Kolkata: Call it political intolerance or animosity of the successor chief minister of a rival party towards a major development plan mooted by the predecessor, the proposed international financial hub in the newly developed satellite city of New Town is an uncommon example of a project that was vetted twice, whose foundation stone was laid twice but which continues to elude West Bengal.
The predecessor was Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), part of the Left Front coalition, and the successor Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamool Congress (TMC). The foundation stone of the project, jointly proposed by Bhattacharjee and his finance minister Asim Dasgupta, was laid by then-Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee on October 13, 2010. Banerjee, the then-Railways minister in the second United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, had stayed away from the function.
Mukherjee had hoped that the venture would play a catalytic role in the development of the east and northeast while Bhattacharjee claimed that it would create two lakh jobs directly and a large number indirectly. Inspired by the Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC), the 100 acre project was supposed to be complete in five years.
When Banerjee dislodged the Left on May 20, 2011, she retained the project but accorded a fresh clearance and laid the foundation stone again on March 10, 2012. Her finance minister Amit Mitra claimed that once fully operational, the project would be connected to the financial hubs in London, Singapore and Dubai. He too claimed that that the project had a huge potential to generate massive number of jobs citing the BKC, which had become a famous financial hub.
Nabanna has never revealed what made Banerjee to suggest that the project was a fresh venture. Land acquisition, at the centre of her agitation at Singur and Nandigram, could not have been an issue since New Town, which was under development by the Housing Infrastructure Development Corporation (HIDCO) and enough uninhabited land.
Unconfirmed reports had then suggested that to revive the private sector’s interest in the Left Front government’s industrialisation efforts, the Writers’ Building wanted to assign the project to a private sector entity with a proven track record. But Banerjee, who held several investment summits in her last two terms to persuade the private sector to invest in the state, wanted HIDCO to assume the total responsibility of developing the financial hub. In fact, her trusted ministerial colleague Firhad Hakim and some officers claimed at the foundation stone-laying ceremony that “ours is the original project”.
According to sources, politics, especially her dislike of Mukherjee, was the main reason for Banerjee’s actions. When he became the UPA government’s presidential nominee, she had withheld her support to him despite the TMC being the UPA’s alliance partner. Ultimately, she relented and Mukherjee became the president on July 25, 2012.
Banerjee did not like Mukherjee’s cordial terms with the Left. Therefore, Mukherjee laying the foundation stone of a project envisaged by Bhattacharjee could be the most probable reason for Banerjee to ignore the venture initially and claiming it to be her brainchild later. She became more aggressive after her emphatic win in the 2011 Assembly elections and never missed an opportunity to humiliate the Congress in West Bengal, according to sources.
Banerjee did not even invite Bhattacharjee when then-President Pratibha Patil laid the foundation stone for the Metro extension in Joka, on the city’s southern fringes, on September 22, 2010. “I have received no invitation,” Bhattacharjee had said.
Why the financial hub is in news
An online facility to register applications for owning plots at the project, which has now been dubbed as a fintech hub, was launched by Hakim on September 10. Hakim, minister for housing and transport, mentioned Nabanna’s resolve to promote industry and business. “We want this fintech venture to be a catalyst for a financial revolution in our state,” he said.
Out of the 70-acre project, only 48 acres have been allotted so far, according to details shared with media. The Left Front government had begun preparatory work about six months before the 2011 Assembly elections with some entities, including State Bank of India, UCO Bank, erstwhile United Bank of India (since merged with the Punjab National Bank) and UTI Mutual Fund, agreeing to participate in the project.
The state government introducing an online plot registration facility nine-and-a-half after Banerjee laid the foundation stone afresh clearly shows that investor interest was lacking. That possibly explains the administration’s silence on the project’s completion date. So far, m Bandhan Bank has shown interest in the project.
About the BKC
This international-scale project was planned and executed by the Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority. It was mentioned in the 2005 Budget, presented by then-Union finance minister P Chidambaram, and over the next two years, it was given an implementation-worthy shape. Spread over 370 hectares with the buildings having an office space as large as 1.17 lakh sq mtr, according to media reports. Among the occupants are the Reserve Bank of India, a host of Indian and foreign banks and financial institutions, several Indian and multinational corporate entities and star hotels.
The writer is a Kolkata-based senior freelance journalist. The views are personal.