After spending seven blissful days in Kerala and some parts of Tamil Nadu, I, along with a team of four, had reached my home state of West Bengal at night, and standing at the Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose airport in Kolkata, I did have a feeling of being content. After all there sure is a little truth in the phrase – ‘Home! Sweet Home!’ But the experience that I had later that night came as a blunt awakening and helped me come to terms with the ugly reality of West Bengal.
We had to reach Sealdah station to catch a train in an hour to reach our home town of Siliguri. Considering the traffic condition of Kolkata, we were in a hurry to get a taxi which would take us to the railway station safe and sound and given the circumstances, quickly as well. Amidst this rush, we finally got a pre-paid taxi which was in a very dilapidated condition. Any other day we would have waited for another taxi, but that day we could not take a chance lest we missed the train. But just as we were adjusting to the reality of a third-class car, we had an altercation with the driver about adjusting our luggage.
It was a big surprise as we were coming from Kerala and Tamil Nadu where we were treated very well by every taxi driver we had met. When we asked the taxi driver about how he would behave with guests from outside when this is the sort of treatment meted out to natives, he categorically told us to find another taxi! On our narrating the incident to the policemen standing there, they remained mute spectators and did absolutely nothing to help.
Since we did not have enough time that night, we didn’t bother to pursue the incident any further and took another taxi. But, while going back, all four of us were really upset by the behaviour of taxi drivers who don’t care about passengers and their safety. Their only allegiance is to the unions.
Ever since I relocated to Bengal after quitting my eight-year job as a sports journalist at Zee News in Delhi in 2013 to start my own business in my own state, I often came across similar rude and uncouth realities in my own state. Doing business in West Bengal is pretty tough. I had to wait for 6 months to get a new trade licence for my new project. I am still waiting for my PNDT (Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques) for opening my Ultrasonography clinic despite applying more than a year back and fulfilling all the requisite norms. Now I am on the verge of losing my booking amount of Rs 1 lakh for the Ultrasonography machine.
Every time I needed to pass a plan for my construction business, I have to feed the Municipal authorities with some 'extra amount' to make it smooth. We even had to pay Rs 4 lakhs to a club as ‘donation’ because we were constructing a building in their area. These are the ground realities every businessman has to face every day in West Bengal. In most cases you need to satisfy the local political leaders to get the work done. Here people don’t want to work hard and earn their living in a dignified ways. Brokers, thugs, political goons are ruling the roost here. The result: very few people from outside the state want to invest here.
The shabby work culture that was instilled in the 34 years of Communist rule has ruined the spirit of entrepreneurship. Sitting in a hotel in Kochi I came across a news report published in the esteemed daily of the south, The Hindu, that Bengal's notorious work culture has even caught up with the prisoners of the state. The report under the headline ‘Prisons too reflect Bengal’s work culture’ stated: "The work culture in West Bengal – which has been source of perennial embarrassment -- is not only reflected in the industrial sector of the State but also in its correctional homes. At a time when inmates across the correctional homes in the country are producing goods of considerable value amounting to crores of rupees, West Bengal is at the bottom of the table as far as major States are concerned. The latest report released by Prison Statistics of India (PSI) 2014 last week, points out that inmates of 29 states in the country produced goods valuing a total of Rs. 135.9 crore. Tamil Nadu with about 15,874 inmates produced goods valuing Rs. 36.97 crore, the highest in the country. Among the major states barring the north-east, the inmates of West Bengal have been least productive. With over 20,000 inmates, West Bengal has produced goods worth only Rs. 67.1 lakh."
This is very depressing news for Bengalis like me who have seen how other states have eschewed these idiosyncrasies so that their states can develop. But we have gone back to the age of anarchy. The current government under Mamata Banerjee is trying it’s best to get West Bengal back on track, but unless we change ourselves, we will be in real trouble.
Nevertheless, I am hopeful that the days are not far when youth of Bengal will reignite again and take the leadership role in India again because we have enough talent and potential among our youngsters who can shape our future of the state.
(Guest Contributor Biswajit Jha is a former journalist turned budding entrepreneur.)