The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Anil called to LRT talks table

The Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government has invited Anil Ambani for discussions before “committing” the Rs 2,400-crore LRT project to the Reliance Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group (ADAG).

Last month, the conglomerate had sent a draft MoU and indicated that the younger Ambani brother would come to Calcutta only after getting a “firm commitment” from the government.

“How can we hand over a big project like this without any detailed discussion' First, they sent a draft MoU, now we will have to send a modified MoU. They might not like some clauses and will send another MoU. How long can this continue'’’ asked chief secretary Amit Kiran Deb.

“The matter should be settled across the table and that is the best way. Nothing much will be achieved by exchanging letters,” added Deb.

According to him, the government has asked the firm to send a delegation to hold discussions on the LRT project.

But when contacted, a Reliance ADAG spokesperson refused to comment.

Ambani junior’s interest in the light rail transit project dates back to June when he had first broached it during a meeting with chief minister Bhattacharjee. Then, the company sent a formal proposal to the government in August, agreeing to implement the project on a build-operate-transfer (BOT) basis. A draft MoU was also sent through Consulting Engineering Services (CES), engaged by the state to oversee the project.

Bhattacharjee had a meeting with Deb and Sudhanshu Sekhar Chakraborty, managing director of CES, and agreed “in principle’’ to engage ADAG for the project.

Ambani was scheduled to come down to Calcutta in the second week of August, but cancelled his programme at the last moment. ADAG officials explained that Ambani wanted a “firm commitment” from the government and the company preferred being picked up on the basis of its proposal, not bids — as it had done with the Salim Group.

“We had held several rounds of discussions with the Salim Group before signing the MoU. The chief minister had met the Salim boss in Jakarta and they also had come here. We want to follow a similar model before signing any MoU on the LRT project,’’ stressed the chief secretary.

According to Deb, infrastructure finance company SREI had also made a formal offer to implement the project on a BOT basis and agreed to follow the government-prescribed design and technology.

“But we did not make any commitment and waited for Reliance ADAG’s offer. We do want ADAG in infrastructure projects, but the procedure has to be followed,’’ summed up Deb.

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