Uttar Pradesh's upcoming airports, large consumer base can attract industries seeking to move out of China, says Sidharth Nath Singh
Sidharth Nath Singh is one of two ministers who are members of a task force headed by the Uttar Pradesh chief minister aimed at attracting investment.
Recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asked chief ministers to prepare a policy framework, and design infrastructure and logistical support to leverage the COVID-19 crisis as an opportunity to attract investors which would move away from China. Soon after this, the Yogi Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh set up a task force for this purpose.
The soft-spoken, suave and urbane Sidharth Nath Singh is one of two ministers who are members of this task force, which is headed by the chief minister. Singh is Minister of Small and Medium Enterprise, Export Promotion, NRI and Investment Promotion. Singh, the grandson of Lal Bahadur Shastri, is an entrepreneur-turned-politician.
Singh is also a member of a committee constituted by Adityanath to explore employment opportunities for migrant workers who would be returning home in the days and weeks to come.
While Uttar Pradesh's economy is mostly not driven by manufacturing, the current dispensation is seeking to change that. In this context, Singh spoke to exclusively to Firstpost on how the state is gearing up to turn the coronavirus outbreak into an opportunity:
How did the idea to constitute a Task Force of this nature come about?
At a meeting of chief ministers, Prime Minister Modi said investments moving away from China can present a good opportunity, and that states should work on attracting investments in their regions.
I understand that Uttar Pradesh is the first state to have constituted a dedicated task force in this regard. What kind of opportunities you see? Can this (attracting investments) become a reality? After all, we generally see that many plans are made but very few move ahead of the drawing board.
Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had the vision to set up a task force, and had expressed the need to do so two to three weeks ago. Along with bureaucrats and elected representatives, a professional group is also working on this. We have a professional team supported by Ernst & Young. So far, we have got the presentations and other important details ready. We have examined various tax structures and incentives that competitor countries can offer. We also looked at our interest rates, etc.
Setting up this team was a good initiative. But how does the government plan to take this ahead?
Uttar Pradesh has an industrial policy. Based on it, we have started planning on how we can make the state more attractive for investors. In the meantime, we have begun contacting various countries which have huge investments in China. American firms, in particular, have major investments in the areas of electronics, medical equipment, pharmaceuticals, scientific instrumentation, textiles, etc. At the same time, we have established companies with Japanese, South Koreans and Taiwanese companies. We hope to engage with them further in the coming days. With all these initiatives, I think Uttar Pradesh will be a leading state in terms of attracting investments moving out of China.
Are you looking at companies which may move out of China, or companies which, in normal circumstances, could have gone to China but now would be looking for an alternative?
We are approaching many companies who may move their investments out of China. There are also some companies which do not have a presence in China. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Modi, India is heading towards becoming a global manufacturing hub. That gives us a huge opportunity. New investments and investments seeking expansion can be attracted to India.
Even if such companies come to India, they could set up a presence anywhere in the country. Why should they choose Uttar Pradesh?
Uttar Pradesh is the most populous state, with a consumer base of about 230 million people. The state also has the advantage of being close to Delhi. The largest airport in Asia, with eight runways, is coming up at Jewar. The airport is expected to be functional in two-and-a-half years. We have a stable government, and good transport facilities in the form of expressways and inland waterways. These factors can attract investors to Uttar Pradesh.
Will Jewar be a major focus while seeking investments?
Proximity to airports is an important issue for companies. The development of Gurugram and Manesar is in part due to their proximity to the Delhi airport. However, these two destinations have reached a saturation point. New destinations for big companies have to come up, and Jewar could be one of them. We will create a 'plug and play' system. That means that any industry that wishes to come here will have road, electricity, drainage and water supply facilities already in place. Such industries only need to build their factory buildings and offices, and they can move in.
Are you proposing other investment destinations as well?
Yes, these would be around expressways. Apart from the existing Noida-Lucknow Expressway, two others — Poorvanchal Expressway and Bundelkhand Expressway are under construction. We will have a defence corridor near these two expressways. Land acquisition has already taken place in these areas. Further, labour will be cheaper and connectivity will be easier. When Yogi Adityanath became the chief minister, we had only three airports in Lucknow, Varanasi and Gorakhpur. Now, seven no-frills airports have been made functional, and more are coming up.
All of this will be in place in two or three years. Any big industry which intends to move to Uttar Pradesh will need three to five years to set up its operations.
Earlier, ministers would travel abroad and governments would hold investor summits to seek investments. How will you do so during the coronavirus lockdown?
We are doing so through various channels. My past experience and relationships have helped me reach out to people. Recently, I participated in a video conference with over 100 large firms based in the US. In the upcoming days, I will hold video conferences with Japanese and Korean companies as well. Whenever travel restrictions are lifted, we would have done the required homework.
Uttar Pradesh has never been known for its manufacturing sector. On the other hand, states like Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat have a proven track record. How will Uttar Pradesh compete with them
You can see that Uttar Pradesh has taken the lead now. We are conscious of the fact that some states have been associated with a set of industries or businesses for a long time, unlike Uttar Pradesh. We began promoting the state only after Yogi Adityanath came to power in 2017. Earlier we had a disadvantage, but things have changed now. We have great leadership and quick decision-making. I am sure that we will take rapid strides.
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