Tata warns of pullout, West Bengal assures Nano project is on (Intro roundup)

August 23rd, 2008 - 12:41 am ICT by IANS  

Kolkata, Aug 22 (IANS) Hours after Tata Group chairman Ratan Tata threatened to withdraw the Nano car project out of West Bengal if the unrest against it over farmland acquisition continues, the state government said Friday the small car factory would be set up at the proposed site in Singur despite agitations by the opposition Trinamool Congress.Industries Minister Nirupam Sen said: “We’ll set up the Tata Motors’ small car unit in Singur and the Rs.100,000 car, Nano, will roll out from this factory.”

Addressing a public meeting in Hooghly district’s Singur, about 40 km from here, Sen said the opposition parties were “conspiring” against the ruling Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M)-led Left Front government in West Bengal.

His assurance that the Tata Motors factory would be set up came after Ratan Tata told reporters tersely, “We cannot operate in this environment.”

Referring to the continuing unrest and violence over acquisition of 400 acres of farmland for ancillary industries for the Nano car project in Singur, Tata said: “I have a very soft corner for West Bengal. But now I have the feeling that Tatas are unwanted in West Bengal for whatsoever reason.”

“If anybody is under the impression that since we have made the investment, we will not move - then we will move to protect our people,” he said, referring to the investment of Rs.15 billion ($375 million) made in the project.

“I cannot bring our people and family to West Bengal if they are going to be beaten, if there is going to be violence,” he said after the annual general meeting of Tata Tea.

Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee also stepped in to firefight, saying his government is looking for an amicable solution to the dragging row.

“All of us want a peaceful solution to the Singur land row. I hope the dialogue, which we have initiated, will continue in the coming days,” he said at the state secretariat Writers’ Buildings here.

The Tata warning was taken seriously in the industry lobbies. Confederation of Indian Industries, Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry and Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry were quick to point out that if Tatas pulled out, it was render a serious setback to West Bengal’s industrialisation.

But Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee termed Ratan Tata’s warning to move out of Singur as “blackmailing politics”.

“We don’t believe in blackmailing politics. The government may give in to this kind of statement, not us. Our main concern is the welfare of the villagers,” she said.

Banerjee added that the CPI-M-led Left Front government was responsible for the violence at Singur.

“The government is only concerned about millionaires like Ratan Tata. Buddadeb is least worried about providing protection to the villagers at Singur,” Banerjee told a press conference at her residence.

“We are neither opposed to industrialisation nor is our movement a personal one. Let there be the small car factory at Singur, but Tatas must return the 400 acres land forcibly occupied from farmers,” she said.

Tata Motors took up the project of constructing a small car factory in Singur two years ago. Since then it has faced unending resistance from the Trinamool Congress, which has accused the government and the company of taking away land belonging to farmers for the project.

The company is building the small car factory on a plot of 997.11 acre. Of this, the Trinamool wants the return of 400 acres, saying the farmers are not willing to part with their land.

State Industries Minister Nirupam Sen said he was “hopeful that some solution will come up” to the land row, but added that it was not possible for the government to give back the 400 acres.

Speaking at a press meet at the Bengal Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Sen said the 400 acres were not situated in one pocket of the project area.

He said the land demanded back by unwilling farmers and supported by the Trinamool Congress was scattered across the project area.

He cited a Supreme Court ruling that land taken for building public projects cannot be returned. And if there was excess land, the government could go for public auction.

“I have received a letter from Tata Motors managing director Ravi Kant explaining that they need a total of 997.11 acre for the project at one place,” Sen added.

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