Open proposal by The Statesman to WB Chief Minister
Ravindra Kumar, Editor, The Statesman
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YES, CHIEF MINISTER!
A proposal that Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee must approve if he does
not wish to be accused of violating Article 14 of the Constitution.
By RAVINDRA KUMAR
I am planning to write a letter to the Chief Minister of West Bengal.
Here is a draft, which I offer to readers ~ who are, after all, the
most important stakeholders in The Statesman ~ for comment.
Dear Mr Chief Minister,
I write this on behalf of The Statesman, a newspaper that is more
than 130 years old and is directly descended from The Friend of
India, founded 1818. In other words, we were born about half a
century before the house of Tatas was founded as a trading firm, a
reference that you may find mysterious but one that I promise to
explain as I go along.
In February last year, we applied to your Housing Minister and head
of the West Bengal Housing and Infrastructure Development Corporation
for a two-acre plot of land in New Town, Kolkata. In October or
thereabouts, some seven or eight months later, we received a letter
from WBHIDCO that it had been decided to allot the land to us. But,
curiously, there were no details furnished in the letter about the
location, the cost or anything else. Thereafter, there has been no
word from WBHIDCO.
I had indicated that we required the land for our own use, for
production activities and for new business ventures, including
software development, that we proposed to set up. While there were
several locations available to us for the proposed investment,
including in the states of Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Bihar,
Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, we felt that West Bengal, which has been
our home for nearly two centuries, would be most suitable.
I must hasten to add, however, that I am not making a grievance of
the fact that 13 months after our application, there is no sign of
the land, much less the terms under which it is to be allotted. The
wheels of government grind slowly, and bureaucracies cannot be
hurried. I am sure, some day in the not so distant future, our file
will be found in the WBHIDCO office and the land will be allotted.
The purpose of this letter is different. I am given to understand
from reports of your Industries Minister, Mr Nirupam Sen's statement
in the West Bengal Assembly that your government is offering a better
I understand that you are offering land to investors, especially
those who are considering other states, on lease at favourable terms,
and I would like to urge you to use your good offices to make such an
allotment to us.
The Statesman would be interested in acquiring on 90-year lease about
10 acres of land. We are prepared to pay an annual lease rent of Rs
80,000 for the first five years, calculated at the rate of Rs 8,000
per acre per annum. We are prepared to offer an increase of 25 per
cent every five years thereafter for the next 30 years. Thus we will
agree to pay Rs 100,000 per year from years 6 to 10, Rs 125,000 per
year for years 11 to 15, Rs 156,250 per year for years 16 to 20, and
so on. However, I understand that you will charge lease rent only for
about 40 per cent of the land, so these figures will be
We understand that your government is offering several other
incentives for investment in the state, and I would request you to
confirm that we will be eligible for each of the following:
a) A loan of Rs 2 crore at 1 per cent per annum interest from the
West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation;
b) Allotment of 0.5 acre of land in New Town, Rajarhat, of which 0.2
acre will be at a cost of Rs 3 crore per acre and may be used for
commercial purposes and 0.3 acre at a cost of Rs 2.5 crore per acre
for setting up a housing project, to one of our subsidiary companies;
c) Five acres of land in the BRADA area; and
d) Refund of VAT (should it be applicable) for the first 10 years of
There are some additional facts that you must bear in mind whilst
considering our application.
If the Government of West Bengal grants our request, we will be able
to take up our expansion activities in the state and will not need to
go to Uttarakhand, Jharkhand, Himachal Pradesh or Chhattisgarh. In
the strictest confidence I must tell you not only is our heart not in
any of these states, it would be incredibly silly for us to consider
any of them. A newspaper needs to be close to its readers; just as a
car manufacturing company must be close to the source of its main raw
material ~ steel ~ and to transportation links and markets. But of
course, you can tell your political opponents that had you not
offered these incentives, we would have gone away.
As a sagacious Chief Minister, I am sure you must be wondering if the
business activities we plan to take up will generate jobs. I am sure
they will. Unlike the automobile industry, which is extremely
mechanized and uses robots in assembly lines (my brother-in-law who
has a Ph.D in robotics from Stanford and who worked for many years
with General Motors in Michigan tells me that nearly 90 per cent of
assembly line jobs are done by robots), the newspaper industry is
still quite labour-intensive. At the end of a long day spent covering
police firings, clashes and bombings, we may look like zombies,
however I can assure you we are human.
But let's get down to specifics. I hereby assure you that for every
1,000 jobs the Tatas provide in their car manufacturing plant, we
will provide 10. This is only fair, as we are only asking for one per
cent of what they have got from you. Thus, if they give 10,000 people
jobs, I assure you that The Statesman will offer jobs to at least 100
That is not all, though. I believe that on the basis of the terms
your government has offered, Mr Tata has promised to produce a Re 1-
lakh car. As I am only asking for 1% of what you have given him, I
ought to promise to produce a newspaper costing Rs 1,000. However, I
am feeling generous, and so here's my offer. If you give us what we
have asked for, I promise to sell our newspapers at a cover price of
Re 1 each, at least for the first year after commencement of
production from the new facilities. You will appreciate that in this
respect our terms are a thousand times better than those offered by
There are several other benefits to our proposal. First, as we are an
impoverished newspaper and not remotely likely to be buying the
world's fourth-largest publisher at any point in the foreseeable
future, no eyebrows will be raised at your government giving us a
loan at 1 per cent per annum interest.
As we are seeking only 10 acres of land, you may not have to displace
more than three or four farmers, of whom perhaps half will part with
their land willingly. How many trenches can two farmers dig? And
should they resist, you may not have to fire more than a bullet or
two. Even if you have to do that, the repercussions will not be
serious. I do not see Left constituents threatening a revolt over one
bullet, much less the Governor feeling aggrieved enough to issue a
Thus, you will appreciate that our proposal has much to commend it,
and very few disadvantages. As such, I am sure you will approve it
expeditiously, bearing in mind that not doing so might be deemed
discriminatory and therefore violative of Article 14 of the
Constitution. Do please let me know as soon as you start fencing our
land, so that I can fetch up at Writers' Buildings to sign the
necessary papers and hand over a cheque for Rs 32,000 (40% of Rs
I look forward to doing business with you.
With kind regards
Yours sincerely ...