| Bhattacharjee at the Calcutta airport. Picture by Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya
Singapore, Aug. 22: It’s a journey with a map for Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. As he arrived here this evening on his way to Jakarta for talks with the Salim Group of Industries, he carried with him the first satellite map of the area where the $20-billion Indonesian giant plans huge investments in Bengal.
Land from four areas in South 24 Parganas ' Baruipur, Canning, Sonarpur and Mograhat ' has been identified for the Salim Group’s proposed industrial economic zone. Not all the land is contiguous, though.
“We couldn’t show them the area when they were last in Calcutta,” the chief minister said. Representatives of the group, who included Beni Santosa, one of the two brothers owning the group, had even hired a helicopter to have a look at the area, but bad weather forced them to cancel the ride.
At Jakarta, Bhattacharjee is scheduled to meet Anthony Salim, the group’s chairman, on August 25. Also in the Indonesian capital, he meets the head of the Bakri group, another major conglomerate that has large businesses in shipping, palm oil and coal.
The chief minister did not seem to be too worried about the agitation Mamata Banerjee has threatened to start to prevent the government from acquiring land for the project. “From agriculture to industry, from rural to urban life ' that is the law of economic growth everywhere.”
Even so, the government and the CPM have clearly taken care to see the project, which includes an industrial park, a health city, a golf city and a knowledge city, does not take away too much of fertile, agricultural land. It is mostly single-crop or low-lying non-farming land.
Bengal’s commerce and industries secretary, Sabyasachi Sen, who is accompanying the chief minister, said the Salim Group had not yet asked for a special economic zone status for the project area. “But we think they will eventually ask for it.”
An upbeat chief minister seemed confident about finalising the deal with the Salim Group. “As for the Salim projects, more than 50 per cent work has already been completed,” he said.
The other such is the township project in west Howrah, for which some investments have already been made by Salim and another major Indonesian group, Ciputra.
With the hope kindled by Indonesian projects, he was looking closely at Singapore. His one and a half days at Singapore have a packed schedule that includes high-profile meetings with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and the city-state’s elder statesman, Goh Chok Tong.
“But I’m looking forward most to meeting the lady”, Mrs Ho Ching, the Prime Minister’s wife and chairperson of the high-profile Temasek Holdings.
“She is a powerful woman and heads the umbrella organisation that supervises all public sector industries,” Bhattacharjee said.
The man of the moment ' other than Bhattacharjee himself, of course ' was Prasoon Mukherjee, the Jakarta-based businessman with years of association with the Salim Group. He came from Jakarta to meet Bhattacharjee here and will be with him through all the crucial talks here and in Jakarta.