Tata exits Singur, wonders where Mamata got funds (Lead)

October 3rd, 2008 - 10:38 pm ICT by IANS  

Kolkata, Oct 3 (IANS) Tata Motors Friday announced it was pulling out its Nano small car project from West Bengal’s Singur and blamed the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress, which spearheaded the protests against the factory, for the ‘painful’ decision.Briefing newspersons after a 90-minute meeting with state Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee at the state secretariat, Tata Group chairman Ratan Tata said: “We have arrived at the painful decision mainly for the well-being of our employees and for the safety of contractors.”

Coming down heavily on Banerjee, Tata wondered about the source of funds for the prolonged agitation. “I would not like to respond (whether the competitors played a role). But it has made us wonder where some of the funds for agitation and the logistics has come from.”

“I had said earlier that if somebody holds a trigger to my face, he will have to take the decision whether or not to pull the trigger, because I will not move away. I must say Ms Banerjee has pulled the trigger.”

The auto major’s decision comes 32 days after it decided to suspend operations in the Singur factory fearing for security of its employees who were manhandled and threatened by Trinamool Congress-led protesters, demanding the return of 400 acres out of the total area 997.11 acres taken for the project.

The project had faced severe opposition from a section of landlosers led by the Trinamool ever since its inception on the issue of acquisition of farmland for the factory.

“This decision has been prompted because we do not see any change on the horizon,” Tata said. “Throughout the two years we have faced enormous disruption and assault and intimidation of some of the employees.”

He said no decision has been taken so far on an alternate location for the project to bring out the world’s least expensive car.

“We have not decided where the plant would be shifted. We have offers from three or four state governments, which we are exploring. Hopefully, there will not be such opposing views there… We hope to find a location with a congenial environment”.

Laying the responsibility for Singur fiasco completely at Banerjee’s doorstep, Tata said: “What could we have done when Ms Banerjee says ‘I won’t allow a single Nano to roll out’?”

“How do we go on with production when Ms Banerjee publicly says people of West Bengal do not want us?”

Tata gave details of the chain of events that led to the decision and said: “When I addressed the media last time, I had hoped some understanding will be arrived at with the protesters. But shortly thereafter the agitation increased. The highway (near the Nano plant) was barricaded.”

He, was, however, full of praise for the state’s Left Front government. “These two years that we have worked, we are appreciative of the support the government gave us, the facilities the government provided. The agitation by the opposition is the sole reason for the decision.”

“But we have to move on as far as this project is concerned because of the commitment to timeline we have. We have not lost our enthusiasm of West Bengal. In course of time Tatas will include the state in its scheme of things.”

On what they would do with the Singur plant now, Tata said: “We have just taken the decision today. The issue of the plant, we have to discuss with the government over a period of time.”

The industrialist, however, was categorical that the land dispute was entirely between the government and the opposition, and the company was not a party to it.

Tata said the chief minister was extremely distressed at the company’s decision. “The meeting went on for a long time as he was very persuasive that we do not move out. I had to explain to him that the wellbeing of contractors was my responsibility.”

“I told him that a plant cannot be run with police protection, you cannot run when walls are broken, or people intimidated and threatened. If this is the situation during the stage of construction, what will happen when we start production?” he asked.

“He did not agree. He thought we are not taking the right decision,” Tata added.

Tata said the company would have to evaluate the losses. “Whatever the loss and cost may be, I believe we had no other option”.

Tata assured all employees of the Singur plant and those undergoing training that they would find a place in other plants of the company. “Hope they stay in the Tata family, but obviously not in Singur.”

Tata said the vendors would also move with the mother plant. “We will try to protect the vendors as much as we can. We will do everything to ensure they move with us. They are integral part of the project”.

“This is an Indian project. Shame it faced such a situation,” he said, and ruled out any reconsideration of the decision. “Once we have taken the decision, we have taken it”.

Pondering over the turn of events, he said: “What everybody has to decide is whether people need industrial development. Whether young people will have the opportunity for employment.”

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