January 13, 2009

Buddhadeb blames activists for delaying development projects

Kolkata, 13th January: West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacherjee on Tuesday accused environmental activists of putting obstacles to implementation of various development projects through litigations.

"A lot of NGOs have mushroomed now and their job is to delay the projects by raising environmental concerns," Bhattacharjee said after laying the foundation stone of a water treatment plant near East Kolkata Wetlands, which is an ecologically fragile area included in the Ramsar list of wetlands. This particular project, spread over 20.15 acres, would start two years behind schedule after environmental activists moved Calcutta High Court for its being so near the east Kolkata wetlands, he said.

However, the HC allowed the project on December 24 and the Kolkata Municipal Corporation decided to complete the project of providing drinking water by treating water from the Hooghly river, the Chief Minister said. The water treatment plant with a capacity to treat 30 million gallons of water daily would be completed in three years and would provide drinking water to 10 lakh people living on the eastern fringes of the city.

Kolkata may get monorail running on LPG in two years

Kolkata: A monorail service running on cooking gas? With an eye on the record books, that is exactly what a Kolkata-based company has planned for the city two years on. "No monorail system in the world runs on LPG (liquefied petroleum gas). We want to be the first to do so. We have spoken to Indian Oil (Corporation) for providing us with adequate support for such a service," Biplab Bhattacharya, director of Andromeda Technologies, told mediapersons.

Andromeda has got the contract for constructing the first stretch of 20 km of monorail from Budge Budge to Taratala on a build-own-and-operate basis for an approximate cost of Rs.600 million (Rs.60 crore) per km. The train will use hybrid technology that will enable it to run on both electricity and LPG. It will have four coaches, each with its own electric generator, which would accommodate 150 passengers.

"We expect to start the project in March 2009. It will take a little more than two years to complete the work. Indian Oil officials have said they can ready proper infrastructure for LPG support within the time frame when the monorail work is scheduled to be completed," Bhattacharya said. The company plans to run the train with hydrogen gas in future, he added. "We are also planning a feeder service with around 40 LPG buses, which will help the commuters travel to their destinations from the monorail stations," Bhattacharya said.

As of now the city has no LPG or compressed natural gas (CNG) buses. Asked whether the city was equipped to supply fuel for the LPG bus service, an Indian Oil official said: "Now there are 12 LPG pumps in the city. We have five pumps. If there is market requirement, I am sure we will be able to meet it. There is no shortage of LPG. We have a refinery at Haldia."

The monorail will be the latest addition to the various rail transport networks in the city. Apart from the general railway service, the city already has the metro railway, the circular rail and the tram. Once the first phase is complete, the government will take a call on awarding the contract for the second phase stretching 52 km till Rajarhat in the city's northeastern fringes.

"Based on how the first phase goes, we will consider how to award the contract for the remaining work. The main constraint for such a project within the city is space," said West Bengal Transport Secretary Sumantra Chowdhury. The total expense for the first phase will be to the tune of Rs.12 billion, with a debt-equity ratio of 4:1. Now Andromeda is looking for overseas financial partners and hopes to clinch a deal soon.

The company will initially rope in coaches from Germany. But in due course, it will get coaches manufactured in India. It will partner German companies Fernmeldewerk Munchen Aubing GmbH for signalling and Derap AG & Helbling Technik for technological know-how.

West Bengal Government promoting river tourism in a big way

Kolkata, Jan.13 : Ganga Kutir lies along the banks of the Ganga in the pastoral hamlet of Raichak-on-Ganges, about an hour and halfs drive from Kolkata, West Bengal. This 12-crore property sprawling over two acres symbolizes the potential of River Tourism in the state.It’’s no wonder then, that the West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation is foreseeing an investment of Rs 150 crore in the next couple of years just for promoting river tourism.
The investment would go towards renovating heritage ghats along the Ganges as well as developing a Marina with speed boats, para-sailing and cruise boats facilities.There is no doubt that river tourism targets the high-end tourists. For example, Ganga Kutir caters to an exclusive set who can drive down from Kolkata to enjoy a couple of days of total relaxation in the lap of luxury.The resort has 16 rooms priced at Rs 12000 onwards, a library, a bar, a Spa, a swimming pool which seems to merge into the river, river cruise facilities and an excellent restaurant.
According to Mr Harshvardhan Neotia, even though Kolkata was lacking is such weekend tourist spots, this segment is now really catching up.Neotias Ambuja Realty first set up the five-star hotel Fort Raichak with conference facilities on the river side at Raichak. The property continues to have over 60% occupancy through the year with 100% occupancy in the four months of Oct, Nov, Dec, January as well as during the holiday season. Neotia says that Fort Raichaks success propelled him to set up Ganga Kutir a more exclusive retreat on the river side.
In just two months from its launch in November, Ganga Kutir has been such a success that Ambuja Realty is planning to add another 12 rooms to the property. The total project area now extends to about 70 acres and the projected investment is Rs 100 crore.The superb Spa facility with Swedish, Thai, Javanese, Ayurvedic treatments and reflexology and stone therapy is common to both Fort Raichak and Ganga Kutir and is a compelling reason for the clients to take the trip. The very fact that Sri Lankan architectect Channa Daswatte was called in to design Ganga Kutir in traditional Bengal Ashram style indicates that promoters are sparing no efforts to provide world class resorts which re-define luxury.
West Bengal has the right specifications to become the river tourism destination in India with the magnificent delta Sunderbans with its mangrove forests and the pilgrimage point Sagar Islands where the Ganga Sagar Mela is held every year, points out Manabendra Mukherjee, West Bengal Minister for Tourism. The government has already announced a new tourism policy with a positive approach towards river tourism. The policy offers several incentives, grants and subsidies to investors wanting to invest in this segment.Though the budgetary support to tourism is only Rs 35 crores, the minister makes it clear that the government was actively seeking private investment in this sector.
The government is expecting about Rs 4000 crore private investment, including FDI, in tourism and infrastructure.Private promoters like Ambuja Realty, who offer private ferry rides to Sunderbans Delta and Sagar Islands from its project at Raichak say that development in river and road infrastructure would go a long way in attracting tourists.According to Mr T V N Rao, Managing Director, West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation, there was great scope for investment in river tourism in the state starting from hotels along the banks of the Ganges, river entertainment, infrastructural development of the Sunderbans Delta area, which is still very undeveloped etc. There is also tremendous potential for investment in Tea Tourism in the Dooars in North Bengal which has over 350 Tea Gardens and Hill Tourism in Darjeeling.Growth in West Bengal Tourism is on the positive side despite the recent recession, according to Mukherjee.
Both inflow of tourists into the state and outflow is higher than the national average and West Bengal figures in the top five states of the country in tourism.From 1,14,064 foreign tourists in 1991, West Bengal saw an inflow of 6,38, 256 foreign tourists by June alone in 2008. The total tourist inflow into the state in the first six months of 2008 touched 12076102 from a mere 3225502 in the whole of 1991. Total tourist inflow into Kolkata alone stood at 48,59,961 in 2007.Considering that the state has rivers, hills, tea gardens and a delta only thing missing being a desert it can be safely assumed that the state will go a long way as a tourist hub with support from the private sector.

1.5 lakh pilgrims at Ganga Sagar

Sagar Island (WB), Jan 12 : In the backdrop of the Mumbai terrorist attacks, security at the Ganga Sagar mela was beefed up with Kapil Muni's temple cordoned off and 5000 policemen deployed at the fair which began today, official sources said. About 1.5 lakh pilgrims, including a large number of sadhus from across the country and Nepal have congregated for the mela, the largest religious congregation in this part of the country, for the holy dip on Makar Sankranti on Wednesday, the sources said.
There were 24 watch towers, 22 of them with close circuit TVs, while metal detectors and sniffer dogs were being used to check pilgrims, the sources said. A Fokker aircraft and helicopters of the Coast Guard were keeping watch from the air and a hovercraft on the waters, the sources said. A total 14 additional superintendents of police, besides the South 24 Parganas police superintendent were keeping round-the-clock vigil. Over 100 NGOs were at work to provide services to the pilgrims. The West Bengal government has withdrawn all taxes except pilgrim tax of Rs 5 this time.

Cong divided over Trinamool alliance

KOLKATA, 12th January: The Congress in West Bengal is divided over an alliance with Trinamool Congress for the coming Lok Sabha election. While a section of Congress leaders left for Delhi on Monday to advise AICC leaders to exercise caution against such an alliance, others did not go. Those who left for Delhi were led by Congress Legislature Party chief Manas Bhunia. Among the group were a few legislators, too, it was learnt from party sources. On the other, the two working presidents of the Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC), Subrata Mukherjee and Pradip Bhattacharya, did not go. Bhunia had of late been critical of Congress leaders leaving the party and joining Trinamool. Accusing Trinamool of engineering defections in the Congress, he said that would not pave the way for an alliance between the two. It was believed he was leading the group, which did not want an alliance while both Mukherjee and Bhattacharya had advocated in favour of an alliance at a recent meeting with external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee. During their stay in Delhi, Bhunia and his colleagues were likely to meet Pranab and Mohsina Kidwai, AICC general secretary in charge of West Bengal, too, it was learnt. "They are not against any alliance. But they want it to be forged on honourable terms for the Congress," Bhattacharya said. Mukherjee said other PCC leaders would also give their opinions about such an alliance to the AICC, but only when asked to do so. "First, let us assess what Delhi is thinking about the alliance," he pointed out. Although Trinamool chairperson Mamata Banerjee has not commented on her plans for an alliance with Congress, she had lately been in touch with Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as well as Pranab Mukherjee. Going by the indications, she would rather firm up the question of an alliance with the Congress high command rather than depend on state-level PCC leaders. Mamata's move on Monday of not sharing a platform with BJP leader Rahul Sinha at a public meeting at Nandaram Market was indication enough that she was serious about not having any relation with BJP, observers said. For the Congress to ally with the Trinamool, the latter must snap all ties with NDA. But state level PCC leaders wanted to ensure that Trinamool left some seats for Congress with a winning chance in south Bengal, too. They would not agree to a scheme of things under which Trinamool would have all the seats in south Bengal, leaving Congress to contest only those in North Bengal.

West Bengal announces compensation for tribal women in Lalgarh

Kolkata, January 12: The West Bengal government Monday announced compensation for the tribal women in West Midnapore’s Lalgarh who had been victims of police excesses during raids November last year, officials said.The compensation would be given to 14 tribal women who received injuries during the police action.

“We’ve decided to give Rs.50,000 to a tribal woman, Sitamoni Murmu, who suffered a serious injury during the police operation. The state government will also grant Rs.25,000 to Palmoni Murmu and 12 other tribal women will get Rs.15,000 each,” Ardhendu Sen, the state home secretary, told reporters here.

Trouble erupted at Lalgarh after the police arrested some school students and allegedly heckled tribal women after the convoy of Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and central ministers Ram Vilas Paswan and Jitin Prasada was ambushed with a landmine blast near Bhadutala Nov 2 while they were returning after a steel plant inauguration.

On Dec 8, almost a month after the tribal agitation was launched in Lalgarh, a committee against police atrocities, headed by tribal leader Chhatradhar Mahato, kicked off an agitation. They demanded a public apology from the district police for the alleged excesses committed against them during the course of investigation into the landmine blast.

A state government-appointed panel, headed by backward classes welfare department secretary R.D. Meena, earlier submitted its report to West Bengal Chief Secretary Asok Mohan Chakrabarti. After examining the report, Chakraborty placed it before Bhattacharjee.“Though there was no specific report against the police officers involved in the operation, we’ve decided to take action against the inspector-in-charge (IC) of Lalgarh Sandip Singha and officer-in-charge Sushanta Rajbangshi for their role in the police operation,” Sen said. He said the state government would take action against the police officers later.

Gee Pee plans expansion beyond West Bengal

KOLKATA, 11th January: Gee Pee is aiming to bank on the pricing differentiation in its attempt to take on popular manufacturers in the touch screen mobile handset segment. The company has now come up with mobile handsets priced at Rs 7,500.

The phones are currently being manufactured at Shenzhen China and the company aims to come up with an R&D centre in Bengal employing about 100 professionals. The company plans to expand its footprint beyond Bengal this year and go for a pan-India expansion as well as foray into the Bangladesh, Kenya and Gulf markets.