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Can Mamata change Kolkata into London?

June 30, 2014 11:36 IST

Can Mamata change Kolkata into London?

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Namrata Acharya in Kolkata

The official Facebook page of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has close to 700,000 followers, mostly in the 18-24 age group. 

Many of them frequently ‘like’ and share her status messages. However, the message she posted on May 24 didn’t quite elicit the response Banerjee had hoped for.

She had written: “You will be happy to know that a ‘Giant Wheel’, like the ‘London Eye’, will soon come up on the bank of the river Hooghly in Kolkata.” 

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Image: The Galleria mall, Kolkata
Photographs: Courtesy, DLF

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A barrage of sarcastic comments — about 2,000 of them — followed. “Singur holo na... Hindustan Motors bondho hoye gelo... aar hochche kina Kolkata Eye (Singur didn’t happen; Hindustan Motors shut down; and what we’re getting instead is Kolkata Eye),” read one. “Since all other problems of West Bengal have been solved, we have nothing better to do,” read another.

Riverfront beautification is one of Banerjee’s dream projects. ‘Kolkata Eye’, which would offer a view of the city from a height of 120 metres, is part of that grand plan.

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Photographs: Soman/Wikimedia Commons

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However, unlike the glitzy view that London Eye promises, its Kolkata avatar would overlook some decrepit warehouses, the chaotic traffic leading to Howrah Station as well as squatters and hawkers on the adjacent Strand Road.

The government hopes World Bank will help with funds to give the area a facelift.

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Image: Howrah Station Terminal
Photographs: Abymac/Wikimedia Commons.

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Sources say the lowest bidder for the wheel, a UK-based consortium, has quoted a cost of Rs 300 crore (Rs 3 billion). 

While this particular wheel is yet to be set in motion, in the last two-and-a-half years, Banerjee’s All India Trinamool Congress (TMC) has brought about some visible - even if cosmetic - changes.

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Image: A homeless man sleeps on the sidewalk of a newly painted bridge in Kolkata.
Photographs: Rupak De Chowdhuri/Reuters

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Several government buildings have been painted blue. Others are in the process of getting a blue makeover. 

Earlier this month, the Calcutta Municipal Corporation also decided to waive a year’s property tax for residential buildings painted in blue and white.

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Image: Kolkata
Photographs: Wikimedia Commons

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“Jaipur is called Pink City and from there I got the idea of having a uniform colour for our Kolkata,” said Banerjee at a function.

“I couldn’t choose red, nor could I opt for green. So I chose blue and white.”

It’s another matter that the state earns close to Rs 700 crore through property tax in a year. 

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Image: West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
Photographs: Reuters

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Rusty British-era lampposts and railings, too, have got a fresh coat of blue paint. So have the road dividers.

Iron railings that have for years served as road dividers have been replaced with concrete structures. 

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Photographs: Kolkatan/Wikimedia Commons

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“This way we have also addressed the problem of theft of these rods,” says Farzana Alam, deputy mayor, Kolkata Municipal Corporation.

Apart from this, close to 200 parks in the city have got a facelift. 

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Image: AC tram at the Esplanade depot.
Photographs: Abhiroop Dey Sarkar

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