The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bengal flashes on IBM software screen

Bangalore, Oct. 29: Bengal made a late but possibly effective entry into, considered Asia’s largest information technology show.

The Left government had more or less ignored the event for the past four years but sent its first ministerial-level delegation this time, claiming to have “struck gold” almost immediately.

Manab Mukherjee, the IT minister, started talks with IBM today and said to have got it to “agree in principle to set up its next software centre in Calcutta”. There is no independent confirmation yet from IBM but companies do take some time to firm up investment plans, before which they are unwilling to make a public announcement.

The Bengal team said the proposed centre would cater largely to IBM’s “export operations”. Apart from the software project, IBM is also planning a training institute and a centre for IT excellence in Calcutta.

Discussions were held with Uday Shiv Shukla, head of IBM’s export division in India, after which the team said the details of the project would now be worked out.

Over the past six months, the two sides have developed a working relationship. IBM is supplying hardware to support the government’s computer literacy programme in schools. It is also implementing the programme in 300 schools in association with a local partner.

Cynthia Crose, the head of IBM learning services, South Asia, had hinted during a recent visit to Calcutta that the American multinational would set up a teachers’ training centre in Bengal. In a reciprocal gesture, Mukherjee had said the contract for 500 more schools under the computer literacy programme would be given to IBM.

If the software development centre comes up, it will reinforce IBM’s commitment to the state which had initially hitched its infotech fortunes to Microsoft’s wagon.

The Bengal team held talks with other participants at the show, which is being attended by representatives from 17 countries and 10 states, apart from about 100 private enterprises.

Admitting that Bengal was late in realising the potential of IT, Mukherjee said the government was now trying to make up. The collaboration with the Bangalore-based Wipro was highlighted as an example of the early success of the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government’s initiative.

Wipro has been allotted land in Calcutta for a software development centre that is expected to start working from 2004, employing 500 engineers in the first year, rising to 2,500 in the third.

The team circulated its IT industry projections. Less than 5 per cent of the country’s software exports originate in Bengal, but the share is expected to rise to 15 per cent by 2010.

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