Leadership at India Inc’s apex chambers now a Kolkata ‘adda’

New Delhi, Nov 30 (IANS) It can be sheer co-incidence. But the elected heads of India’s all three major industry chambers are chiefs of companies based out of Kolkata, raising some hope that they can nudge West Bengal, not particularly seen as an investment-friendly state, to pursue reforms and regain its past glory.

While Sunil Kanoria, vice chairman of non-banking finance firm SREI, now heads the Associated Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Assocham), Harshavardhan Neotia, chairman of the realty-to-education major Ambuja Neotia Group, is at the helm at the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci).

Sumit Mazumder of Tractors India heads the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) to complete the quorum for a Kolkata “adda”, which is at the heart of the City of Joy’s vibrant debate culture.

“It is a happy coincidence that all three chambers have presidents from Kolkata,” Sanjiv Goenka, chairman of the RP-Sanjiv Goenka Group and himself a Kolkatan, told IANS. “I think it will help project Bengal as an investment-friendly destination. It will help facilitate business.”

In a report titled “Assessment of State Implementation of Business Reforms” released by the World Bank in mid-September, West Bengal was not exactly ranked at the bottom. But neither did it make the cut to qualify for the top 10 slots. It was ranked 11th.

As opposed to states ranked higher under “leaders” or “aspiring leaders”, West Bengal was placed under “acceleration required” — not a healthy indication for a state, whose capital, Kolkata, was also the principal Indian city of administration for the British empire till 1911.

The exit of the Tatas from the state for their ambitious peoples “Nano” car project for a more-welcoming Gujarat also did not help this eastern Indian state’s image.

Speaking to IANS, 54-year-old Neotia — who also owns an Indian Super League football team along with Sourav Ganguly, among others — could not hide his affinity for a state that has been home for centuries to many Mawari families like him, who migrated from Rajasthan and Gujarat.

“This is a nice and pleasant coincidence. We all represent national chambers. It is our goal to promote industry across India. But since all are from Kolkata, naturally we have a special attachment to the city,” Neotia told IANS.

Chamber veteran D.S. Rawat, secretary general of Assocham echoed similar sentiments. “Kolkata-based Marwari businessmen have always remained at the helm of India Inc and continue to play a very crucial role in growth and development of Indian economy as innovative entrepreneurs and industry leaders,” Rawat told IANS.

“West Bengal, which was hub for multinational corporations and manufacturing has lost its top position, as large number of companies relocated to other states. However, things are slowly improving from investment point of view and therefore, we feel confident the apex chambers chief can create conducive environment in West Bengal and eastern India for investment,” Rawat added.

It is also hoped that this affinity will fetch the new chamber chiefs a willing ear of the state’s Finance Minister Amit Mitra — a seasoned economist and himself a veteran in corporate lobbying, having been at the helm of Ficci for seven years as its secretary general.

“It (heads of three chambers being from companies based out of Kolkata) is pure coincidence. But if we need to draw an inference, we can say Bengal is striving to make its place in the national circuit,” said P. Roy, director general of the Bengal Chamber of Commerce.

“West Bengal’s Chief Minister (Mamata Banerjee) is also trying to make a mark in the national arena. This will act as a catalyst,” Roy told IANS.

Chandrajit Banerjee, the director-general of CII — which has elected Sumit Mazumder, another Kolkata veteran as chief — also told IANS it was the competence of a person that gets him/her to lead as chamber president.

“The president of the organization works for growth, progress and investments for across the country without any bias. But I am sure it is up to the region to leverage his being from that region for their benefit too. “

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