The Badal government's strenuous efforts to woo big-ticket investments got a major fillip on Monday as the country's top industrialists promised to invest Rs 55,000 crore in a slew of projects in Punjab over the next two years, while endorsing the state's newly-crafted investor-friendly initiatives as " inspiring and forward-looking" at the opening session of the two-day 'Progressive Punjab Investors' Summit' on the Indian School of Business campus here.
More than a slew of memoranda of understanding signed at the high-profile show, it was the presence of a galaxy of best-known faces of India Inc that lent a ringing endorsement to deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal's "think big, achieve big" credo". While the summit appeared to be the best advertisement for changing investors' perception of Punjab, their promises, if turned into reality, could well be a game-changer for the border and agrarian state that desperately needs a dose of investments to push its economic growth.
Leading the pack of future investors was Mukesh Ambani of Reliance, Lakshmi Narayan Mittal of Arcelor Mittal, Sunil Bharti Mittal of Airtel, YC Deveshwar of ITC, Onkar Singh Kanwar of Apollo Tyres, Malvinder Mohan Singh of Fortis and Sunil Kant Munjal of Hero MotoCorp. One after the other, the business tycoons gave a thumbs-up to Punjab's investment pitch spearheaded by Sukhbir who, in his PowerPoint presentation, virtually charmed them while outlining a " new reality of Punjab".
Setting the tone of the corporate leaders' mood, Ambani was profuse in commending Sukhbir's efforts to get investments. "His attitude will build not only a new Punjab but also a new India. I am thrilled. See how much India has changed… It is a reflection of the foresight of Punjab leadership. Translate these ideas into reality."
Mittal, the global steel magnate, was equally effusive in his praise, drawing on his experience of having set up a Rs 20-000-crore Bathinda oil refinery. "I am amazed at the speed with which the government functions here. I have a very positive experience about investing in Punjab and all of you must invest here," he added.
The deputy CM positioned himself as the CEO of the state when he gave a 36-minute presentation revolving around his vision, best infrastructure, air connectivity and best roads, how investors' concerns have been addressed by the government and why the industrialists must invest in the state.
"We have set up the Punjab Bureau of Investment where, in one office, an officer designated as the chief executive officer will give clearances to your projects. What you have to do is come with one self-attested application about your project," Sukhbir said and the delegates responded with a thunderous applause."You can get clearance even in a day. Nowhere in the country is such a path-breaking system in place. You don't have to catch me or the CM or any minister. Just talk to the CEO," he said, while introducing CEO Anirudh Tewari to the business community.
The deputy CM said the government had been taking steps to ensure "minimum interface" between the investors and various departments to put investment on the fast track and make Punjab the "most preferred investment destination."
Referring to chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, he said: "Our high command is here and we can take decisions immediately."
Later, responding to what Sukhbir had said, the chief minister, in his characteristic style, told the business community: "If you are still not satisfied, I am here and you can come to me anytime and anywhere. I am always here."
The CM reminded the investors that this summit was being held after his government, over the past six years, had put in place all that was needed to create a conducive environment for the promotion of industry. "Whatever industry needs is available," he said.
The CM dwelt elaborately on the goals of development, while light-heartedly taking a dig at his "good son for leaving nothing for me to speak."Buoyed by Monday's whopping potential investments, the CM, in a lighter vein, asked the deputy CM to closely follow up the MoUs (memoranda of understanding) signed between the state government and various industrial houses so that these investments should not merely remain on paper but actually come on the ground.
Visibly encouraged by what Sukhbir claimed as "path-breaking initiatives", ITC chairman YC Deveshwar said: "I am blown over… having listened to your presentation, it is encouraging and promises a bright future. The self-certification of application is a wonderful idea… Please give us land in Jalandhar or Ludhiana where we want to set up a state-of-the-art food processing unit." "I will put to test your single-window system today itself and right now," he added.
Sukhbir stated that key players in the industry not only from India but also from abroad, such as CTCI Taiwan and US's leading mall developer Gumberg, had already landed in the state. The deputy chief minister reiterated that a conducive atmosphere, coupled with peace, harmony and enterprising skill of Punjabis, was a major factor to boost investment sentiment in Punjab, adding that strikes and labour unrest were words unheard-of in the state.
He said recent path-breaking initiatives, such as giving lucrative incentives in terms of VAT (value-added tax) retention and exemption of stamp duty, besides establishing the Punjab Industrial Promotion Bureau headed by him with the deputy CM as its co-chairman and Anirudh Tewari appointed as its CEO to give clearances in the fast mode to entrepreneurs, would be instrumental in reposing their confidence and trust in the investor-friendly policies of the state government.