The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Give yen and take an island
- Township offer to Japanese, golf course proposed on Nayachar

Calcutta, Feb. 20: Possessing an island is the ultimate in exclusive living and Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee offered one to the Japanese today.

The chief minister said the Japanese population resident in the state could take over an island near Haldia and turn it into a township.

Some 50 Japanese citizens live and work in Haldia, where Mitsubishi Chemical Corporation has a large production facility. A few others are working on a proposed bridge across the Hooghly that would connect Haldia.

Speaking at the Indo-American Chamber of Commerce, Bhattacharjee, who is desperately seeking investment, said: “We have said they (the Japanese) could have an island close to Haldia and set up their own township there.”

States compete with each other to be investor friendly and Bengal is a late entrant, but no one has gone this far yet.

It’s hard to tell whether the offer has had any effect on the Japanese though — no stranger to islands that they are.

An official in the Japanese consulate here said Bengal had mooted the proposal as early as in December 2002 when a delegation of Japanese businessmen toured the state.

“We have taken note of the chief minister’s offer, but we haven’t decided what to do,” he said.

There is already a proposal, however, by the Haldia Development Authority to develop a golf course on an island called Nayachar — 2.5 km from Haldia — with the local Japanese population in mind. The Japanese love to play golf and the nearest course is in Calcutta.

Haldia authorities said they recently acquired 16 sq km on the island that measures roughly 38 sq km and would want Japanese companies in the state, primarily Mitsubishi, to invest in the golf course.

The Japanese population in Haldia is spread over two townships, some 15 km from the Mitsubishi plant. There have been reports that Mitsubishi would expand its operation there, having turned profitable in a short length of time.

But the bitter experience the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi had with unions while it decided to close down its office in Calcutta may act as a deterrent to not only Mitsubishi, but Japanese investors in general.

The trade unions resisted the move and went on a strike, actions the Japanese are not familiar with.

Nevertheless, the Japanese continue to commit huge funds to infrastructure development — building bridges, flyovers, roads and may possibly even finance mass rapid transport — led by the Japan Bank for International Co-operation.

Bhattacharjee said besides the bridge connecting Haldia, there was a plan to run magnetic levitation trains in the city with Japanese technology and co-operation.

The Japanese have also shown interest in funding an under-the-river Metro to connect eastern Calcutta with Howrah, but have been put off by the slothful response of government agencies.

Bhattacharjee said: “We are in touch with Honda (carmaker) as well. I’ve had several discussions with senior officials (of the company) on the possibility of setting up an assembly unit, if not a manufacturing facility.”

The chief minister revealed that an Indonesian firm had appointed global consultants McKinsey to study the viability of setting up a two-wheeler manufacturing unit here.

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