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18 Apr, 2014

Ancient Buddhist center in India seeks Chinese investments

PATNA, India, April 16 – (Xinhua) – Crossing a 15-kilometer bridge over the Ganges in the northern part of this Indian city, a group of Chinese guests felt like crossing the Yellow River in a remote northern Chinese province 30 years ago. On the northern side of the Ganges here, the landscape is nothing but drab and primitive with flood-ravaged terrain, wild forests and desolate villages.

On the roads rickety vehicles, which you only see in old movies, are packed to the rafters, many of the passengers sitting on top of the vehicles or dangling precariously on the sides holding on to dear life as they cling to the window sills or whatever they can grasp with their hands.

Cows and oxen can be seen moving slowly on the road. One or two camels and elephants carrying goods as beasts of burden can be spotted from time to time. Horse or donkey-drawn carts are widely used for carrying agricultural produce to the markets.

Being one of the poorest in India, this area, however, is known as the original site of the first recorded activities of Siddhartha, or Buddha, that made it once the center of the Maurya Empire of India in the 3rd century BC and visited by pilgrims from China and other countries some 1,500 years ago.

The Museum of Patna has a special chamber where a casket reportedly containing the corporeal relics of the Buddha is housed.

The area is also close to Nalanda, the ancient university town where 7th century Chinese Buddhist pilgrim Xuan Zang once studied.

Despite its rich cultural heritage, the area has remained poor and underdeveloped but local officials in the eastern Indian state of Bihar are now trying to attract foreign investments and revive its old glory.

There are now serious efforts to transform the state’s agriculture-based economy into one that will be anchored on industrial and trade-based development through investments in food processing, manufacturing, mining and other export products.

During a meeting with a joint delegation from the Chinese Embassy and Chinese Consulate General in Kolkata led by Chinese Ambassador to India Wei Wei this week, the local chapter of the Indian Chamber of Commerce expressed its great interest in promoting cooperation with Chinese enterprises, particularly those involved in food processing, tourism, traditional medicines, and exports.

With very few foreign investors venturing into this area of India so far, local businessmen believe Bihar, the third most populous state of the country, has a lot of space and opportunities for foreign investors now and in future, considering its high density population, huge market potential and great human resources.

“Before the state did not need much investment since its agriculture-based economy was self-sustaining but now the situation has changed and they have a catching up to do along with the rest of India,” said one local businessman.

The state is still in its preliminary phase of setting up industries which can be listed in the Indian stock exchange and produce goods for export.

But in an industrial area in Hajipur, 50 km north of Patna, plants are now producing beverages and food products. For example, the Lumbini Beverages Pvt Ltd., set up in l996, is now one of the biggest producers of a popular soft drink in South Asia and sells its products all across India as well as in Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh.

“We are hungry for industry,” said Ravi Khilani, director of Lumbini Beverages Pvt. Ltd., and one of the members of the Khilani family which owns the company. He said Bihar is rich in agricultural products but needs industrial and technological support to create a strong economy.

The 50 industrial sites in Bihar, with a total area of 5,600 acres, have been designed after the concept in China’s burgeoning industrial parks but they lack the infrastructure, facilities and technological support that are needed for an industrial park to lure foreign investors.

During the meeting, Ambassador Wei, who was previously posted as China’s ambassador to Singapore, told local businessmen that he wanted to sell to Bihar the idea of setting up an industrial park that can attract foreign investors.

“My purpose here is to look for investment opportunities in Bihar, particularly in helping create an environment conducive to investments. I am pushing for the concept of industrial park as a model for foreign investors,” he said.

M.K. Saharia, chairman of the Center for Promotion of India- China Cooperation and head of Northeast Initiative of Kolkata- based Indian Chamber of Commerce, expressed the hope that China could help Bihar not just in investments but also in technology transfer.

He said the magnitude of opportunities for economic cooperation between China and India is tremendous. He said that contrary to popular perception, India does not impose any restrictions on Chinese investments in India.

Saharia said he is optimistic that Bihar and other eastern Indian states can strengthen ties with China in future, adding that the two sides can initially set up a joint working group that will promote more interaction and cooperation between the two countries not just in trade but also in other aspects such as culture and tourism.