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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 March 2006, 16:34 GMT
Rising Kolkata's winners and losers
By Tanya Datta
BBC Radio 4's Crossing Continents

The city of Calcutta - now known as Kolkata - is being transformed as multinationals pour into India's latest IT hub, but not everyone stands to benefit.

The rural community of Jatragaachi Nutan Porli
Big business is about to arrive in Jatragaachi Nutan Porli
Just north out of the city of Kolkata, lies a small, tropical hamlet where children play among coconut groves and cows graze idly.

But the rural community of Jatragaachi Nutan Porli, which numbers about 1,500 people is set for a nasty awakening.

They have been told that they will be evicted from their homes to make way for urban development.

Encircling them on every side are rapidly sprouting high-rise office buildings and luxury residential apartments, part of a colossal, future IT hub called Rajarhat.

The changing landscape is not just confined to this district.

Across the city once synonymous with Mother Teresa and filthy, urban slums, there are signs an image transformation is under way.

The city's IT sector is growing at a rate of 70% per year, twice the national average
Brand new motorways, chic shopping malls and cinema multiplexes are springing up.

It is being called, the New Kolkata.

Both my parents come from Kolkata and I have been visiting this city for almost 30 years, so I have watched it change.

It is not just the name of the city which has changed - officially altered from Calcutta to Kolkata - in the last five years, I have noticed a growing sense of confidence among its inhabitants.

And all the indicators seem to suggest this confidence is well placed.

The city's IT sector is growing at a rate of 70% per year, twice the national average.

And multinationals are pouring in as red tape is slashed.

Militant politics

What is remarkable is that the aggressively capitalist, pro-market reforms are taking place in a state that has had a staunchly Communist-led government for nearly three decades.

Communist graffiti in the city
These changes are taking place against a communist backdrop
During the 1980s and early 1990s, Kolkata was famous for militant trade unionism.

Strikes, lock-outs and traffic-paralysing marches were a staple of everyday life.

But the resulting poor industrial relations accompanied by a steady exodus of manufacturing and capital from the state had a disastrous effect on Calcutta's economy.

By the mid-1990s, West Bengal's share of India's total industrial output had plummeted to less than 5%.

But today, the state boasts the third largest economy in India and an ambition to rank among its top three IT states by 2010.

It is no surprise then that recruitment is booming in the city.

Call centres

Ma Foi Management Consultants is the biggest human resources company in India.

Deblina and Rajdeep
International call centre attract highly-educated young people
I met Deblina and Rajdeep in the shiny, modern Ma Foi reception.

Both were 24 years old, highly-educated and determined to get a stake in Kolkata's thriving IT environment, even if that means working through the night in call centres - something unlikely to go down well with conservative Bengali parents.

"Maybe I'm working at night," said Deblina, "but I'm doing my job. I'm not doing anything bad. That's what I made my parents understand.

"So, let me get those international brand names attached to my CV for the sake of my career, for the sake of my development and my city's development."

And in a revealing sign of the times, neither Deblina or Rajdeep cared that the state was still Communist, as long as they could both get well-paid jobs.

"I'm really not bothered about politics," said Rajdeep.

"Things are changing right now. Young people are not giving so much stress to politics.

"They are giving stress to their career. They want financial independence. They are not into politics anymore."

Foreign capital

Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya
We committed mistakes. Now things are changing
West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya

Catering to the Westernised aspirations of the younger generation is the reason cited by West Bengal's Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, to explain why he, a committed Communist, is at the forefront of the campaign to attract big business to Kolkata.

His mantra "Reform, perform or perish" has convinced national and international companies that he is prepared to create a positive business environment.

And he sees no conflict between his ideological beliefs and what he practises.

"We committed mistakes," he said. "Now things are changing. Earlier we used to say we wanted to nationalise all foreign capital.

"Now we think this is foolish. We invite foreign capital!

"I'm against consumerism... But for other people, for the young generation, I encourage them.

"They need cars. They need good housing. They like to go to shopping malls. They like to go to restaurants.

"But personally, I don't like this. I only go to bookshops."

Uncertain times

We have put down our roots here, but... what choice do we have?
Dilip Mallick, government worker
But, back in the village of Jatraagachi Nutan Porli, however, time is running out.

So far there is little evidence that the benefits of Kolkata's boom-time will trickle down to lower-income communities like this.

Dilip Mallick is a slight, young government worker who is nervous about the forthcoming eviction of his village.

"We've put down our roots here. We are familiar with the land," he said.

"There's a relationship with my neighbour and when we have to move, it might be that he is given a place that is far away. But what choice do we have?"

As I left, I was approached by Rina Halder, a young mother and health worker, who told me that the changes taking place on her horizon would have no impact on her community.

"All the people who are moving there have a lot of money," she said, "so the disparity will always be there. The disunity between us is bound to remain."

BBC Radio 4's Crossing Continents was broadcast on Thursday, 23 March, 2006, at 1102 GMT.

The programme was repeated on Monday, 27 March, 2006, at 2030 GMT.



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SEE ALSO:
Kolkata rising
16 Mar 06 |  Crossing Continents
Country profile: India
04 Feb 06 |  Country profiles
Calcutta's revival
15 Aug 00 |  From Our Own Correspondent


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