India's Kolkata city encouraged to paint homes in chief minister's favourite colours

India's Kolkata city encouraged to paint homes in chief minister's favourite colours

KOLKATA - Residents in the eastern Indian city of Kolkata are being asked to paint their homes blue and white - the favourite colours of their feisty chief minister Mamata Banerjee.

For those who are reluctant, the city's government is offering a lucrative incentive - a 12-month waiver on their property taxes.

Officials insist the move is aimed at making Kolkata, once the capital of British India, look "bright in sunshine" and "lift the spirits of people" rather than appease Ms Banerjee, who is almost always seen in blue-and-white saris.

"We are encouraging property owners to renovate their houses and have them painted in blue and white because it signifies happiness and gives an aesthetic feeling," city Mayor Sovan Chatterjee told AFP. "We have decided to waive a year's property tax for residential buildings painted in blue and white," he said.

Kolkata, a bustling metropolis of 15 million people whose name was officially changed from Calcutta in 2001, started changing colour soon after Ms Banerjee came to power in 2011, vowing to turn it into a world-class city.

Her Trinamool Congress party leads the state government of West Bengal, of which Kolkata is the capital. The party also heads the Kolkata Municipal Corporation.

The city's flyovers and bridges have already changed to blue and white stripes along with many public buildings including police stations. Even its trams and public toilets have not been spared.

Political opponents have slammed the move as a gimmick which will deny the city of much needed revenue.

"They are doing it only to please one person, their leader (Banerjee)," said Mr Rahul Sinha, president of the state opposition Bharatiya Janata Party.

"Tomorrow if there is a new government, then there will be a new theme colour," he added.

Kolkata began as a cluster of villages on the bank of the Hooghly River and grew into the capital of the British Raj.

The architecture in many parts of the city - particularly around the central Maidan park, which was inspired by London's Hyde Park - bears a resemblance to the British capital.

A huge white memorial to Queen Victoria remains a city centrepiece and tourist attraction.

But after decades of neglect, Kolkata's infrastructure is crumbling and the city's grandeur faded long ago in the fierce climate of heat, humidity and monsoon rains.

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