The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Free-hand pledge to Great Eastern bidders

Calcutta, Jan. 20: The government today said that any of the seven companies that it has shortlisted for a possible takeover of Great Eastern Hotel will be free to retrench employees or draw up voluntary retirement schemes for them.

Tourism minister Dinesh Dakua said at Writers’ Buildings a shortlist of seven companies had been made from 14 applicants, who had earlier evinced interest in taking Great Eastern on a long-term lease. The seven shortlisted applicants include one from London and a company based in Singapore.

The Oberoi group is also in the fray, Dakua added.

The minister said the government will allow Great Eastern to be taken on a 30-year lease on an “as is where is” basis.

“Whoever takes Great Eastern will also have to shoulder the liability of all its 500 employees. After the hotel is taken on lease, the new management will be free to decide on their fate. The workers may be retrenched or offered voluntary retirement packages. That is their (the new management’s) problem. The government will not interfere. Disputes that may arise between the employees and the new management later will have to be sorted out as per existing labour laws,” said Dakua.

The companies shortlisted for taking the hotel on lease would have to fill in a tender form after submitting Rs 2 lakh, which would be non-refundable.

“The companies can then inspect the hotel and go through its accounts and balance sheet. If they are satisfied with what they see, they can bid for Great Eastern. We will hand over the hotel to the highest bidder,” the tourism minister said.

The government has been trying to sell the hotel for nearly a decade now. A few companies, including Accor Asia Pacific of France, had shown interest but later backed out. Ultimately, there were no takers as none agreed to shoulder the liability of the 500 employees and stiff resistance from the hotel’s workers’ unions.

Dakua said the more-than-a-century-old Great Eastern was incurring an annual loss of about Rs 3 crore. Asked why the government could not run the once-famous hotel, he said it could not keep up with the challenges of a very competitive market.

“A group-D employee at Great Eastern earns Rs 6,000 every month. The same employee would not get more than Rs 1,500 in any other hotel,” said the minister.

He added that several government departments owed money to the hotel for the programmes they had there and for putting up guests.

The information and culture department’s hospitality wing is the biggest defaulter.

Maintaining that the crumbling beauty needs an overhaul, Dakua said the company that finally takes Great Eastern will have to invest Rs 3 to 5 crore to renovate and modernise it to bring it on a par with the better hotels and attract guests.

Tourism week

Dakua said his department would observe tourism week from January 25. During the week, officials of the police, transport and tourism departments and volunteers will see to it that no tourist is harassed.

A close vigil will be kept on the three railway stations — Howrah, Sealdah and New Jalpaiguri — and the Dum Dum and Bagdogra airports to avoid untoward incidents.

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