Mamata backtracks, Nano’s future hangs in balance (Second Lead)

September 8th, 2008 - 12:19 am ICT by IANS  

Kolkata, Sep 7 (IANS) Within hours of West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee ostensibly hammering out “an acceptable formula” to break the Singur imbroglio Sunday evening, the opposition leader has done a volte-face, officials said.The sudden turnaround in Banerjee’s stand caused the chief minister to rush back to Governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi’s official residence, Raj Bhavan, late Sunday night for a quick second round of talks that were slated for Monday.

Bhattacharjee and Banerjee met at Raj Bhavan for the first time Sunday evening to settle the bitter controversy over acquisition of agricultural land for the Rs.15 billion ($375-million) Nano project in Singur, about 40 km from Kolkata.

“The matter has not ended,” said Public Works Department (PWD) Minister Kshiti Goswami. “But things are different after face-to-face discussions between Mamata Banerjee and Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.”

According to Goswami, the chief minister agreed to Banerjee’s demand that work be stopped at ancillary units that had still not received industrial clearance, while the Trinamool leader agreed to let operations continue at units where production has begun.

But, according to Goswami, soon after Bhattarcharjee left, Banerjee said status quo has to be maintained at all ancillary units, forcing the governor to postpone the scheduled press briefing.

Leaders of the Trinamool Congress could not be contacted.

Negotiations were expected to continue late into the night.

Earlier, after the first round of talks, Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) central committee member Shyamal Chakraborty told reporters that an “acceptable formula” has been found.

“However, some more discussions are still needed,” he then added.

Amit Mitra, secretary general of the industry lobby Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci), welcomed the news, describing it as “a very important compromise”.

The meeting was preceded by intense negotiations by the governor, who met the chief minister Sunday morning for an hour, before Banerjee arrived at 2.35 p.m., and Bhattacharjee returned at 4.45 p.m.

Several hours before the compromise was cobbled together, the Sri Lanka government invited Tata Motors to relocate the car project to that country.

In New Delhi, CPI-M general secretary Prakash Karat broke his silence on the controversy, saying his party wanted Tata Motors to stay in West Bengal.

And in Kolkata, the state committee of the ruling Left Front met twice and advised Bhattacharjee’s government to be more flexible and find more land, if needed, to resolve the issue.

The government had Friday presented a package, including provision for shopping malls on a plot adjacent to the Nano plant, for those who had given their land.

The Tata group last week suspended work at the factory after farmers, protesting against land acquisition, assaulted its employees, and threatened to relocate the project.

Last Wednesday, a farmer who had sold his land willingly for the project, committed suicide. His three sons were employed at the Nano factory as security guards, and stood to lose their jobs if the project was shifted.

Following the suicide, local people started coming out in support of the project that aims to build the world’s cheapest car at Rs.100,000 dealer price (less than $2,500).

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