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Singur whiff in Boeing miss

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By SOHINI MOOKERJEA in Calcutta
  • Published 18.09.08
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Calcutta, Sept. 18: A joint team from top US companies has scrapped Calcutta from its India itinerary apparently because of the Singur standoff, denting the state’s longstanding hopes of an investment by Boeing.

Boeing officials are part of an India tour by the US-India Business Council (USIBC) from September 21 to 25, but today the council said it was cancelling the September 21-22 Calcutta leg.

The council — formed by top US and Indian companies to facilitate two-way investment and trade — officially explained that it needed to spend more time in Delhi.

However, sources said the council had informed the US consulate in Calcutta that it was avoiding the city because of the state of affairs prevailing around the Singur stalemate.

Had the US team visited Calcutta, state officials would have had an opportunity to talk to Boeing executives about a possible ancillary in Bengal for the aviation giant’s maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facility in Nagpur.

A Boeing MRO in Bengal had been high on chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s wish list, but the state had lost out to Nagpur, where the company has invested $118 million, creating 3,000 direct jobs and many more indirect jobs.

Still, Bengal was hopeful of persuading Boeing to set up a smaller centre in the state – a “spoke” for the Nagpur “hub”. Local companies like Bengal Aerotropolis Projects Ltd were in touch with the Union civil aviation authorities for the project, sources said.

Bengal’s pursuit of an aviation MRO may now appear jinxed. At the Hanover Fair in Germany last April, a team led by industries minister Nirupam Sen had tried to set up a meeting with Airbus officials at Hamburg for an MRO, but the talks did not materialise.

“The USIBC team regrets missing the Calcutta portion of its India tour this time due to pressure of time,” an official statement from the council said.

“The team must be in New Delhi on September 23 for meetings and decided that in order to prepare for those meetings an earlier arrival in Delhi than was previously planned was in order. The US team regrets the necessity to cancel its planned visit but looks forward to visiting Calcutta at the earliest opportunity.”

According to media reports earlier this month, the council had said a Singur pullout by the Tatas would have a grave impact on the future of investments in Bengal, including those from America.

The 20-member council team, which will now visit only Delhi and Hyderabad, will be led by Paul Conway, senior vice-president of Cargill Inc.

Other companies that are part of the delegation include Monsanto, Pepsico, Procter & Gamble and Wal-Mart.