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Sen hope for ailing hotel

Calcutta, Jan. 8: The Bengal government today said it would go ahead with plans for privatisation of the ailing Great Eastern Hotel, regardless of the opposition from Citu and other unions to an early retirement scheme for 440 employees.

'I will personally negotiate with Citu and other unions regarding the retirement scheme. I will try to make them understand that the scheme is the only option for them,' said Nirupam Sen. The industry minister has been tasked by chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee to talk to the unions, which had responded sharply after the plans for the retirement scheme were unveiled.

The reduction in the workforce of the hotel is essential, as no entrepreneur would be interested in acquiring a hotel with huge overheads, Sen told The Telegraph.

'Those interested in taking over the hotel will take not less than two years to carry out the renovation. What will happen to the employees during that lean period' Nobody will unnecessarily pay salaries to over 400 staff for two years,' said the minister.

On Monday, chief secretary Ashok Gupta will hold a meeting at Writers' Buildings on the implementation of the scheme. 'As things stand now, two packages ' one for 380 permanent staff and another for 60 contract employees ' would be put into operation,' hotel member secretary Jagannath Bag said this afternoon.

The meeting will be attended, among others, by finance secretary Samar Ghosh, industry reconstruction secretary Sunil Mitra and outgoing tourism secretary A.K. Patnaik.

Eleven domestic and international groups have been chosen out of 12 who have shown interest in acquiring the hotel, according to officials.

The bidders include ITC Ltd, the Park Hotels, Inter Continental South West Asia and Bharat Hotels. The Claridges Hotel group, Unitech Group, Kenilworth and Sinclairs Hotels are also in the race.

'We shall begin the process of sending bid materials to those who have been selected,' said an official. A special-purpose vehicle may have to be formed, in which the private party will have 74 per cent equity and the government 26 per cent, said the official.

Bhattacharjee has asked Sen to initiate a dialogue with the unions after reports reached the chief minister of last week's meeting at which senior officials ran into resistance from Citu, Intuc and Jay Majdoor Forum while seeking to push through the scheme.

'The unions will have to appreciate that privatisation is only option left before us. On its part, the government would see to it that the scheme is an attractive one,' Sen said.

The Citu leadership has directed its hotel unit to suspend its agitation against the latest government move. 'They have been asked to put their movement on hold. Let us first see the package offered by the government,' said Rajdeo Goala, a senior Citu leader.

Intuc leader Ramen Pande echoed Goala and said they have not yet lined up any agitation. 'We have no problem regarding privatisation of the hotel. However, the government will have to ensure an attractive scheme so that the employees do not end up on the street,' he said.

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