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Talks under way with major players — Bengal set to make big strides in food processing

Our Bureau

KOLKATA, May 11

SEVERAL big players in the processed foods sector are in talks with the West Bengal Government for setting up projects in the State. The plan is to utilise West Bengal's pre-eminent position as a producer of fruits and vegetables.

Negotiations with these companies are expected to materialise in a big way and the State hopes to make major progress in the area of food processing, said Mr Sabyasachi Sen, Secretary, Commerce & Industries Department. He was addressing the members of Calcutta Chamber of Commerce.

"Despite our leadership status, we have not entered the value-addition chain... only a small portion of the produce is sent for processing'', he said, adding that the food processing sector needs to be explored further.

On another front, the Government hopes to benefit from natural gas that is available in Bangladesh. There is also a possibility of gas being imported from Myanmar.

The services sector in the State has improved significantly in recent times, thanks to developments in specific areas such as information technology and hotels. There are plans to create an international standard trade fair complex in the State.

The present industrial environment in West Bengal, Mr Sen said, is a legacy of the socio-economic issues that followed the partition of India. The early focus of the State Government related to land and agricultural reforms, which led to substantial growth in the farm sector. The State has emerged as a key producer of rice, potatoes and vegetables.

There was a tilt towards industry in 1994, when the local government announced its industrial policy. In a few years, investments in industry picked up, a development that has become evident in such large projects as Haldia Petro and Mitsubishi Chemicals. The State, incidentally, hopes to cross the Rs 2,500-crore mark in investments this year.

Among the sectors that have come up recently are iron and steel, it is pointed out, adding that certain policy constraints have been removed and the regional advantages have been tapped extensively.

According to Mr P.D. Tulsyan, President of the Calcutta Chamber, industry in the State is currently being subjected to "certain extraordinary demands and unjustifiable taxes''.

As industry circles have pointed out earlier, the re-imposition of entry tax is not quite a friendly measure. Such demands and levies have raised doubts as to whether the State is really interested in industrial growth, Mr Tulsyan observed.

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