, edutech as well as several other up and coming promising fields. Compare that to Kolkata and one would only hear cricket noises. If only turning the natives of the state into refugees using state-sponsored violence somewhat contributed to the job growth parameter – Kolkata and West Bengal would be topping the list.