x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Painting the town blue: New Kolkata chief minister orders a facelift

Mamata Banerjee decrees that park railings, taxis, flyovers and old buildings in Kolkata, once the capital of British India, will be spruced up with a splash of her favourite colour.

KOLKATA, INDIA // Kolkata, once the capital of British India, is slowly being painted blue, the favourite colour of the new chief minister of the state who has ordered a makeover.

Mamata Banerjee came to power in West Bengal last year after 34 years of Marxist rule promising a facelift for Kolkata, whose grand colonial architecture, much of it painted red, is crumbling after decades of neglect.

She has decreed that the city's flyovers, park railings and many of its 100 British-era official buildings should be given a new coat of paint.

Party insiders said blue was the favourite colour of the chief minister, known for her temper and modest lifestyle, and it was also suggested in a new slogan for her government.

"Our leader Mamata Banerjee has decided the theme of sky blue because the motto of the new government is 'The sky is the limit'," the urban development minister, Firhad Hakim, said in comments published in the Indian Express on Friday.

Some police stations in Kolkata's suburbs, painted red since the days of the British Raj, have already received a fresh blue coat, while traffic signals, street signs and even streetside tree trunks are also in line for a makeover.

"We want to bring a uniformity in painting the city," the Kolkata mayor, Sovan Chatterjee, said.

In her pre-election manifesto, Ms Banerjee promised to introduce cruises on the city's river "in line with the River Thames of London", plant a botanical garden and turn West Bengal's tea-growing Darjeeling district into the "Switzerland of the East".

City authorities are also planning to give tax breaks to private property owners who volunteer to embrace the new colour code, officials said.

The West Bengal transport minister, Madan Mitra, said public vehicles including the city's fleet of 35,000 yellow taxis would also be part of the new colour scheme.

"We have plans to get private buses and taxis in the city painted in blue with a white border," Mr Mitra said.

Kolkata faces tough competition to make itself known as India's "blue city," a title held by the desert town of Jodhpur in Rajasthan which draws tens of thousands of tourists each year, and where houses are painted many shades of blue.

Banerjee's city landscaping efforts so far are on a far smaller scale than those of another female chief minister, Mayawati, who runs northern Uttar Pradesh state.

Mayawati has spent more than US$1 billion (Dh3.67bn) building parks of elephants - her party's symbol - and memorials to low-caste leaders, including herself.

Kolkata, then known as Calcutta, was the capital of British India from 1772 until 1912 when the colonial rulers shifted their base to New Delhi in the country's north.