Bengal government, Tatas to talk on saving Singur project (Roundup)

September 27th, 2008 - 12:23 am ICT by IANS  

Kolkata, Sep 26 (IANS) With Tata Motors scouting for an alternate site to shift its Nano car plant from West Bengal, the state government will hold a dialogue with the auto major Sunday in a last-ditch attempt to persuade the company to roll out its small car from its Singur factory.State Chief Secretary Amit Kiran Deb Friday said the government and Tata Motors would talk Sunday to find out ways to resolve the land imbroglio at Singur in Hooghly district.

Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee also wrote to Tata Motors’ chairman Ratan Tata requesting him not to move out of the state.

Bhattacharjee appealed to the company to restart work at the plant and promised full security to the factory workers, Industry Minister Nirupam Sen said.

Sen said that a majority of the people in Singur and elsewhere in the state were in favour of the car factory.

“Out of 13,000 people whose land has been acquired, 11,000 have taken compensation with the expectation that the factory will improve the standard of life in Singur. Only a few have not taken compensation and are opposing the project,” Sen said.

“We hope the company will consider this and view the situation with a positive mindset before taking a decision,” he said, adding that the company wanted security for its workers, and the government had promised it would do whatever was needed in this regard.

The state cabinet Thursday decided that Bhattacharjee would make one final appeal to Tata Motors - which has already started moving equipment out from the Singur facility - not to leave West Bengal.

The auto major has suspended work in Singur since Sep 2 after some of its workers were threatened and manhandled by a section of farmers, led by opposition Trinamool Congress, to protest the acquisition of their land for the Nano project.

The company has quietly asked the vendors to be ready to relocate, while simultaneously exploring the possibility to shift base to states such as Karnataka and Maharashtra.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh has offered land and other facilities to Tata Motors “anywhere in the state” for shifting the Nano plant.

However, the company officials declined to share any information whether Tata Motors was on the lookout for a new location or had set a specific timeframe within which Nano operations would be shifted out of West Bengal.

A string of states - Karnataka, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana and Gujarat - has made similar offers to the Tatas. So has Sri Lanka.

The project to roll out the Nano, priced at Rs.100,000 ($2,250), has faced tough resistance since its inception 28 months ago over land acquisition.

Asking for return of the 400 acres the government acquired “forcibly” from farmers, protesters laid siege to the factory from Aug 24, a move that prompted the company to suspend operations on the security issue.

Discussions with the opposition in the presence of Governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi failed to resolve the stalemate.

Finally, the chief minister announced a fresh compensation package that was rejected by the Trinamool Congress and the majority of farmers reluctant to part with their land.

Meanwhile, Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee squarely blamed West Bengal’s ruling communists for the deadlock.

Referring to the Sep 7 agreement inked between the government and the opposition in the presence of Gandhi, Banerjee, she said: “As per the accord, only the vendors were supposed to stop work. We never sought halt to the work at the mother plant. The government should answer why the factory is still closed.”

“There seems to be an unholy alliance between the Tatas and the CPI-M (Communist Party of India-Marxist). The two seem to have entered into clandestine deals. Lot of money is involved,” Banerjee said addressing a rally at Singur.

She also said the state has failed to create a congenial atmosphere needed for industrialisation in West Bengal.

“The government has destroyed all semblance of a congenial atmosphere. They have neither a land map, nor a land management policy, nor a land bank. They wanted to set up the factory by imposing prohibitory orders, and by using the police. Now the Tatas have also told them they cannot work under such conditions.

“You cannot have a factory if there is unrest. Industries have to be set up with a humane touch,” Banerjee said.

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