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Mystery Around Mamata Banerjee’s Fresh Investment Call for Tajpur Port Assigned to Adani a Year Ago

A year and a half after committing investment exceeding Rs 10,000 crore in Bengal over a decade, the Adani group gave the state business summit a complete miss.
Mamata Banerjee with business leaders at the BGBS in Kolkata. Photo: X/@AITCofficial

Kolkata: West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, during the annual flagship business event Bengal Global Business Summit (BGBS), announced on Tuesday that fresh tenders would be issued for the development of a deep sea port at Tajpur, for which the state government had handed over a Letter of Intent (LoI) to the Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone (APSEZ) last October.

The Adani group company had secured the LoI after becoming the highest bidder for the project and was awaiting the Letter of Award (LoA) from the state government.

Asked if the chief minister’s announcement means the government has cancelled the LoI, senior Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader Chandrima Bhattacharya, who is also the minister of state (independent charge) at the finance department, said only commerce and industries minister Shashi Panja will comment on it.

Panja has not responded to calls and a WhatsApp message from The Wire. The report will be updated once a response is received.

Emails have also been sent to the Adani group and to APSEZ chief executive officer (CEO-ports), Subrat Tripathy, asking if the government has communicated anything to them and if they have any comment to make. No response has been received till the filing of this report.

Banerjee’s announcement triggered curiosity among the state’s political and business circles, as Adani group head Gautam Adani’s son, Karan, had said only a few days before the BGBS that the group was “still waiting for” the LoA.

“We have received the letter of intent. We are waiting for LOA to come. Once we get (it), it will be 18 to 24 months before we start any construction over there since we have to go through the EC (environment clearance) as well as groundwork over there,” he had said on November 9.

Five days later, on November 14, Panja told journalists in New Delhi that they did not want “politics to overtake development”. However, her version on its status was different from that of Karan Adani.

“The LoI was given to them and now we are waiting for their response. There are certain clearances that the government of India gives from the ministry of shipping and various other departments. They (Adanis) must be working on those certification clearances,” Panja had said.

A top bureaucrat who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the decision to make a fresh investment call was taken “at the last minute, after noticing the complete absence of the Adani group at the BGBS”. The Wire could not independently verify this claim.

The group was conspicuous by its absence during the BGBS, even though the group had participated in the previous editions.

The Adani group has been at the centre of criticism from many opposition parties, including Banerjee’s TMC, for its alleged proximity with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and alleged involvement in irregular practices, including stock price manipulation.

The early months following Mamata Banerjee’s return to power in 2021 had seen growing proximity between the state government and the Adani group. Gautam and Karan Adani had separately met the chief minister on different occasions – Gautam Adani in December 2021 and Karan Adani in February and October 2022.

In 2021, after meeting Banerjee, Adani had said that he discussed “different investment scenarios and the tremendous potential of West Bengal”. Five months later, at the previous BGBS edition in April 2022, Adani told the summit that their investment in the state would exceed Rs 10,000 crore over the next decade.

He had said that the group was “committing to bring technology and scale to create world-class infrastructure, data centres, centres of excellence for digital innovation, under-sea cable and warehousing and logistics park in West Bengal”.

After bagging the LoI, the group launched a new, wholly-owned subsidiary, Tajpur Sagar Port Limited, incorporated on October 21, 2022. The group said it expected to commission the project in the next five years.

However, the government had, quite curiously, made no mention of the Tajpur port – the state’s flagship industrial project – in its 2023 budget, even though the government had mentioned it in the previous years’ budgets. The budget was placed less than a month after American shortseller Hindenburg Research’s report alleging malpractices in the Adani group’s operations.

The group, though, kept showing its interest in the project. Its Portfolio Result Snapshot – FY23, published in June this year, mentioned signing the LoI among the APSEZ’s highlights for the year.

In August, APSEZ CEO (ports) Subrat Tripathy lauded West Bengal’s initiative to provide a 99-year concession period for the Tajpur port but also mentioned that they were still waiting for the LOA before starting feasibility and environmental impact assessment studies. The company had kept funds aside for the project, he had said.

This year, Mukesh Ambani of the Reliance group was the centre of attention at BGBS. Ambani said the group would invest Rs 20,000 crore in the state over the next three years. He also expressed his gratitude to the chief minister for allowing the Reliance Foundation to take up the work of renovating Kolkata’s iconic Kalighat temple.

“This project is as close to (wife) Nita and my heart, as it is to yours. Thank you for this opportunity,” Ambani said.

The absence of the Adani group comes amidst a raging ‘cash-for-query’ controversy involving TMC Lok Sabha MP Mahua Moitra, who has been accused of allowing Adani’s business rival, the Hiranandani group, to access her parliamentary log-in credentials and ask questions aimed at harming the Adani group and the Modi government.

No one from the Hiranandani group was present either, though the group had participated in the previous editions.

The parliamentary ethics committee headed by a BJP MP recently recommended Moitra’s expulsion from the House, though opposition party members of the parliamentary panel opposed the move.

The TMC, after offering guarded responses for the first few days, came out in Moitra’s support. Earlier in November, CM Banerjee’s nephew and TMC general secretary Abhishek Banerjee alleged that anyone raising questions against the government-Adani nexus was being targeted. In an apparent show of support, the party also named Moitra as the new president of the party’s Krishnanagar district unit. Moitra represents Krishnanagar in the Lok Sabha.

A day after announcing a fresh tender for the Tajpur port, the chief minister came out in Moitra’s support for the first time. “Whatever she (Moitra) used to say inside (Parliament), she will now be saying outside,” Banerjee said, while addressing a party event on Thursday.

The Adani-Modi government alleged nexus has been one of Moitra’s focus areas, and she has accused the Modi government of covering up the group’s financial irregularities.

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