End anti-Tata protests, Buddhadeb says; Mamata defiant (Roundup)

August 25th, 2008 - 9:49 pm ICT by IANS  

Kolkata, Aug 25 (IANS) Pleading that West Bengal should not lose the Tata Motors small car project, Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee Monday urged Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee to end the protests against the Singur plant. But the fiery politician refused to relent.In response to a letter from the chief minister asking her to end the dragging protests, Banerjee remained firm that 400 acres of farmland taken for ancillary units to the plant from “unwilling farmers” must be returned to the owners.

“I am also ready to discuss the matter with the state government on the condition that they have to return the 400 acres. I also want a solution to Singur’s problem,” Banerjee said, referring to the project site about 40 km from Kolkata.

Her party Sunday launched a crippling siege of the Tata plant, causing a huge traffic jam on a national highway and affecting attendance in the factory. Business leaders warned that the protests were bound to hit West Bengal’s image as an investment destination.

Bhattacharjee sent a letter to the Trinamool leader Monday evening inviting her for talks to resolve the standoff. Banerjee has been camping in Singur since Sunday along with hundreds of her supporters.

The letter was handed over by Hooghly district’s Additional Superintendent of Police Debashis Boral to Trinamool leader Partha Chattopadhyay on a makeshift podium.

Earlier, the chief minister, who heads a Left Front government, told reporters in Kolkata: “I am ready to discuss anything with Banerjee regarding the Singur land row. I would request her to join the process of dialogue and resolve the matter.

“We have to solve the issue for the sake of industrialisation in the state. We can’t let the Tatas to move out of West Bengal.”

Expressing concern over Tata Group chairman Rata Tata’s pullout threat, Bhattacharjee said: “Already five state governments have evinced interest to welcome Tata Motors’ (small car) Nano project in their states.

“Rata Tata said he would move out of West Bengal if the agitation persists in Singur. What is happening should not continue. It is a peculiar state of affairs.”

The protests at Singur are being spearheaded by the Trinamool-supported Krishijami Jiban Jibika Raksha Committee, which opposes the takeover of land from unwilling farmers for the Tata project.

The 400 acres in question were for ancillary industries adjacent to the Tata Motors mother plant. A total of 997.11 acres were acquired for the project. Of this 691.66 acres were given away by farmers willingly for a financial package.

“We’ll continue this movement till our demand is fulfilled,” Trinamool Congress leader Madan Mitra said.

Sandipan Chakravorty, managing director of Tata Ryerson Ltd and deputy chairperson of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), warned that if traffic jams on the highway near the Singur plant continued, supplies to the Tata plant would be hit.

He added that global auto majors were watching the developments at Singur.

“Tata Ryerson is investing Rs.1 billion in the Singur project to supply components for Nano,” he said. Tata Ryerson is a 50:50 joint venture firm promoted by Tata Steel and Ryerson Tull in the US.

Amid allegations that Trinamool activists were threatening Tata factory workers, the plant meant to produce the eagerly-expected Nano car reported about 80 percent attendance Monday.

“The Tata Group is still hopeful that Nano will roll out in October. I hope the attendance will be normal from Tuesday,” Chakraborty said.

Trinamool leader Mitra denied that their protests had caused traffic jams.

“We are allowing all emergency vehicles through the Durgapur expressway. But we request people to kindly bear with us during this crucial point of our movement,” he said.

Mitra added that the problem of Singur farmers, whose land had been acquired by the state government, was much more critical than the troubled passengers stuck on the way.

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