Bengal suggests PPP route for revival of IT parks

By bappaditya paul

The state information technology (IT) department has initiated a discussion with the Centre’s Software Technology Parks of India (STPI) on the revival of the five IT parks in the state via public-private partnerships (PPPs).

The five IT parks at Siliguri, Kharagpur, Haldia, Durgapur and Sector V in Kolkata have been virtually lying idle for some time now. They were built between 1999 and 2008 under a pan-India Software Technology Park (STP) scheme of the Centre, aimed at creating technical infrastructure to boost the IT industry in every state.

In West Bengal, the state government provided three acres of land for each of the five IT parks and also constructed a 3,000-square-foot single-storey building. The STPI set up Earth Stations there, offering satellite radio-links to IT firms.

Under the STP scheme, firms availing radio-links from the IT Parks were entitled to 100 per cent tax exemptions for 10 years. In Kolkata and Durgapur some IT companies used the facilities. But in the other three places the IT parks generated only a lukewarm response.

On top of this, in March last year the Centre withdrew the tax-exemption provision from the STP scheme, further discouraging IT firms from using the IT parks.

“With optical fibre-based communication link reaching all major towns in Bengal, the IT firms already had no reason to stick to the IT parks. This is because the up time in satellite radio-links is 95 per cent at best, whereas in the case of optical fibre the up time is 99.95 per cent and in the IT industry this is very crucial,” said a senior official of the state’s IT promotion cell.

“Making the situation worse, the tax-exemption provision has been withdrawn. This has served as the final setback to the IT parks, which were limping from the very beginning.”

Since the IT parks are the property of the STPI, there is apparently very little that the state government can do. Thus, it has now initiated a discussion with the STPI to explore whether the five IT parks can be revived with private investment.

“The only way these parks can be revived is by building customised commercial space that can house IT firms even as they use connectivity from optical fibre-based service providers. For this you need money and the state government is not in a position to pour in any. Private investment seems to be the only option and we are discussing this with the STPI,” the officer said.

Although the STPI is the organisation that will take the final call, given the land-use policy, the Union government organisation will require a nod from the state government before deciding on any step relating to the IT parks.

“Like the state government, we are very keen on putting the IT parks to effective use. I hope something positive will emerge in the next month,” said an STPI eastern region official, who was unwilling to be named.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This piece first appeared in The Statesman on 20 July 2012.)


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