Agri sector in Bengal disappointing!

Bengal has to go a long way before it can transform the agri sector into a commercially thriving sector for any new agro entrepreneurship. Just to compare Maharashtrian agri sector with that of Bengal is like to compare two different worlds!

West Bengal was once the richest State but it was a very long time ago. Not now.  One of the not so welcome outcome was the total neglect of the countryside, the villages became homes for periodic famines, the State is said to have had 22 famines and the worst was in 1943.The years preceding the Independence saw the great Calcutta killings, communal frenzy and when India was partitioned the great migration was from East Bengal. Even after the creation of Bangladesh  the perennial problem is the migrants from Bangladesh and the city itself even today a very intolerable mix of people, from all neighbouring states like Bihar, Orissa and also from other states as well as poor and the not so poor.

We drove through the Bengal interior, from the city towards Santiniketan on NH 2 that goes all the way to Delhi via Benares. Surprisingly, the highways look so modern, well -maintained and very impressive. But all through the 200 km drive, passing through Burdwan, Panagarh and then towards Suri in the Bhirbhum district, we saw nothing but only paddy fields, all irrigated and all the same and dotted with rice mills, the only industry in the whole of our drive. The villages, nay even the cities, there are no district towns, only Calcutta is the major magnet and everything had gone there and every growth or decay you can notice only in the great city.

Bengal’s countryside is a pathetic sight. No new buildings, no fresh coat of paint anywhere, even the nearby, wayside buildings in the towns and villages still sport tatched, grass roofed huts, the brick walls invariably left unflustered and the hygiene is simply not worth mentioning. The wayside tea stalls, no bhadralok can enter and you have to starve all the way we imagined. When we stopped at a wayside tea stall, it is nicely called Grama Bengal hotel, we thought it must be a picture postcard hotel. No, it was not. And yet, after waiting for the person to make something, the young boy who served us asked us, afterwards very politely how was the food and how we liked the hotel! That touched me! The manager came forward and introduced himself and told me: “Sir, we have a children’s park behind and we have a fish pond”. Again, how we liked his place? There was humanity and there was sensitivity. Yet, the rural Bengal is caught in a vicious circle of poverty, the buffalos-driven plough is an ancient tool and it had almost disappeared in the South. Yet, in the Bengal paddy fields they are the constant reminders where the State had lagged behind.

And I was reminded all the time that Bengal is a state known for its highly educated middle classes. The state has so many brilliant economists, all great theoreticians and yet how backward their practical wisdom seems! Dr.Asim Dasgupta, an MIT man, an economist is the finance minister of the state for the last 20 long years!  “The 5′-.5″ tall Dasgupta towers above all the finance ministers in the country.  This time too his mentor Jyoti Basu saw to it he got the same job!

But all these claims seemed to me so unimpressive. Geoferry Moorehouse (in his book, Calcutta) describes the revolutionary politics the Left comrades indulged in for years. Now, the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government’s full right about turn is the best that had happened. To talk of small/medium scale industries today, by an MIT economist is a great disappointment.  West Bengal students come all the way to the South to get admissions into the private sector driven self financing engineering and medical colleges. Dr.Mullick himself was speaking with so much familiarly about the medical hospitals in Chennai. I was surprised.

So, the Left leaders seem to be not bothered about this sense of shame at all!

The acquiring of the agricultural land in Singur in Hooghly district, outside the city, poses new problems. Some 4,000 farmer-owners are reluctant to part with their multi-crop lands and the CPI (M) is exerting pressure through the party cadres. Yet the Trinamul Congress promised a bloody movement to oppose the move if forcibly the lands are acquired.  So, there is now a row and every section of the party, CPI, CPI (M) their trade union wings are all involved in persuading the farmers to voluntarily part with the lands with adequate compensation. Land reforms was always touted as a big achievement of the State Government. The result, as seen from outsiders, is that is a poor consolation, if you think that helped you to retain power all these years. See the same type of populism adopted by the Dravidian parties.  After winning the latest elections, it is said the CM is planning the 2008 panchayat elections in the same impressive way.  The labour dept would set up block level offices throughout Bengal, 1.40 crore labour in the unorganised sector and most of them don’t get adequate wages. So, what you do?

So “we have decided to set up in all the 341 blocks offices to set up units at block level” W.Bengal labour minister Mrinal Banerji said.

This is not the wise way to move forward. Instead, let the Government set up info kiosks in all such blocks, even in the gram panchayats and deliver the many service. Let the government draw up an e-governance plan and implement.   I had engaged labour from Bihar, carpenters from Rajasthan in my house building work   and I was astonished by their hard work and great motivation. They are all so hardworking and so honest and they would really succeed wherever they go.

I have to make a rather disappointing comment on the quality of average Bengali educated persons engaged in agriculture trade or even in services like medical profession. I now speak from my personal experience. I came all the way to Bengal to transact business in agriculture. The average quality, the honesty, the motivation to keep up one’s words are all very poor, very pathetic.

How can one does business with such irresponsible behaviour? With such dishonesty, the insensitivity to losses to customers, to the other partners in businesses. But then, there doesn’t seem to be any such honesty in business dealings in Northern parts of India. Unless the new generation, educated young farmers/farmer entrepreneurs/businessmen learn to become reliable buyers/reliable suppliers, there is no future for quick modernisation in the new generation agriculture and agricultural modernisation. There is a great deal to learn by Bengal from other States!

The Bengal interiors, near and the areas surrounding Santiniketan, seemed to be living in another age, a primitive age. The faces of the rural Bengal made me feel so sad. The areas seemed to have stood still, while everywhere, in other parts of India there is so much change and so much hope.

Yes, there is a whole new colony or colonies of Bengalis that have sprung up near the Apollo hospital in Chennai. I asked one family from where they come from. They said:” From Siliguri”. What a shame, I thought. Siliguri to Chennai, all the way to get medical treatment!

Image Source : actionaid.org

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