Ratan Tata keeps word on investments in Bengal

Ratan Tata, the then chairman of the Tata group, had said in Calcutta in 2011 — three years after the group had pulled out of Singur — that the company would not miss out on capitalising on opportunities in Bengal.

“New investment will come when opportunities arise,” he had said while responding to a shareholder’s question at the annual general meeting of Tata Global Beverages (formerly Tata Tea).

The comment of Tata has become relevant in the state once again following Mamata Banerjee’s assertion on Wednesday that it was the CPM — not she or her party — that had driven away the Tatas from Bengal.

If the performance of the group in Bengal is tracked over the past 14 years, since the October 3 evening when Tata announced his decision to relocate the Nano project to Gujarat’s Sanand, it shows that the salt to software group has followed the principle publicly uttered by the patriarch.

The Tatas have invested, the Tatas have grown, when there were opportunities — in IT services, hospitality, retail and even in manufacturing in Bengal — under the Mamata Banerjee government.

If the group’s investment portfolio in the state is scanned closely, there is little doubt that the conglomerate didn’t hold anything against Bengal or the Trinamul Congress government though its showpiece project — the small car factory — had to be shifted out of Bengal.

Multiple sources in the industry, however, said the group also refrained from taking up any project in the state that would require large swathes of land, supporting ecosystem and fiscal incentives or logistic advantage after its brush with the violent political agitation in 2008.

Over the last decade or so, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), India’s biggest IT firm, has emerged as the largest employer in the private sector in Bengal with over 45,000 professionals. The company’s operation expanded largely during the tenure of Mamata, who led the agitation against the land acquisition for the Nano project at Singur.

“Years have passed and emotions have mellowed down. Today, it is more about finding the right opportunity. If there is a business sense to make an investment in Bengal, there is no reason Tata Group will hold back,” said a business executive who has seen developments of the Bombay-headquartered group over decades.

Even though industry watchers were quick to point out that the centre of TCS had been located in a SEZ complex in Rajarhat for which land and the special economic zone status were given by Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s Left Front government, Tatas were nimble enough to make good of the opportunities despite the shadows of Singur.

While TCS has been the flag bearer of Tata Group’s presence in this state, other companies have not shied away from taking incremental and calculated bets. For instance, Tata Metaliks commissioned a ductile iron pipe plant in Kharagpur with an investment of Rs 600 crore last month, expanding its presence in Bengal. Earth moving equipment maker Tata Hitachi also had moved a part of their operation from Jharkhand to Kharagpur in 2019, broadening their manufacturing activities in Bengal.

Indian Hotels Company Ltd, the hospitality arm of the group, signed up four upscale properties under Taj and Vivanta brand over the past one year while opening doors to luxury homestay under Ama brand. Retail brands Tanishq, Westside, coffee chain Tata Starbucks have been deepening their presence in the state.

However, a former Tata Group executive was quick to point out that none of the moves mentioned above would qualify as a “major” investment from a group which earned $128 billion in revenue in 2021-22.

“There are many opportunities in the country. Several states are vying for investments. Bengal does not make the cut on the top of the list,” said the person referred above.

He also pointed out that no Tata group chairman had ever attended the Bengal Global Business Summit which Mamata’s government organised periodically

Will Tatas take up a major project again in Bengal? Well, even Ratan Tata himself did not rule it out. At the 2012 AGM of Tata Global (now called Tata Consumer Products Ltd) — the last shareholders’ meeting in Calcutta as the chairman of the Group — he had said there could be “a Tata Motors factory somewhere in Bengal” one day, and “hopefully (it will) be welcomed”.

For Bengal, one would hope — despite the debate on who drove out the Tata Group from Singur — that “one day” would not be too far away.

Source: Click Here