Microsoft Corp Chairman Bill Gates has offered to help set up agro-kiosks to serve farmers in Maharashtra, apart from establishing a research centre near Pune, Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh has said.
"The agro-kiosks will help farmers get the latest information on weather, cropping patterns and trends in agricultural produce prices very quickly and efficiently," Deshmukh told IANS.
The chief minister is visiting Chicago on the last leg of his eight-day, four-city US visit to promote the state as a top investment destination for American investors.
The agro-kiosk project should improve the farming conditions in the state that has witnessed mass suicides by farmers in the last couple of years.
Deshmukh noted that the suicides' rate among farmers had come down drastically following steps taken by the government.
The central and state governments would be spending Rs 55 billion over the next three years on agriculture, 80 per cent of which would be allocated to improving irrigation facilities, he said.
The chief minister added that his delegation and global software major Microsoft had signed a memorandum of understanding to set up a Microsoft research centre in Hinjewadi near Pune.
"We have allotted 25 acres of land for the project," he said, adding the location was ideal because Pune had well-established educational institutions.
"There are 10,000 foreign students in Pune," he said.
Moreover, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has already contributed $100 million for the spread of AIDS awareness, Deshmukh said, adding that Gates was especially interested in projects to bring down child mortality.
The chief minister's delegation has also reached an agreement with a Hollywood firm, under which the latter would provide transfer of technology to the Mumbai-based Hindi film industry.
The agreement also provides for arranging Hollywood artistes' visit to Mumbai, Deshmukh said, adding that details were being worked out.
In Chicago, Deshmukh addressed a meeting hosted by Niranjan Shah, a businessman in Chicago, and Prahlad Patil, a classmate of Deshmukh, and attended by Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, US Congresswoman Melissa Bean and Indian American businessmen.
Blagojevich said that Illinois had recently opened a trade office in Mumbai, which he said was an indication of the growing trade ties between Illinois and Maharashtra.
Referring to the escalating real estate prices in Mumbai, which could be a disincentive to foreign companies seeking to set up a base in the city, Deskmukh said that his government was planning to repeal the Urban Land Ceiling Act in the coming assembly session.
He, however, admitted: "In Mumbai, like New York, land is at a premium. You can only expand vertically."
Accompanied by Minister for Industries Ashok Chavan, senior officials and a group of prominent industrialists, Deshmukh visited New York, Seattle and Los Angeles before coming here.