The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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US realty fund debut in Bengal
- Industrialisation has to go on: Buddha

Calcutta, Sept. 18: Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is staying focused on business and America seems to be listening more to the chief minister than Prakash Karat.

Two US real estate funds have formally launched their Indian operations by investing in a Bengal township project.

Starwood Capital Group Global and Walton Street Capital will partner the south-based Shriram Group to develop an integrated township at Uttarpara on Hind Motors’ excess land. The three will contribute equally to the Rs 5,000-crore project, which works out to over Rs 1,666 crore a partner.

This is the first time US private equity funds are investing in a real estate project in Bengal. Starwood Capital, part of the group that owns hotel chains like Sheraton and Le Meridien, has assets worth $30 billion. The Chicago-based Walton has assets of $14 billion.

“How does it matter if it’s a Left-ruled government' It is more important what is happening on the ground. We liked what we saw,” said Balaji Rao, the managing director of Starwood Capital India Advisors.

Rao said his US counterparts were not worried about the Left government in Bengal.

The project will come up on 314 acres. The 20-million-sqft developable area will have a residential project and infotech and auto ancillary parks. A hotel is also on the cards.

Sourav Goswami, the Walton Street Capital India managing director, said: “I feel the government is strongly business-oriented.”

The chief minister lived up to the assessment today, telling Left Front partners at a meeting that industrialisation would go ahead irrespective of the political uncertainty at the Centre. “The government cannot sit idle (waiting for the crisis to be over),” a front leader quoted Bhattacharjee as saying.

“The chief minister said industrialisation is going ahead as the general situation is favourable,” CPM state secretary and front chairman Biman Bose added.

Bose asked Bhattacharjee to submit a report on the investment scenario, instead of dwelling on the nuclear standoff, sending a signal that the Bengal unit is not in favour destabilising the current momentum. The chief minister listed investment proposals the state has received.

Bose said the meeting also endorsed the political “consensus” on Nayachar for a chemical hub. “We asked the government to proceed after taking into account all aspects,” he said, suggesting environment concerns were still an issue. The chief minister said they would be taken into account.

Soon after, the government announced that it would hold a meeting with “all stakeholders” on September 25 on industrialisation. Industries minister Nirupam Sen would preside over the discussion at a city hotel.

The meeting is expected to discuss land acquisition and rehabilitation with “the intelligentsia, business chambers and investors”.

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