Saturday, December 25, 2010

Any Given Sunday!

A detailed recce of New Town was in order, this past Sunday (12/12). The objective was to check in on some of the projects that have been hit due to the political strife ongoing. Opposing elements have hit a fever pitch!

Action Area II and III of the troubled township are under fire. Numerous projects dot these troubled acres. We hope, that both the rural and the urban can live in peaceful co-existence. Hope floats.

The projects identified on this trip were as under:

Sankalpa – a large project being executed in Action Area I by WBIDFC who have outsourced the construction work to Mackintosh Burn, a state-owned company with a glorious past, not so sure about the future though.

Sankalpa has recently launched their Site I and I found this billboard on my way to New Town.  12122010597

Get the drift ? Is it not ironical or what that the billboard would say ‘Best things is life, are always worth the wait’ ? So what is the inference here ? How long do we have to wait till Sankalpa’s ‘Sankalpa’ bears fruit ?

Uniworld City – a conglomerate, a mini city of it’s own. 68 high rises talking to the sky. This project is one among the worst hit. Last detailed coverage of this area featured on this blog, exactly 6 months to date, back in July this year. Quite surprisingly, you cannot even find this project on their website under the current projects section. However, just the Unitech Air is listed that too under past projects section. Don’t believe it see for yourself here.


My last official trip to Uniworld City was back in July 2010. This embattled project has been trying to fight against all odds to come up and make it inhabitable for it’s investors. Even back then there were a few families living here, amidst infrastructure for which abysmal is a gross understatement. They did have electric power then, or so I was told. Unitech provides for power back up for those moments of darkness.

Little seems to have changed since then at least on the surface. But a lot of activity seemed to have been going for Any Given Sunday ! There were cars pulling in and out the city gates. We ran into a Unitech marketing personnel named Gaurav Khanna. Gaurav is a young turk who provides us with lot of information as under

  • About 10-12 brave families are calling Uniworld City their home.
  • They now have power to power up homes with online power back up, which takes over within a minute of losing power, on occasions when power does go out !
  • Power has been provided to them by New Town Electricity Corporation Ltd (NTCL)
  • There is a small daily needs store that is run inside the complex. The person who runs this takes orders for what you need and home delivers the items ordered.
  • Sewerage still remains a problem, with the sewer pipes still lying dumped in the vast fields next to this project. The villagers continue to have the blessings of ‘Didi’ and will not budge.
  • Unitech has a STP – Sewage Treatment Plant in place to make up for this. The sewage is treated and then transported in trucks and transported out. Necessity is indeed the mother of all inventions. Innovative but not feasible as more and more families move in.
  • Another thing that is noteworthy is that a Volvo bus service has been started from here to Tollygunge. I do not have the exact schedule or pictures of it yet. Will try to get them soon.
  • Amidst all the gloom around New Town, he remains upbeat about it. Of course, he is being paid to do just that. However he did add that

We wanted a guided tour of the facility, but Gaurav who was himself accompanying another client, could not help us with that and asked us to seek an appointment with some one from the Unitech office. It was Sunday and we saved this for another day. Decided to pack up our shooting equipment -the versatile N8.


As part of this exercise it would only be pertinent to speak to a Rajarhat local and what he made of the ongoing controversy. We did not have to travel far to do this.


Above is Haroon Ali Mollah a local native of Rajarhat and a rag picker. He makes a living out of the urban littering habits. I walked up to him and chatted with him. Haroon seemed somewhat oblivious to the ongoing crisis plaguing New Town. He is himself landless so the current debate does not apply to him. He is father to 6 children, split into equal number of boys and girls. Haroon said he has dutifully discharged his social and moral obligation of getting his daughters married, one just this Friday. Thanks to some money he had inherited from his maternal family.  He said he doesn’t really belong to either side of the political divide. He still has to earn his daily bread doing what he does.    

Rosedale NRI – a prestigious project floated for NRI investment and occupation has hit a rough patch. Now under construction for nearly four years. The half complete towers tell a story of their own. Most developers cry foul with lack of infrastructure. However for crying out loud, how do you explain incomplete structures within the periphery of the project ? Some one has some explaining to do ? Rosedale really cuts a sorry figure !


Above picture shows Rosedale towers on the left and Uniworld City towers on the right.

Elita Garden Vista – another prestigious project being development in joint venture with the Keppel, one of Singapore's largest property developers, in association with Magus Estates of the Jatia Group. Here is a link to their most recent update on their website as of 11/26.

Shukhobrishti, a mass housing project much written about here on this blog has a few families that have moved in since the much ceremonious key handing over ceremony held earlier this year. We met up with one Mr. Bairagee - in charge of security, who had an interesting take on the subject. He thinks things will change, once the ruling left government is ousted; which seems almost inevitable come summer of 2011. He opines that the departments entrusted with these projects, development of necessary infrastructure – like transportation and communication will follow suit. I hope for his and my sake that he is indeed right. Or else New Town is slated for doomsday !

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Thanks to a lot of hoopla around New Town in the media these days. I saw a whole bunch of media folks around Shukhobrishti and Elita Garden Vista, shooting around with their expensive camera equipment. Upon asking them they claimed to be from ‘The Statesman’ and were on a recce. Working on a story that was to come out in a couple of weeks time. They had hitched a ride in a rickety white Ambassador car to this no man’s land.

I also spoke to the presswallah of a different order, across the street from Shukhobrishti, as you can see above. I asked him if he was getting enough clothes to press in order to sustain his business. To which he replied, he just got started a few days back. And the clothes that he was working on, mostly did not belong to city slickers like me or you – the reader of this blog. But to the villagers. I was stumped. Wonder if any of these belonged to the land losers or Didi supporters ? He quickly added though, that two families who have moved into Shukhobrishti do use his services.

Accompanying with them was a pan-chewing, bearded intellectual. He claimed being from ‘Tata Institute of Social Sciences’, Mumbai. As he saw me flash my expensive shooting equipment – a Nokia N8, he approached me with an interrogative gesture. After briefly introducing himself he wanted to know what was I doing there with my not-so-intellectual demeanor :) I told him I follow New Town and write about what I see around me. He wanted me to pontificate about the goings-on and how I felt about the land acquisition ? Is it right, is it forceful ? He indicated he was on a social trip and was going about talking to people on either side of the divide. The villagers, the investors, the developers and whoever he could lay his hands on. I saw competition in him. I did tell him though it can be debated as to what is forceful. The government both federal and state wants us to pay taxes on our incomes. Some might consider it forceful and some do.

I told him that obviously forceful land acquisition is just not right. However I weren’t sure that the entire area of Rajarhat was forcefully acquired, it just ain’t possible. I agree fair compensation should be given to land losers, a political term coined by the opposition. Several years back during the initial stages of it’s inception when land was being acquired, a compensation had been offered. Now as it stands today the compensation seems low in hindsight. This is a difficult nut to crack. However a negotiation can be arrived at if the parties involved can sit across a discussion table with a mindset to resolve the matter at hand. But then as we know, a resolution is not what the folks opposing it want. They thrive at a stalemate and would go for the kill. I told him this is just a sad commentary on the times we live in. I also cite the example of Singur and how the stalemate turned into a deadlock and the resulting exit of Tatas. Sadder for the people of Singur, on either side of the debate. For those who did not want to give their lands, still ended up losing it. The acreage occupied by the erstwhile plant remains there. I would need to know how does Madam Didi who so ceremoniously declared victory plans to return the land she claims to have won by driving out the Tatas ! 

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Welcome to Mamataland !

Mamata Banerjee first splashed on to the political scene in the state of West Bengal, many winters ago. The left front was in it’s hey days, politically unchallenged and untested. She started off her career as a boisterous ‘Mahila’ congress leader. If the left front was LEFT, she was as RIGHT as they come. She has made a career out of challenging the left front on their own turf. I have to give it to her that she has persevered, worked hard, fought, lead by example. I dare not deny the the devil it’s due. She rose up the ranks, until she became too fit into the Congress mould and launched her own outfit – TMC. 

Even though ‘Didi’ lovingly known among her supporters need no introduction, the following has been put together to give you some insight into the persona of a leading thinker of our times. She has earned a number of firsts with her brand of politics, some samples are listed below:

  • She had once jumped and danced in protest uninhibited on the bonnet of Jaiprakaash Narayan’s car.
  • At a public rally at Alipore in Kolkata, she wrapped a black shawl around her neck and threatened to make a noose with it.
  • In February 1997, on the day of railway budget presentation in Lok Sabha, Mamata Banerjee threw her shawl at the railway minister Ram Vilas Paswan for ignoring West Bengal and announced her resignation. Then, speaker, P. A. Sangma, did not accept her resignation and asked her to apologize.

She single handedly drove away Tatas from Singur on the pretext of being a voice for the farmers. After succeeding in her mission, she wants us to believe that what she did was in the best interest of the state and it’s people. Hence her slogan - ‘Maa, Maati, Manush’. By sheer coincidence all words in the slogan begin with ‘M’. Phew. She came, saw and conquered ! When the Tata sun set on Singur, and rose up in Gujarat - she declared victory, in the same vein as George W. Bush’s victory cry of ‘Mission Accomplished !’ aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln.

mamataV bush_MI

Her USP has been her simplicity, her ‘clean’ image, her bathroom slippers and her cotton saris.

Done with a brief introduction, let me try to keep my focus on the issue at hand, as difficult as it may be. So on the 9th of December, a war cry was let out and a huge circus was set-up in Salt Lake. The agenda was to oppose HIDCO’s best laid plans. All this unfolding bang opposite a public hospital, and within close proximity to another. What ensued was complete anarchy, traffic was blocked and re-routed from forenoon hours to late in the afternoon. People wanting to visit their sick relatives and friends at the hospital were grossly inconvenienced at large, citing constitutional right to protest. And this is the change we are being promised ?

A lady who was walking down the stretch of Broadway with her teen son in tow was interviewed by a TV channel. She had to make good use of her and her son’s legs, as no public transport was available. I stood and observed the interview. The lady was obviously fuming in response to the siege that was being laid in her neighborhood. I was able to park my car at some distance and was walking down the avenue. I offered the mother and the son a ride in my car and drove them a ride to their doorstep. The lady thanked me profusely, and we bid adieu.

Now the obvious question is - what happens when the ruling government does the same in their favorite area – Metro Channel, Esplanade. Well, two wrongs don’t make a right. Not especially when you are trying to be the change and promising the sky to gullible citizens. I abhor this breach of a citizen’s constitutional right, regardless of which party is at the helm.

Wonder though, what happened to claims laid by of that of transforming Calcutta to London ? I have never had the good fortune to visit London, but I am relatively sure and am told this does not happen in London.

As for the ‘hot potato’ question, should the farmers be denied compensation as per current rates ? I believe a dialog should be started, and an amicable solution should be worked out by both the warring factions. Some solution, other than ‘No solution’ should be arrived at. But for that Ms. B, has to swing her magic wand and be open to come to the discussion table. Given her track record, it remains a doubtful starter.

The unsuspecting investors who have invested into the dream of owning their own roof have not done anything illegal. They have played by the book and taken out costly mortgages, and are chasing their dream that may never come true. They are getting sandwiched in a political tug of war, which is not of their own making ! I hereby, earnestly request Ms. B to spare a thought for them.

Some say, this rhetoric is going to change, when she assumes power. Which now appears to be a matter of time. Please explain this to me, as if I were a 6 year old - ‘How would we go from a firm no to soft yes ?’.

Below are some pictures of what went on in Salt Lake, on this day.

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I conclude by asking the question – Is New Town going the Singur way ? If the answer is YES, this might be time to pull out your investments. If the answer is NO, praise the Lord !

Good luck and Good night !

Monday, December 6, 2010

Dawn of a new era (read war …)

(* Apologize to my readers for being AWOL for nearly what must be a couple of months. I am trying to get back into the groove and start reporting again !)

This article is likely to win me some foes. But then again, I am not here to make friends. I am here to state facts the way they are and leave it to the people to adjudicate.

I have been away for a while, not quite physically but mentally. My last post was nearly three months ago. Work and ‘Status Quo’ have kept me away from writing about New Town. Projects and their progress have stagnated for a while. Earlier in October, the administration took it upon themselves to rename New Town, to ‘Jyoti Nagar’ name after the departed – Jyoti Basu. He continues to serve the ‘party’ as their untenable mascot !

In India and Bengal, renaming towns and cities, even stations and airports is a huge fad ! As if anything is going to change by simply renaming it after ‘great personalities’ as perceived by the ‘powers that be’. The name changing game only does enough to create a memorial in the name of the person, it is being named after. But then again, who are we to question anything ?


JB keeping watch over the progress of New Town project in the background

The pictures in this post are from a  few weeks back, when I went around New Town. It still seems no different than the wild-wild west, it has been.

So by now you must be wondering what is this post about and the title too ! Well, the one and only Ms. Mamata B. has yet again announced a land protest in the New Town/Rajarhat area.

The railway minister had lead a march of 25,000 farmers in Rajarhat on November 13 to protest allegedly forcible land acquisition and denial of compensation relating to the New Town project and other plans. Read more here.

Latest on the anvil to thwart any plans HIDCO might have had for New Town, is to gherao the HIDCO office. One just hopes and prays, it does not turn violent!

Ms. B has kept the rhetoric going against any form of development in New Town, or for that matter in any part of the state. Unless, of course it has to do with railways. This sounds all too familiar with her successfully driving out the Tata Nano plant out of Singur. Do not underestimate her power of being able to sabotage any development effort in the state.

In the on going fiasco about Infosys’s plans to set up shot in New Town. Partha Chatterjee the party spokesperson and Mrs. B’s yesman,  is being quoted in today’s news papers “We don’t have anything against IT companies. Our leader wants an IT hub in Bengal. But the land agitation will continue”. So what is the inference here ? Something like this, I guess - we would love to have the IT companies come to Calcutta, but we will really not let it happen ! Some one needs to train these people some English. Because they contradict themselves more than anyone else.

Here is Telegraph’s latest jibe at what is *NOT* happening in and around New Town, Rajarhat. It is clear that an impasse has been reached and not much will change before the summer blockbuster in 2011 – the assembly elections.

I really think one possible way out of this deadlock is also to get some voices together. The voices who are ‘For the motion’, pro-development and as end users have invested into their dream home only to be met with political warring factions. There are enough people looking out for the farmers, how come there is no one talking about people like us who are innocent investors. How are we to blame for the current scenario ? How come Ms. B is completely oblivious about the dreams of hundreds of thousands of people who have invested in their dream homes. Or may be she is just feigning ignorance. Just that this is turning out to be a dream that we might never wake up to !

Below are some random pictures I took during my last official trip to Rajarhat, New Town.


There are thousands of urban families too, whose future is at stake. Their homes have been under construction since time immemorial. The saddest part is that Ms. B is not open to a dialog of any kind. She thrives in this kind of politics, where a deadlock is reached and no talks are possible. Reaching across the aisle has never her style or her forte. She seems to be in the pink of her health and that makes reaching out even more difficult, with her gaining physical and political weight with each outing. ;-)

But folks this is NO laughing matter! A lot is at stake. We have to do more than just hope that things will fall into place on their own, post elections. Ms. B is known to be unpredictable and we cannot rely on her to do the right thing !

I really believe that a consortium of home/apartment/office owners and a similar one representing the interest of the developers who are promoting these projects, should be on the cards. We have to stand up and protect our own interests. It has been too long that we have allowed the political netas and didis to wield the sword of power !

Let us stand united, people and be the change we believe in ! Email me your thoughts, suggestions and ideas at to combat these deadly forces who want to take Calcutta and Bengal back to the all to familiar dark ages, we might have started to emerge from !

Hallelujah !

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