Tata looks at exit route out of Singur (Roundup)

September 3rd, 2008 - 1:19 am ICT by IANS  

Kolkata, Sep 2 (IANS) With its Nano car project in West Bengal remaining closed for the fourth consecutive working day Tuesday due to protests, Tata Motors said it was considering other options - a move termed unfortunate by the state government and business bodies. “In view of the current situation, the company is evaluating alternate options for manufacturing the Nano car at other company facilities and a detailed plan to relocate the plant and machinery to an alternate site is under preparation,” it said in a statement here.

“To minimize the impact this may have on the recently recruited and trained people from West Bengal, the company is exploring the possibility of absorbing them at its other plant locations,” it said.

Tata Motors pointed out that it had “been constrained to suspend the construction and commissioning work at the Nano plant in Singur in view of continued confrontation and agitation at the site” and said the decision to stop work was taken in order to ensure the safety of its employees and contract labour.

“They (the workers) have been violently obstructed while reporting to work. The company has assessed the prevailing situation in Singur, after four continuous days of cancellation of work, and believes that there is no change in the volatile situation around the plant,” it said.

“Construction of the plant has faced challenges at various points of time. There has, however, been a significant decline in the attendance of their staff and contractual labour since Aug 24,” it said.

It was on Aug 24 that affected farmers and activists led by Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee had started an indefinite siege at the gates of the factory in Singur, about 40 km from here, demanding return of land acquired from “unwilling farmers”.

Commenting on the situation, a Tata Motors spokesperson said, “The situation around the Nano plant continues to be hostile and intimidating. There is no way this plant could operate efficiently unless the environment became congenial and supportive of the project. We came to West Bengal hoping we could add value, prosperity and create job opportunities in the communities in the State”.

The company plans to roll out the world’s cheapest car Nano, priced at Rs.100,000 (approximately $2,500) in October but there was a question mark over the deadline after protests beginning last week.

State Industry Minister Nirupam Sen said: “It’s a most unfortunate day for West Bengal. I could never imagine the movement will culminate to such an extent when the Tatas would have to stop operations in the unit.

“I never imagined the opposition Trinamool Congress would become so averse to the Tata Motors small car project which had already earned an international reputation,” Sen told a TV channel.

“So far I’ve not talked to the Tatas directly, after they issued the statement. I think we should immediately talk to the opposition political parties and arrive at a consensus on the stand-off. Only then can we request the automobile major again to come back to West Bengal.”

Sen’s views were echoed by industry and business in the state.

“It will be very unfortunate if the auto major pulls out of the state. It will be a big setback for the image of the state,” said Indian Chamber of Commerce president and Patton Group managing director Sanjay Budhia.

“I, on behalf of the entire business community, urge Tata Motors to wait some more time because talks regarding the present stalemate were going towards a positive path,” Budhia told IANS.

The move came even as the Left Front government and the Trinamool were moving towards the negotiation table. Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said in earlier in the day that his his government welcomed an independent mediator to solve the impasse over the land acquired for the project.

Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, who like Bhattacharjee earlier rejected Governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi’s suggestion for a mediator, also said she was open to talks.

The project had received support from business magnates including Reliance Industries head Mukesh Ambani, Bharti Airtel chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal and Infosys chairman N.R. Narayana Murthy. Joining them Tuesday was former Indian cricket skipper Sourav Ganguly, who said the Singur project would revolutionise industrial prospects of West Bengal.

“The starting of the Nano Project will be a beginning of an era in West Bengal which will completely revolutionise the prospect of the state and the future of the youth,” Ganguly said in a statement.

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