Millennium Post

‘There’s enthusiasm about Mamata govt’

Once the poster boy of the CPI-M, industrialist Harshvardhan Neotia, MD of Bengal Ambuja Housing Development Limited, who gifted Kolkata two city centres, Udayan (the first PPP housing project in Bengal) and Raichak on the Ganges, is now looking at development in smaller cities like Haldia, Siliguri, and also Raipur and Patna. Millennium Post catches up with him in a candid chit-chat, where he talks about his latest projects.

After your latest residential project on the E M Bypass—Upohar - what the realty projects that you are now embarking on?

The concept of business parks is fast gaining in popularity, as Ecospace in Rajarhat has amply shown. We are doing a similar commercial cum retail space in Salt Lake Sector V, which is Bengal’s IT hub. In cities like Haldia, Patna and Raipur, we are building City Centres- which were hugely successful in Kolkata. The one in Raipur will be coming up first and the one in Patna will be operational by 2013. Each one will require an investment of about Rs 200 to 300 crore. A 4-star business hotel, a shopping mall and ready office space should fulfill the requirements of a young, upwardly mobile professional, hard-pressed for time. As you know, our first City Centre at Salt Lake has already turned eight. As for residential housing projects, I’m scouting for suitable land in and around Kolkata - however, some premium country homes are coming up at Raichak.

Your boutique hotel Gangakutir was opened at Raichak in 2008. Why aren’t you building hotels/resorts anymore?

We are building 3 boutique hotels in outstanding locations, one in the Dooars (Gorumara) in North Bengal, one in Sikkim and one in the famous Makaibari tea estate in the Kurseong subdivision of Darjeeling, again in North Bengal. These are premium boutique hotels built on the Gangakutir model (at Raichak, 60 kms from Kolkata). All the hotels are 35 room properties targeting the well-evolved tourist who wants to connect with nature and enjoy some tranquility outside urban clutter on his holiday.

What has been your experience of paribartan or change of government till date?

There is a lot of enthusiasm in the new government to do things. Areas like urban infrastructure, beautification, tourism and healthcare are the obvious thrust areas for investment. But to expect miracles is wrong. After all, the change in government has happened after a very long time. But, as I said, an easing up of mechanism for investors has happened in some areas and there is an agility in the way the new government has been tackling issues. But as an investor, one has to take stock of the sluggish sentiment of the world economy and the fact that there is a coalition government at the Centre.

Where else are you building projects, apart from Bengal?

We are building a township in Punjab (Amritsar) and that should be completed soon. The 136-acre Dream City has been designed by the distinguished architect Hafeez Contractor and will house both residential and commercial areas - with provision apartments, mall, hotel, multiplex and fine dining. We are also looking at new projects in states like Chattisgarh, Bihar and Sikkim.

Everybody said you were very close to Jyoti Basu. Is that true and do you miss him?

I enjoyed his affection and we had a rather cordial relationship, that is true. But there are lots of myths.

What is the philosophy of your life and work?

I think buildings are cradles of nurturing people. So gardens, parking lots, cuisine, open, interactive space are essential to any good housing project. Also if you are born, do leave behind some footprints.
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