The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Crores & roses from Mukesh

Calcutta, June 21: Mukesh Ambani called it a “historical” day. He might have meant historic and why not historical even'

But it was not for the Rs 4,000-crore investment he said he would make in two projects in Bengal that he called this day historical.

Today is the 30th anniversary of the Left Front government, for which he presented Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee (Buddhababu, he called the chief minister) a bouquet of red roses.

A meeting of minds of a Marxist party-led government and Mukesh ' that makes a good headline for the 30th birthday.

It was a convergence of interests on two projects ' an agri-business network and a gas pipeline, each costing Rs 2,000 crore.

This day also saw the two brothers ' Mukesh and Anil ' on public stage, one in Calcutta and one in Mumbai, one with the Bengal chief minister (a late convert to economic liberalisation) and the other with the Prime Minister (who started it).

While Mukesh was making his first commitment in Bengal, the younger brother ' mother Kokilaben by his side ' was renewing his in Mumbai with his company participating in a consortium that will build the Metro rail in the western metropolis.

The Mukesh camp had been talking about the agri-business initiative, consisting of a network of farm product purchase and distribution centres, but sprang something of a surprise in the announcement about laying a pipeline to Haldia to bring gas Reliance has discovered in the Bay of Bengal.

The announcement was made after the meeting Mukesh, who flew into town with wife Neeta and son Anant, had with the chief minister where developing a special economic zone (SEZ) at Haldia was also discussed. Mukesh did not make a commitment. At a joint news conference, the chief minister denied having talked about Reliance’s possible role in the chemical hub planned at Haldia.

Before making more commitments, Reliance wants to test the ground in Bengal with its farm products business and pipeline. If its experience over the next three years when the two projects will be implemented proves happy, more investments could flow in.

A formal agreement on the agri-business venture will be signed shortly. Mukesh, who said it was a privilege to work with the Bengal government, added: “We want to transform the agri-retail sector to bring prosperity to the farmers of Bengal. Our primary focus is to transform the agri sector.”

Bhattacharjee hoped that the modern market mechanism Reliance would put in place would benefit farmers.

There are fears that such a system could cause job loss by eliminating middlemen. Commerce and industry secretary Sabyasachi Sen, however, said the only people to lose would be the village money-lenders.

“They (Reliance) will offer cheap credit along with agricultural inputs. However, farmers will not be bound to sell their produce to the company,” he said.

Mukesh wanted to meet Jyoti Basu, too. A meeting could not be arranged but they spoke over the phone.

As reported earlier in The Telegraph, Reliance has signed a memorandum of understanding with the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation to bring gas from its reserves off the Orissa coast. Reliance will undertake a study to assess the demand for gas in Calcutta and Haldia.

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