It will be interesting to see how Chhattisgarh pulls off its Global Investors Meet on 2-3 November. It is planned in the new showcase state capital of Naya Raipur—New Raipur—a few kilometres east of the filthy polluted mess of Raipur, along the highway that connects Mumbai with Kolkata. Captive media in Chhattisgarh have played up news of road shows by chief minister Raman Singh and his colleagues highlighting the virtues of investing in that state.
Investing will be a great leap of faith, of course. Naturally there isn’t a word in all of the print, electronic and verbal pitches that mentions the state’s location in the most restive region of the country, also the strongest holdout of Maoist rebels. Not a word mentions the state’s ongoing and forthcoming trouble—over numerous clearances accorded to iron and steel manufacturing projects, iron ore and coal mining, and thermal power stations. Not a word, either, about the coalescing of resistance to such projects at proposed project sites—away from the bright lights of Naya Raipur that link the nearby industrial hubs of Durg and Bhilai and urbanized Bilaspur in the relatively safe middle of the state. There isn’t even the pretence of a Red Herring disclaimer.
I, for one, will be in Naya Raipur to see how business responds to this latest all-is-well exercise of the state administration. I want to see if business will again weigh opportunity more generously than risk, as they have done repeatedly with mining, metals and power projects. For another, it’s always exhilarating to hear announcements of several billion dollars of proposed new investments at these structured investment bazaars, no matter that most won’t work out because backroom deal making isn’t the same as having land, water, power, and clearances. And, finally, because this is Chhattisgarh’s first real attempt to turn the focus from primary industries to areas further up the value chain.
The pitch offers opportunities in information technology and IT-enabled services, new and renewable energy, urban infrastructure, engineering, automobiles, tourism, healthcare, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, food processing, and minor forest produce—stuff that the state’s vast tribal population lives on.
The Naya Raipur-Raipur area in the conflict-free centre of the state is pegged as the new growth zone. Indeed, there cannot be any other that can offer a sanitized version of Chhattisgarh—or its most secure version, for that matter—a decided island in a sea of restlessness and bloody-minded policymaking. Visitors from the construction, consumer durables and services sectors visiting Naya Raipur for the investment meet will bypass Raipur because of the positioning of the airport access road. If they visit Magneto, the brand new mall near the airport junction, they may be astonished to see showrooms for Mercedes Benz, BMW and Audi, all in one mall. New clusters of suburban condominiums dominate the skyline. Those in taxation may recall Raipur’s consistently top positions in declaration of undeclared income—from mining, construction, and forest produce—during tax amnesties, but that’s another story. After a loop of overpass, visitors will arrive at Naya Raipur.
It is unlikely that visitors will take the trouble to travel even a little to the north—let alone somewhat to the south in Maoist battle zones in which Tata Steel and Essar are improbably planning to set up new operations. A little to the north the districts of Korba, Janjgir-Champa and Raigarh are to be the new hub of electricity generation. Indeed, nearly all of the 59 memorandums of understanding (MoUs) signed in the past five years for power locate units here. Going by feedback from government insiders—identical to feedback from activists—there will be massive loss of agricultural land on account of acquisition and water supply. Water used for drinking and agriculture is already being diverted wholesale to supply industry. The flow of several rivers, including the Mahanadi that empties into Hirakund reservoir in neighbouring Orissa, will irrigate this battleground.
But delegates may not sweat this future, serenaded as they will be by the song of quick clearances. Here, anything goes. A few weeks back, the state chairman of a major lobby group wrote to the state government that the formal marking of an existing elephant corridor as a sanctuary—cleared by the ministry of environment and forests—would impinge on vast amounts of coal that is ripe for mining in the forested north-central areas of Chhattisgarh. The administration complied, and proposes placing the corridor elsewhere. The elephants will presumably have to find a new way, or the highway.
Sudeep Chakravarti is the author of Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite Country and Highway 39: Journeys through a Fractured Land. This column, which focuses on conflict situations in South Asia that directly affect business, runs on Fridays.
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