The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Montek pat for state
- Planning boss says he's on great terms with the Left

Calcutta, Nov. 9: The day Bengal bagged the biggest foreign direct investment in housing, the government also got a pat from somewhat unexpected quarters ' the Planning Commission.

'The state's strong point is agriculture. We hear that interest among investors is also rising and that is a positive sign,' said Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia.

He was in the city for consultations on mid-term appraisal of the tenth five-year plan.

If praising the government for a good show was not enough, the economist-turned-bureaucrat, who was at the centre of a controversy that threatened to sour relations between the United Progressive Alliance government and the Left, also praised Left leaders for their pragmatic approach.

'I have a great working relationship and nice understanding with them,' Ahluwalia said after his hour-long meeting with chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.

From seeking central assistance to tackle urban unemployment to suggesting a Look East policy for growth and development of the region, Bhattacharjee rolled out a detailed wish list before Ahluwalia.

The chief minister also raised the issue of river bank erosion and sought funds to stem the crisis. 'We have presented our case before them and we expect the commission to initiate steps,' Bhattacharjee said after the meeting.

On Bengal's growth ' hovering around 7 per cent ' Ahluwalia said the figures are impressive, but the state of finances was a matter of 'concern'.

'Revenue generation has remained a weak area and so is the case with the debt burden. But the situation is more or less the same for all states.'

Ahluwalia also met the chief ministers of Orissa and Jharkhand ' Naveen Patnaik and Arjun Munda ' and Jagdanand Singh, the Bihar water resources minister, today.

Bengal finance minister Asim Dasgupta blamed high interest rate ' 11.5 per cent ' for the state's rising interest burden and suggested that the Centre bring it down to 6.5.

Ahluwalia said: 'In principle, we don't have problems. But the Finance Commission is looking into it and we will take up the matter after we get its report in mid-November.'

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