Ford scion plans 'spiritual Disneyland' in Bengal

Indo-Asian News Service/February 19, 2004

Kolkata, A great grandson of Henry Ford is planning a sprawling religious complex at the headquarters of the global Hare Krishna sect in West Bengal, but the project is still awaiting land from the government. Alfred B. Ford, in town to attend a function of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), wants the Rs.6 billion project to come up at the sect's Mayapur centre in Nadia district.

"But we are yet to get land from the West Bengal government to translate our plan into a reality," regretted Ford at a gathering of ISKCON members here.

The project that Ford describes as a "spiritual Disneyland" will be a one-stop religious tourism centre that one can use as a retreat to rejuvenate spirit and body -- the Hare Krishna style.

Ford, whose family became followers of ISKCON founder Srila Prabhupad many years ago, says people at his proposed spiritual Disneyland can pursue their religious quest, research Indian culture or simply relax in a spiritual environment.

The project, also being described as a Vedic Planetarium, is to come up on 400 acres of land. It will have hostels, hotels, cultural and religious centres and health centres.

But all the plans can come unstuck if the government does not give it the required land.

ISKCON authorities have been pursuing the government on the matter for two months but have so far failed to get any assurance of grant of land.

The government was reportedly willing to allow Ford ownership of only 10 percent of the 400 acres of land required for the project. This was because of land ceiling laws of the state.

ISKCON members are unhappy with the government's alleged non-cooperation despite the fact that Ford considered himself close to West Bengal as his wife was a Bengali.

They also say such a project can assist in improving the state's socio-economic scenario by creating new job opportunities.

Exasperated with the government's indifference, Ford has even threatened to take his dream project away to Puri, Orissa, another prominent pilgrimage for ISKCON followers.

So far, for all his business acumen, family name and good intentions, Ford hasn't even managed an appointment with Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya.

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