| Manab Mukherjee, flanked by colleague Asok Bhattacharya, unveils the foundation stone. A Telegraph picture
Siliguri, Oct. 2: After Calcutta, Siliguri will be the next information technology hub in West Bengal.
Laying the foundation stone of the Siliguri Software Technology Park opposite the Uttorayon township at Chandmoni, IT minister Manab Mukherjee said: 'The decision to open this park was taken in Calcutta at a meeting with my colleague Asok Bhattacharya. The park will be functional by December,' he assured.
Construction for the office of the Software Technology Park of India (STPI) has already begun even though the foundation stone was laid today.
Confederation of Indian Industry (CII)'s eastern region chairman Ravi Poddar lauded the move. At an interactive session later between the minister, his department's principal secretary G.D Gautama and the CII's North Bengal zone members, Poddar pointed out that everything seemed to be in place for an exponential growth in IT.
'There are, however, a few stumbling blocks for Bengal to emerge among India's top three IT states by 2010. Periodic disruptions in the form of bandhs are a concern. Though the government recognised the unique character of the industry and conferred public utility status on it in 2003, going by last Thursday's experience, the industry still has to face the brunt of bandhs.'
Admitting that the department had 'received a few complaints and reports' of employees to Saltlec (the IT zone in Calcutta's Salt Lake exurb) being held up by strike supporters, Gautama later told reporters that the matter had been taken up and sorted out. Mukherjee too said the 24x7 knowledge industry had been accorded essential service status and was thus exempt from bandhs.
The CII chief said efforts should be made to spread the industry to various parts of Bengal. 'So far, IT has remained confined to Calcutta as other areas did not have the requisite infrastructure. But the earth station at STPI will go a long way in improving connectivity in the region,' he said.
Gautama, in his presentation, Advantage Bengal provided an overall picture of the growth that had taken place in the industry in the last four years and the 'huge potential' that lay ahead. IT parks had come up in Durgapur and Kharagpur and Siliguri and Haldia would follow suit.
But the north Bengal centre was better placed to flourish as an industry. Nasscom chief Kiron Karnik listed some of the reasons:
lSiliguri's geographical proximity to Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and even southeast Asian countries was a major advantage
lA good functional airport, with links to all the international airports in the country
lA suitable climate, almost similar to Bangalore
lLow cost of living compared to other centres
lAvailability of human resources with a comparatively better knowledge of English, especially among Hill students.