Nano plant remains shut, government threatens action against protesters (Intro Roundup)

August 30th, 2008 - 10:53 pm ICT by IANS  

Kolkata, Aug 30 (IANS) The Tata Motors factory at Singur remained shut for the second day Saturday, raising doubts over the company being able to meet its October deadline to roll out the world’s cheapest car, the Rs.100,000 or $2,500 Nano, even as the West Bengal government threatened action against Trinamool Congress-led agitators.”Our workers are not attending work today,” Tata Motors said in a statement here, as Trinamool Congress members continued their protests for the seventh day, demanding 400 acres of land at the site, some 40 km from here, to be returned to farmers.

“There has been no improvement in the ground situation so far. Hence, the conditions are still not conducive for resuming work,” a company spokesperson said in the statement. “We continue to assess the situation closely.”

Tata group officials in Mumbai said a decision on whether or not to re-locate the project could be taken as early as next week, after chairman Ratan Tata returns from Singapore.

As the protests against the Tata group continue, West Bengal Industry Minister Nirupam Sen said the government would take necessary action against the agitators, if the Calcutta High Court directs it.

“If the court directs the state government to take necessary action, we’ll have to do that. After all, we cannot violate the court’s order,” Sen told reporters.

He said the agitators were not following the high court’s ruling and were blocking the expressway illegally.

Hearing a petition moved by the Calcutta Goods Transport Association, the court Friday asked the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) to ensure smooth passage of vehicles through the Durgapur Expressway.

Saturday also saw the state government ordering a heavy deployment of police at the site after some 600 Tata Motors engineers and executives, including from South Korea, Japan and Singapore, were not allowed to come out of the factory for more than three hours Thursday evening.

The plant presently employs about 800 people.

“We’ve acquired the land in Singur going by the Land Acquisition Act. The high court has also endorsed our process of land acquisition. The opposition parties have again moved to the Supreme Court. The matter is pending,” Sen said.

“Let the apex court give direction regarding the matter. But till the order is not passed, we’ll follow the high court ruling,” the minister said.

NHAI officials also met Trinamool leaders Saturday to clear the choked Durgapur Expressway, a part of the National Highway 2 that connects Kolkata with Delhi.

“The NHAI has given a complaint to the district police saying the makeshift political camps which have come up along the Expressway are illegal,” said Hoogly district police superintendent Rajiv Mishra.

Meanwhile, state Congress president Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi asked the Left Front government to make public the agreement it inked with Tata Motors.

Several other states in India as well as the government in neighbouring Sri Lanka have offered to host the car factory because of its international prestige and the reputation that the country’s largest private sector group enjoys.

Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee said the agitation would continue till farmers get back their land, allegedly taken forcibly for the project and related works. The party says 400 acres out of 997.11 acres fell under that category.

“We have a one-point agenda - that the 400 acres will have to be returned to unwilling farmers. Unless the government accepts our demand, we will continue our agitation,” she said.

West Bengal’s Communist government, which had invited the Tata group to set up the small-car project, had ruled out any state intervention in removing the protesters and requested them to resolve matters through dialogue.

Ratan Tata had last week warned that constant unrest at the project may force him to pull out of the state despite having made an investment of Rs.15 billion ($375 million).

The developments also led to India’s top industrialists rallying behind the Tata group, and issuing a warning that the pullout of the car project would hit the country’s image as an attractive investment destination.

“If the House of Tatas, known for its values and care for society, can face such resistance, the much needed fresh wave of industrialisation in the country could suffer,” said Sunil Mittal, chairman of Bharti Enterprises.

Trouble began in Singur after the state government announced the project in 2006 and acquired the farmland for the main car project and ancillary units. A section of farmers had refused to part with the land.

The agitation that started on behalf of the dissatisfied farmers also resulted in clashes with police and some deaths, forcing Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee to call for peaceful negotiations to end the standoff.

The central government ruled out any intervention in the matter. “There is no role for the central government. This is for the state government to decide,” Science and Technology Minister Kapil Sibal said Friday.

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