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With a nudge, Anil on train tracks

Calcutta, Aug. 18: The overhead light rail transit project spanning Calcutta may finally see the light of day.

Anil Ambani has sent a formal proposal to the government, agreeing to implement the Rs 2,400-crore project on a build-operate-transfer basis.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee held a meeting this evening with chief secretary Amit Kiran Deb and Sudhanshu Sekhar Chakraborty, the managing director of Consulting Engineering Services (CES), which has been engaged by the government to oversee the project, to discuss the proposal.

The government has “in principle” agreed to Anil’s plan but it wants some clauses to be included.

“We have received the proposal, along with a draft of a memorandum of underst- anding, from the Relia- nce Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group,” Deb told The Telegraph.

“We are very keen on it but we have to modify the draft MoU to include some clauses to protect the interests of the government.”

Anil had met Bhattacharjee in June and expressed his interest in the project, which will stretch across the city from Joka through Esplanade to Panihati near Dunlop. The trains will run on tracks 22 feet above the ground.

Anil was to have met the chief minister today but cancelled his visit till he received a “commitment” from the government.

“Anil is extremely keen on the LRT project in Calcutta after his success in bagging the Mumbai Metro project,” a source close to Reliance ADAG officials said. “However, he wants the government to nominate his company to do it,” the source said.

The company appears to be having the Salim Group model — where the Indonesian firm was picked on the basis of its proposal, not bids — on its mind. “Without a firm commitment, Anil is unlikely to come down to Calcutta,” the source added.

Officials in the chief minister’s secretariat said Bhattacharjee wants to ensure that the MoU has some provisions to allow the government to have the final say on the technology to be used, the route through which the LRT would run and the fare structure.

The chief minister has asked that a fresh draft agreement be prepared to include these conditions. The fresh draft will be sent to Anil’s group through CES.

“If they agree to the changes we have wanted, the MoU can be signed soon and it can be the state government’s Puja gift to the city,” Deb said. “We are keen to complete the formalities within a month so that work can start within this year.’’

Tenders for the LRT project had been floated four years ago and a dozen companies had participated in it. But no progress was made as none of the companies agreed to implement it on the BOT formula.

In July, infrastructure finance company SREI had offered to implement the project on the BOT basis. At a meeting with state officials, SREI managing director Hemant Kanoria said the company would fund the entire project with Siemens providing the technology.

However, it now appears that Reliance ADAG is ahead in the race to bag the LRT project.

“When we had floated a tender, none of the companies had agreed to implement it on a BOT basis,” Deb said. “So, now it is the sole discretion of the government as to who should get it. We will try to make the MoU with Reliance ADAG work.”

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