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Salim on chemical hub radar

Calcutta, June 14: Having roped in Indian Oil Corporation as anchor investor for the 10,000-acre chemical hub in Haldia, the Bengal government wants the Salim Group to be the anchor developer of the centre and an equally sprawling special economic zone next to it.

Benny Santoso, the second-in-command of the Indonesia-based conglomerate, will visit Haldia tomorrow. He will meet chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee the day after to renew talks on the projects in the pipeline.

The visit will be Santoso’s first after the elections. In the run-up to the polls, Bhattacharjee had put the proposed projects on the backburner following the controversies over acquisition of farmland.

The land to be acquired in Haldia is mostly low-lying.

“The Salim Group has evinced interest in Haldia. The government is also looking for an anchor developer for creating the physical infrastructure of the chemical hub and the adjacent special economic zone,” commerce and industries secretary Sabyasachi Sen said.

Union petroleum minister Murli Deora, who stopped over in Calcutta last night on way to Shanghai, had announced IOC’s intention to pump Rs 3,000 crore into its Haldia refinery to develop downstream projects. There is also a proposal to expand the refinery itself. But the prize deal was IOC’s agreeing to be the anchor investor in the new set-up.

Indicating that the government would like to link the chemical hub and the special economic zone, Sen said there would be no dearth of investors to build the special economic zone with the port so close.

The government would also like the Salims to develop the roads to Haldia as part of the package. Investors, including the Japanese Mitsubishi Chemical Corporation, are pressing for better and wider roads before expanding their operations.

Officials at the chief minister’s secretariat suggested that the Salims had been offered Haldia as an alternative to South 24-Parganas following the furore over the acquisition of farmland there for the 2,500-acre special economic zone that the group had proposed.

The CPM had even lost the previously-secure seat in Bhangar, where land for the project was likely to be acquired.

“It all depends on what they (the Salims) want. Let them spell out their stand in their meeting with the chief minister,’’ Sen said.

The Salims have engaged PricewaterhouseCoopers to prepare detailed project reports on the special economic zone (in South 24-Parganas) and the knowledge park and health city (near Calcutta airport).

The group is building a motorcycle-manufacturing unit at Uluberia, Howrah, about 20 km from Calcutta, and West Howrah township with their associate, the Siputra Group.

The last time, police had to use an alternative route to bring Santoso into the city from the airport because Mamata Banerjee had threatened to scuttle his trip. This time, too, there is a veil of secrecy on his travel details.

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