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New Horizons
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At the beginning of the 21st century, Calcutta, slightly worse from the wear of the last 50 years, seems to have a bright future. A more responsible government at the city, state and federal levels has meant that both the recklessness and the neglect that had brought about the decline of the city in the previous half century has been curtailed. Significant infrastructure development projects are changing the shape of Calcutta altogether.

Calcutta's traditional manufacturing industries have declined steadily, but their demise has also meant that the pollution from old factories is disappearing. New manufacturing industries, chiefly petrochemicals and steel, are being set up about 100 kilometers away in the new port town of Haldia and the industrial town of Durgapur, thus sparing the city. The food processing industry seems to be setting itself up in Dankuni, about 20 kilometers to the west of Calcutta. Calcutta is itself becoming a hub for the so-called hi-tech industries, namely information technology and biotechnology. These industries hire highly skilled and paid staff which is making Calcutta more attractive for major retailers. A lot of Calcuttans have become very conscious about heritage, which has manifested in a large number of societies like Concern for Calcutta, promoting the redevelopment of neighborhoods and restoration of historical buildings. The state of West Bengal, of which Calcutta is the capital, is among the top three states in attracting investment and most of the investment is directly benefiting Calcutta.

Map of the proposed northern extension of the Circular Railway to Rajarhat New Town.

Calcutta's Metro line is being extended from Tollygunge to Garia, which when completed in 2005, would connect the newer southern suburbs. Attempts are underway to secure financing for the second Metro line that would be linking the new town of Rajarhat being built for 500,000 residents to the northeast of the city to Ramrajatola across the river in Howrah. This line went built will be linking Calcutta's two major train terminals and the airport by mass rapid transit. Calcutta's excellent suburban rail network is in for the first major upgrade in 50 years. Some of the railway tracks leading to the docks had been converted to passenger use as part of the Circular Railway project in the 1990s. This section is now being extended on the southern side to connect to the suburban network at Majerhat and to the north to link the suburbs of Lake Town, Salt Lake and Rajarhat. A suburban train connection for the airport is also under construction. The Circular Railway section has also been electrified and now several suburban trains that brought commuters to Howrah and Sealdah, far away from the central business district around Dalhousie Square are being routed onto this section, directly to the BBD Bag station, a block away from Writers' Building and Clive Street.

A series of flyover bridges, some operational and some under construction, are providing an expressway link east-west through the city linking the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass to Howrah using the Vidyasagar Bridge built in 1992. A federal project is underway to link Calcutta to Delhi and Madras by expressways. At last check, the expressways are complete between Howrah and Bhubaneswar and Howrah and Dhanbad. A state project that shall build an expressway linking Haldia in the south to Siliguri via Calcutta is being worked upon.

While the upstream Kidderpore docks are becoming irrelevant due to silting as well as the fact that ships are becoming increasingly larger, the downstream port at Haldia is one of the busiest ports in India. A new container terminal is being built at Shalimar, across the river from Kidderpore to accommodate the increasing traffic from Calcutta's rejuvenated hinterland. The Peninsular & Oriental Shipping Company that once had extensive interests in Calcutta but had since abandoned the city for more lucrative shores, has returned in the form of P&O Ports to become the principal investor in the new port being built at Kulpi. It is largely expected that the P&O facility will not only provide increased shipping capacity to the area but the increased competition for Calcutta Port Trust will probably lead to improved services as well.

A very high-profile commodity for export from Calcutta recently has been flowers. Roses and tuberoses from Bengal are now prized commodities in flower markets around the world, especially Amsterdam and Dubai. This has led to increased air cargo capacity from Calcutta. Alitalia has recently introduced a tri-weekly service between Calcutta and Milan to handle the increased exports of flowers and leather products to Europe. KLM and Lufthansa have enhanced their cargo capacities from Calcutta and Air France and Cathay Pacific are planning to introduce services in the very near future. In 2002, Calcutta was the second fastest growing international airport in India, which is one of the hottest aviation markets in the world. British Airways, KLM and Royal Jordanian have recently upgraded services to Calcutta. Malaysia Airlines and Sri Lankan Airlines plan to start services shortly. Flights to and from Calcutta are now flying to capacity. Further increase in flights is dependent on the easing of flight rights issues that are handled federally. In the meantime, private airlines are increasing domestic services from Calcutta.

Map of the proposed Curzon Park redevelopment project, courtesy The Telegraph. This plan is made by Calcutta's celebrated architect Dulal Mukherjee and the not-for-profit organization, Concern for Calcutta. Please right-click and look at a full sized version of this very interesting map.

Major urban revitalization projects are underway. The Metropolitan Insurance Building has been restored after the World Monuments Fund brought its plight to the limelight. The building that once housed the Whiteway, Laidlaw & Co. store has been restored to its former majesty and is probably being readied for another glorious stint in the retail world. WMF is also funding a study into the restoration of the Dalhousie Square district. A British society that was instrumental in the redevelopment of the London Docklands is working on the redevelopment of the Calcutta riverfront. Some results of this effort are already visible in the form of the Millennium Park, which is now being further ameliorated as the final resting place of the glorious statuary of the British Raj currently languishing in the erstwhile Viceregal Lodge in Barrackpore and the Coronation Ground in Delhi. A local society is promoting the redevelopment of the Curzon Park, across the street from the Metropolitan Insurance Building. Once completed, this one project alone would be able to restore the Chowringhee district closer to its past glory.

The future of Calcutta as a financial or industrial center seems to be less certain but Calcutta's reputation as "hell on earth", which she never deserved in the first place, is definitely headed towards oblivion. Calcutta is likely to build on its culture of a fun place full of creative juices (in art, music, literature or software) and reemerge as the Paris of the East. Until then the show goes on! Cholchhe! Cholbe!

 

Focus Calcutta Initiative, Inc. Contents may be used for non-commercial purposes without malicious intent. Last modified December 10, 2003