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Buddha’s Ark hope for Calcutta

Calcutta, Feb. 9: Calcutta looks set to house the subcontinent’s first underground aquarium, a cavernous water world teeming with marine life from across the globe.

The Rs 500-crore project, in the last leg of finalisation, has been spearheaded by the chief minister, who has been working on the initiative for the last eight months.

“I have asked all government departments to stake this aquarium project because it has the capacity to propel Bengal into an international league of tourist destinations,” Bhattacharjee last week told a group of ministers and officials.

In tune with the chief minister’s ‘Look East’ policy, talks are being held with one of Singapore’s largest corporate entities, Hawpar Group, and several architects from the same country for designing, constructing and managing the aquarium. Hawpar runs a giant aquarium on Singapore’s Sentosa Island.

The foreign company, which provides professional and technical expertise for not more than one project in a country, has also been approached by the governments of Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra and their private collaborators for similar aquariums.

However, sources said, Hawpar is in the process of picking Calcutta because of the better prospects of land availability.

The Bengal aquarium is expected to come up off Rajarhat New Town, close to the airport, on the back of a public-private partnership. Such a collaboration is the first of its kind in Bengal’s outdoor entertainment sector.

“When Buddhadebbabu thought up the project, he told some of us that he has an underground Noah’s Ark on his mind,” said Kiranmoy Nanda, the state fisheries minister and the head of the group overseeing the implementation of the aquarium project.

Nanda’s department and its private partner, the Calcutta-based Fort group, a realty company, have already created the joint sector vehicle, Bengal Ben-Fort Aqua Limited.

The minister said the walk-through ocean aquarium, tentatively named ‘Atlantis ' Underwater World’, would be a vast and “aggressively cheerful” affair of stone, steel, aluminium scales, glass and colourful tiles.

For a visitor, the experience will begin upon entering a cylindrical tunnel so clear that the schools of fish will seem suspended above him. From there, an escalator will take the visitor to the top of the aquarium and into locales associated with various continents and oceans.

The visitor will work his way down through a cylindrical chamber divided into compartments. “Here visitors will be able to enjoy creatures as if they are playing together in the sea,” Nanda said.

Salt water required for sustaining marine life will be brought in on tankers at fixed intervals every year. The aquarium is expected to need around 6 million litres of water.

The project is also expected to have a section housing a small number of birds and animals.

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