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Multinational lines up recce

Calcutta, Oct. 8: A high-powered team from one of Asia’s fastest growing conglomerates will reach Calcutta for talks on October 22 with Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s government to determine possibilities of investments in different projects in Bengal.

The chief minister today said Indonesia’s Salim Group, which enjoys a worldwide presence in such diverse fields as infrastructure, commodities, manufacturing, banking, mining, food products, agri-businesses and floriculture, has shown an interest in Bengal as a possible first investment destination in India.

“We are going to highlight the advantages of making investments in Bengal compared to other states in the country. We hope to get a positive response from them.”

Leading the team from Salim will be Beni Santoso who is tentatively scheduled to check into a city hotel late in the evening of October 21. Also accompanying him will be Budiarasa Shinawatara, head of PT Chiputra, a large construction company.

The talks will be spread over two days. Paving the way for the meeting is a Calcutta-born, Jakarta-based industrialist, Prasun Mukherjee.

Sources close to the chief minister told The Telegraph tonight that the talks would centre round the following areas:

• Building a city as large as (Santoso’s words conveyed to the state government last week) Calcutta, for which Salim is willing to consider an investment of Rs10,000 crore;

• Import, processing and packaging of food and agriproducts; a preliminary investment of about Rs 200 crore has been discussed; and

• An automobile project, preferably for manufacturing two-wheelers. This one is being looked at because of the express wish of the chief minister.

“These are all top-of-the line projects, of interest to Salim. There are strong chances that they would show interest in certain other things like setting up giant shopping malls and power stations,” the sources said.

It would be, however, wrong to assume that the Salim group is as good as in. If anything, Bhattacharjee and his team would find themselves grappling with a daunting job: hardselling a problem state like Bengal to a discriminating investor.

The Salim team, it is learnt, would seek from the government a commitment to clear the familiar roadblocks: slow and interfering bureaucrats and ministers, archaic land ceiling laws, complex and often time-consuming land acquisition and environment clearances.

“The government can hope to reap dividends from the talks only when they have convinced them that Bengal alone in India can qualify for that kind of investment in different projects,” an official connected with the exercise said.

Evidently, Bhattacharjee realises that he is going to walk the tightrope in the meeting with the Salim team.

If Santoso and his mates go back happy, according to observers, their good words can actually trigger a dollar flow from Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and other countries in Southeast Asia. If they go back unhappy, the multiplier effect of such unhappiness would be bad for Bengal. “There will be sizeable risk elements associated with the talks,” a source said.

The government today signed an MoU with Prasun Mukherjee’s Universal Success Enterprise Private Limited and Delhi-based Unitech, a large developer, for setting up a housing complex and an information technology park at an estimated Rs 500 crore at Rajarhat.

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