The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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B&B stall Ford’s Krishna rath
- Babus sit on Rs 600-cr project, bandh trips tour

Calcutta, Feb. 17: What does it take to slow a Ford down'

Bengal bureaucracy and bandhs — the two stop signs that have brought Alfred B. Ford, great-grandson of Henry Ford, the founder of Ford Motor Company, to a temporary standstill.

Not for long, though. For Ford, also known as Ambarish Das, is in town to pick up the pace and get things back on the speed track — or, maybe, head off elsewhere.

The delayed project, close to the Iskcon member’s heart, is the Rs 600-crore Vedic Planetarium at Mayapur, Nadia, that was to have begun this year.

“But things are not quite as I expected. They are going much slower than the pace I am used to. But I suppose it is how things usually work here,” said Ford, hours after his arrival, for what his wife Sharmila termed a “fact-finding” mission.

“We are here to assess the situation so far and see how we can make things progress faster,” added the scion of the man who gave the world some of its earliest automobiles.

To be implemented by Iskcon and the Sri Mayapur Project Development Society, in association with the West Bengal government and a handful of non-profit and commercial organisations, the grand plan geared to boost tourism seems to have been stalled by red tape.

To remove the roadblocks, Ford arrived today, via Delhi, along with Sharmila, a Bengali doctor who hails from Jaipur, to hold talks with those steering the state’s administration and industry.

Ford, the campaign chairman of the project -- the second phase of which is slated for completion by 2020 -- has donated Rs 50 crore, and “several million dollars” from other sources are already in the kitty. Plans include a 50,000-square metre cultural and educational complex depicting the cosmology of ancient civilisations, a 130-acre themed botanical garden, a 210-unit housing complex, health spas, hotels and retail outlets. The turnover expected is Rs 300 crore, with the creation of around 6,000 jobs.

“Really grand” is how Ford described it in December 2002, during a visit here to unveil the plans. “Really frustrating” is what Ford -- bitten by the bureaucracy and bugged by the bandh -- is likely to say this time round.

Case in point – the bandh on February 24 (called by the trade unions) has upset the Fords’ plans to return from Mayapur and Sharmila’s trip to Jaipur. “Now I don’t know what to do. My ticket was booked and the schedule set,” she complained.

“We don’t have them in the US… How do you get around these bandhs'” wondered Ford, promising to raise the matter with business and government representatives during his three-day visit.

Apart from a short trip to Mayapur for the annual Iskcon festival on February 23, the two Krishna devotees from Florida have lined up a series of meetings with the Confederation of Indian Industry, from February 18 to 20, to “build strategic relationships” and “look for business opportunities”. That’s when the “disruptive influence of bandhs” will figure high on the agenda.

Next on the list is outsourcing, something Ford considers “economically essential in a competitive industry”. Being on the board of a software company, SoftAD, it’s the “obvious area” to look at.

The reason for choosing Bengal is a “personal connection” – Calcutta is the birthplace of Srila Prabhupada, who brought the Fords into the Iskcon fold, and Sharmila’s family connection (“some of my mashimas and pishimas still live here”).

“Also, I think Bengal needs new investment, because it is often ignored,” added Ford, at Iskcon’S Gurusaday Dutta Road address.

But if the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government continues to drag its feet over Mayapur, Ford’s pet project might be shifted out (names like Puri and Pune can be heard in Iskcon circles).

“We are here to take some decisions,” was the final word from Ford.

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