Time for a confession. For most of the time that I have been consulting on India, my advice for those entering the market has been “don’t go to West Bengal and Kolkata – nothing is happening there”. I can say that 100% of my colleagues in this advisory industry have said the same.
But it might be time to change our tune.
I saw the beginning of change when I visited Kolkata three or so years ago.
Bengal has always had what it takes, and I could see it emerging again – a large educated workforce, abundant raw materials, good road, rail and air connectivity with the rest of India and the world and a strategic location as the gateway to the largely untapped markets of the North East of India.
But decades of lethargy at the top, union activity, civil unrest and downright complacency took its toll.
Now leading a new charge into West Bengal are the big names of Indian and global industry such as Mukesh Ambani, Sajjan Jindal, DP World, Coca Cola, Ikea and ITC.
Ambani’s Reliance Industries is investing in the state’s digital sector through Reliance Jio, with a very successful foray into 4G telephony in the country. They will connect small merchants with their retail network and warehouses to increase their reach several folds. His group already has more than 500 retail stores in West Bengal.
You can see the results of change – West Bengal’s Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) was $158 billion in 2017-18 while its average annual growth rate from 2011-12 to 2017-18 was about 11.88 per cent. The state is sixth-largest contributor to India’s manufacturing GDP and fourth-largest contributor to the country’s services GDP.
Moreover, West Bengal is also a major producer of petroleum and petrochemical products. Production of natural gas in the state is projected to touch 410.30 million cubic metres in 2018-19.
It is also an increasingly important centre for India’s massive information technology sector. Total IT exports from West Bengal is about $3 billion – the Big Three of Indian IT – TCS, Infosys and Wipro – all have a large presence there.
Food is booming – Bengal is India’s largest rice producer, second-largest producer of potatoes and among the country’s biggest fish producers. The world-famous Darjeeling tea is also grown in the state, which is India’s second-largest tea producer.
Hence my confession.
Time for all of us to take another look at West Bengal and Kolkata.