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Business buzz around polls
Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee with Benny Santoso at the foundation stone laying for the two-wheeler plant in Howrah. Picture by Pabitra Das

Calcutta, Feb. 15: When Benny Santoso flew down to Calcutta last October, torrential rain had washed away Mamata Banerjee's protest.

Today, as the Salim Group chief accompanied the chief minister for back-to-back launches of showcase projects in Howrah, tiny islands of Trinamul demonstrations were swamped by a sea of red flags, heralding Bhattacharjee's election slogan: Agriculture is our base, industry future.

CPM supporters queued up along the road to greet the chief minister. There were some Trinamul protesters, too, on the hour-long journey from Calcutta but without the zing its firebrand leader has demonstrated before.

Bhattacharjee, along with industries minister Nirupam Sen, zipped across the newly built road and laid the foundation stone for Bengal's first two-wheeler unit, Mahabharat Motors Manufacturing, promoted by the Salim Group.

The ceremonial inauguration of a food park (Sudha Ras), the foundation stone for a polymer park next to it and the launch of Calcutta West International City, also of the Salim Group in alliance with the Ciputra Group ' both of Indonesia ' and the Jakarta-based NRI Prasoon Mukherjee, followed.

'We are trying our best to develop industry and realise that improving socio-economic conditions through infrastructure is a primary requisite. There was a need for a project like this in Howrah and we are glad to be instrumental in bringing the country's first foreign investment in housing to west Howrah,' the chief minister said at the launch of the Rs 2,500-crore township.

All the projects the chief minister and his entourage blessed are within a short distance of each other, with at the most an hour's journey separating the township on one end and Mahabharat Motors on the other.

Once they come up ' and even during the construction of at least the township ' the area could become the golden stretch a step away from Calcutta.

Some villagers had gathered to watch the ceremony for the two-wheeler unit at Ulu-beria.

Bhattacharjee and Sen took pains to drive home the point that local people would gain in the long term. Development of industry inevitably causes displacement of people ' a traumatic experience both would have been alive to.

Some 30 families have had to part with their land to make way for the $250-million project from which 500,000 two-wheelers would roll out.

Bhattacharjee said the government had handed over the land to the Salim Group.

'The farming has stopped from this year. We got about a lakh (of rupees) a bigha. But how long will that see us through' Hope there is some job in the factory,' said a villager.

The factory will employ 500 people at the most. But some indirect employment in ancillary industries should become available, as Sen indicated.

With Santoso by his side, the chief minister said: 'I have requested them to develop a modern dairy near Haringhata. We also want them to develop an industrial estate in South 24-Parganas.'

If the two-wheeler factory causes displacement from farmland at Uluberia, down the road towards Calcutta the food park holds out hope for farmers.

Opening Sudha Ras, the chief minister said farmers would make more money by selling their produce to food processing units.

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