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Calcutta's Industrial Ambitions Clash with Tradition

As the Ganges River's journey nears an end, it flows through a giant delta toward the Bay of Bengal. One of its branches carves a path through the heart of Calcutta, one of India's great cities.

Calcutta is renowned for its slums, its militancy, its red tape — and its love of argument, which is often on display in the Calcutta Coffee House. Intellectuals have gathered at this cafe for generations to discuss the issues of the day.

But Calcutta is changing. It is becoming a hub for information technology. Expensive hotels are being built.

Marxists govern the state of West Bengal, where Calcutta is located, and they have seen the success that China has enjoyed with its special economic zones. Now, they want to establish SEZs in West Bengal as well.

But acquiring the land to do so is often difficult, as villagers resist the takeover. Last month, police opened fire on demonstrators in West Bengal's Nandigram, killing 14 people.

Though many Indians believe their country needs industrialization, the plans for SEZs may have to be slowed down — the price India pays for being a democracy.

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Philip Reeves
Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.
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