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Government - Maharashtra

State with the best investment environment — Mr Sushilkumar Shinde, Maharashtra Chief Minister

Mahesh Vijapurkar

`Maharashtra's traditional strength in business, industry, media, entertainment and human resource has helped.'

BY VARIOUS yardsticks, Maharashtrais seen as a frontline State, accounting for a 20 per cent share of the country's industrial output and more than a tenth of GDP though it is marked by uneven distribution of the economic growth. Of late, its finances have become worrisome, with its consolidated debt hovering close to Rs 1,00,000 crore which makes for difficulties in meeting demands from the social sector. Yet, like all Chief Ministers in the past, the current incumbent, Mr Sushilkumar Shinde, too has a vision for Maharashtra which seeks to improve industrial investment and disperse the benefits of growth, beyond Mumbai.

In a free-wheeling chat with Mahesh Vijapurkar at his official residence despite demands on his time for the Lok Sabha election campaigning, Mr Sushilkumar Shinde, the first Dalit Chief Minister but who takes pride on having won non-reserved seats in his legislative and parliamentary career, made some points.

Excerpts from the interview:

Maharashtra in the context of the country:

I think Maharashtra's financial position, some time back, was not that good. Investment was not coming in as hoped for. But in the last year and half, a large number of investors have been coming in, from East and the West.

We have given lot of concessions. The World Bank has termed the investment environment in the State the best in the country. We have an IT-enabled policy. We want to particularly push biotechnology now.

On other States:

They are only in hi-tech and IT. Even here Maharashtra has taken the lead and is Number One. Pune, Thane, New Mumbai and Nashik and Nagpur...if you take it all together, Maharashtra is far ahead on every yardstick. Karnataka has concentrated only on Bangalore and Andhra Pradesh, Hyderabad. We have managed dispersal. Talent is widespread as well. We are also looking to a similar spread of biotechnology.

Now take e-governance. Maharashtra has bagged four awards from the Government of India for successful implementation of projects in e-governance, leaving behind Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. But we are not complacent. Our e-governance initiatives have to penetrate more so that we can become a Cyber State in the real sense.

On why IT is growing in the State:

We have the most number of IT parks. It is thriving here but we have not made much noise about it. We have a pro-active, liberal and open-ended policy with emphasis on software.

Maharashtra's traditional strength in business, industry, media, entertainment and human resource has helped. In turn, this is helping strengthen these sectors to grow faster. It is a happy process. Export of IT software and services grew at 20 per cent in the past two years.

On the virtue of dispersal:

We are carefully working on it. Since I took it over, we are trying to distribute investment on a per capita basis.

So is the intent with investment in development and social sectors. We have taken some steps in this developmental part. I do not know about the past, but we are at it now.

Mumbai in the context of Maharashtra:

Mumbai is a commercial centre, not only for Maharashtra but the entire country. It is a major business centre. But as far as the industry is concerned, especially new investment is concerned, we have to go around Mumbai, and in and out, new Mumbai, Pune, Nashik. These are the areas where we can establish new industry. But not in Mumbai because there is no place...

In the service sector, we are growing very fast. We are enabling that activity now. It is the biggest contributor to the central tax kitty. But all of us have to agree that Mumbai is far too important to be ignored or treated shabbily. But we seem to have been caught in the vortex of political compulsions, a tendency towards short-term gains and general apathy towards its well being.

And, yet, Mumbai is holding out. It is rated as the best place to do business in. People, political will and policies will have to keep it alive. It is critical.

However, let me make a point. When we recently met the Prime Minister on problems of Mumbai, all political parties in the delegation showed a common concern for Mumbai and see a resurgent Mumbai ahead if funds are provided; we let the city and its people down in the past.

On infrastructure:

We are doing link roads within the metropolis, which is essentially linear due to its topography so that the stress on the North-South movement is freed by enabling the East-West mobility.

We are strong on end-to-end connectivity in the form of a ring of freeways to quicken movement. Rail services, which are the lifeline of Mumbai to keep its commuters and economy moving, needs, and is getting, attention through a massive urban transport project. We are keen on opening up access to the hinterland through a trans-harbour link.

A freeway is in the offing to improve the end-to-end connectivity along the coastline. We intend to complete it in four to five years. These projects have been delayed for 25- to 30 years,. We are giving it priority.

On capacity for funding

For transport and link roads, and rehabilitation of people who are now in the project's right of way, we have provided Rs 2,000 crore from our own funds. We have not waited for the Centre.

In fact we are asking New Delhi for a loan of Rs 12,000 crore and plan to pump in Rs 6,000 crore from our own coffers over five years.

The Government of India is not responding. They have only given Rs 500 crore for a project for improvement of Dharavi, the largest shanty-town sprawl... But that is only an announcement.

But I would like to go ahead, and am thinking of floating a global tender for this project to improve the key transport sector.

On public-private sector participation, State-Centre cooperation

All projects that concern Mumbai are huge. I want that all metropolitan cities should be the responsibility of the Centre and they should share expenses.

They are looking at party politics. They are giving to some and not to others. Mumbai is the heart of the country, its nerve-centre. It is commercially a vibrant city with its own demand for infrastructure.

But now we cannot wait. We have to find out own way out. Privatisation is, therefore, a route. Build-and-operate is the concept.

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