The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Twin bidders run for Bengal business

Calcutta, June 20: When Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee gets two business houses interested in one property, Bengal appears to have arrived somewhere on Indiaís industrial map.

Mukesh Ambani, who will be in Calcutta tomorrow to meet the chief minister and top officials, is known to be interested in Haldia Petrochemicals, where the other suitor is Indian Oil. It was disclosed today that Reliance could also drink at the fountain at the government-owned dairy at Haringhata.

The other day the Indonesian Salim Groupís representatives had paid a visit to the dairy with the same intention.

Competition fetches the best deal, anywhere.

The main item on Ambaniís agenda is the groupís farm business initiative, under which it will buy agricultural products from the state for sale through two kinds of outlet. One will be distribution centres ' five of which will come up in Bengal ' for what is called business-to-business sale. In other words, wholesale trade.

Reliance also plans to build shopping malls, in Bengal and elsewhere, which will stock farm products, comprising about 40 per cent of the total merchandise.

Officials in the chief ministerís office said the government would request Ambani to invest in plastics at the proposed chemical hub at Haldia, a project Indian Oil is expected to anchor.

Talks have been held with the Salim Group to build the infrastructure for the complex.

Reliance Industries will also be offered the ailing Haringhata dairy and farm, around 45 km from Calcutta in Nadia district. ďA team from Reliance Industries will visit Haringhata soon,Ē animal resources development minister Anisur Rahaman said.

This is small fry compared to the possibility that at the talks between Bhattacharjee and Ambani the special economic zone (SEZ) planned for Haldia could come up. The chief minister has been talking about getting Ambani involved in the SEZ but Reliance has been silent so far.

Meanwhile, when Benny Santoso of the Salim Group visited Bengal last week there were discussions about the Indonesian conglomerate building the infrastructure for the Haldia SEZ.

Reliance is too big to be just an investor in an SEZ and, if at all interested, it would want to be the infrastructure developer, as it is doing in Haryana.

Having signed the Rs 25,000-crore Haryana deal yesterday, it will be interesting to see how Ambani reacts during talks on an SEZ here.

It is likely that the proposed chemical hub at Haldia will be discussed. ďSince they are already in plastics, we would ask them to consider Haldia,Ē a state official said.

But if the government wants this investment to come into the chemical hub, again Reliance will not be interested in simply being an investor. It will want to build the hub itself.

Government officials have said earlier that Salim and Reliance are not mutually exclusive and there are enough investment opportunities available for both. It will now be up to the government to offer the two what suits them and not create a situation where it gets one at the cost of another.

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