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‘Billions of pounds’ booster for Bengal

Mamata Banerjee’s dream of transforming Calcutta into London could get a booster dose from the British themselves.

Gregory Barker, the UK minister for business engagement with India, said on Friday British companies could invest “billions of pounds” in Bengal, which has emerged as a strategic partner.

“Calcutta and Bengal are strategic priorities for us. I see a long-term potential in economic co-operation. Investment from UK companies could potentially run into billions of pounds going forward,” Barker said on his third visit to the city.

The member of the British House of Commons gave Bengal a big thumbs-up for its business environment — a rarity for a state often ridiculed as industry unfriendly. Barker said: “It is positive.”

The minister, who had accompanied Prime Minister David Cameron last November, said sectors like urban infrastructure, skill development, clean energy and climate change held out hope for future engagements.

“There is real opportunity here. The government of West Bengal has an impressive vision for the development of the state. I am proud to say, UK companies are well-placed to help make that vision into reality,” said Barker, heading a team of 17 British companies to Bengal.

This is one of the largest trade delegations from the UK in recent times.

“Our specialists have worked closely with the local authorities and the private sector in the regeneration of Calcutta. UK experts had advised on the riverfront development a few years ago. Now at the invitation of the state government, our experts will be involved in redevelopment of the Writers’ Buildings,” he said at a seminar on UK-Bengal partnership, organised by UK Trade & Investment along with the CII.

Scott Furssedonn-Wood, the British deputy high commissioner in Calcutta, Sam Sharp, the head of DFID in India, and Debasis Sen, the state urban development secretary, attended the seminar.

Barker met Bengal finance and industry minister Amit Mitra later in the day at Nabanna.

Mitra said the state has asked for British help in developing two deep-sea ports in Bengal, besides a “revolution” in water transport.

“We discussed electricity generation from tides, English language training for our human resource and investment in urban and social infrastructure,” Mitra said.

Barker said the UK could help Bengal’s effort to provide arsenic-free water to its populace.

Climate grant

The British government will give Rs 10 crore to the Calcutta Municipal Corporation by March next year to help the city’s fight against the impacts of climate change.

“We signed a landmark agreement with the CMC last November to work together for a low-carbon and climate-resilient Calcutta. It’s time to take it forward,” Barker, who is also the British minister of energy and climate change, told CMC officials at a meeting on Friday.

British experts said intervention in sectors like power, industry, building and solid waste would help Calcutta reduce its carbon footprint.

“Calcutta can reduce its energy cost substantially within five years if a proper emission reduction roadmap is pursued,” said Jon Price, director of UK-based Centre for Low Carbon Futures.

Mayor Sovan Chatterjee outlined the civic agency’s intention to reduce greenhouse gas emission by replacing conventional lights with low-carbon lighting systems.

Installing LED street lights in the city is part of the CMC-UK plan. “Easier said than done in a city where thousands of trident lights have been installed along with existing street lights,” said an expert privy to the meeting.