Road finally cleared for Tatas to roll out Nano

September 8th, 2008 - 1:49 am ICT by IANS  

Kolkata, Sep 8 (IANS) The road has been cleared for Tata Motors to roll out the world’s cheapest car Nano as planned following a far-reaching pact between the West Bengal government and the opposition Trinamool Congress here Sunday night over the disputed farmland acquired for the project at Singur.West Bengal Governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi mediated the talks, held over three days since Friday, that finally put an end to the protest that had started 28 months ago following the acquisition of 997.11 acres of land at Singur, 40 km from here, for the car plant and ancillary units.

After several rounds of talks full of twists and turns, the deal was clinched when Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee met in person in the study of Raj Bhavan, the governor’s official residence, to thrash out all remaining irritants.

Amid high drama late Sunday, it was Governor Gandhi, Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson, who mediated the marathon talks between the Left Front government and the Trinamool-backed farmers’ body Krishijami Jiban jibika Raksha Committee (KJJRC), told reporters that the imbroglio was resolved.

As per the agreement, the state government will form a committee to look into the affected farmers’ demands. It will give its report in seven days. Till then the construction of the ancillary units will be on hold, said Gandhi, with Bhattacharjee and Banerjee at his side.

The agreement said the government “has taken the decision to respond to the demand of those farmers who have not received compensation, by means of land to be provided to the maximum within the project area and the rest in adjacent areas as early as possible”.

“Towards this, a committee will be constituted to ascertain the scope and settle the modalities within a period of one week. During this time, the government will urge the vendors not to make any construction,” according to the text of the pact inked by Industries Minister Nirupam Sen and Leader of Opposition Partha Chattopadhyay.

Banerjee said: “This is a great victory for all those who have been agitating for almost two and half years. As the government has decided to provide land to the unwilling farmers, it is a big outcome of the dialogue.”

She soon left for Singur to formally call off the protest at the factory site.

The KJJRC had been agitating on the demand that 400 acres “forcibly” acquired by the government from “unwilling farmers” for the project be returned.

Banerjee said the opposition also suggested that the ancillary units be shifted to a plot of land opposite the project site. “But work in the mother plant can go on,” she said.

The 110-minute tete-a-tete between Bhattacharjee and Banerjee in the presence of Gandhi and his adviser for the talks, former justice Chittatosh Mukherjee, helped hammer out an “acceptable forumula”, but soon after the chief minister left for his party headquarters, Banerjee did a volte-face.

The discussions had led to an understanding that work would continue in the ancillary units where construction had started, while those units yet to receive permission for starting work would have to maintain status quo till the committee gave its report.

But Banerjee demanded that construction had to be stopped in all the units, forcing Bhattacharjee to rush back to Raj Bhavan for one more round of talks and concede the demand to settle the bitter controversy over farmland acquisition for the Rs.15 billion ($375 million) project.

The day saw intense negotiations by the governor, who met Bhattacharjee 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, Communist Party of India-Marxist (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 CPI-M-led 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 farmers 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.

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

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