Tussle over Tata Nano project continues (Roundup)

September 9th, 2008 - 12:47 am ICT by IANS  

Kolkata, Sep 8 (IANS) The prospect of Tata Motors launching the world’s cheapest car Nano from their upcoming factory at Singur in West Bengal came under a cloud again Monday as the company was “distressed” over the deal with protesters and the government issuing a statement seemingly going against the much-touted pact with the opposition.”Clearly there is a significant variant in the statement,” said Tata Motors managing director Ravi Kant, commenting on the so-called deal between the protesters and the state government.

“I request you to kindly provide complete clarity on the same on an urgent basis to us to assess the impact on the implementation of the Nano project in Singur and to enable us to take appropriate decisions,” Kant said in a statement.

Late Monday night, the West Bengal government also ruled out relocating the ancillary units away from the Tata Motors mother plant, hours after the company disapproved of any such move, saying both were integral to the viability of the project.

Following the agreement reached between the West Bengal government and the main opposition Trinamool Congress late Sunday, the construction of the ancillary units on the disputed land was to be put on hold.

But the state government’s subsequent remarks put paid to reconciliatory efforts with mediation from West Bengal Governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi - the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi.

“The Nano project is an integrated project. The mother plant and the vendors’ park are inseparable,” said State Industry Minister Nirupam Sen, after the Tatas issued their statement.

“Since the car is priced very reasonably, this is very critical issue,” the minister said.

“The state government hasn’t reached any consensus on the matter with the opposition during the series of meetings it had with them,” he said referring to remarks by some members of the opposition that some of the farmers’ land may be returned.

“The main plant and vendors’ park will be in the same plot. After keeping these two intact, the committee that has been formed will look into how much land can be taken out for giving to the unwilling farmers,” he said.

His remark came after the Tatas said they will continue to suspend work at Singur as they were unsure of the project’s viability.

“Tata Motors Limited is distressed at the limited clarity on the outcome of the discussions between the state government of West Bengal and the representatives of the agitators in Singur,” the company said.

“In view of the same, Tata Motors is obliged to continue with the suspension of construction and commissioning work at the Nano plant,” said the statement.

“We will review our stated position only if we are satisfied that the viability of the project is not being impinged,” the company said, adding it also wanted the proximity of ancillary units near the factory to be maintained.

None of the 800-odd staff at the Tata Motors factory or its contractors entered the site, 40 km from here.

The Trinamool Congress called off the agitation immediately after the deal with the state government Sunday night. This led to the resumption of traffic on the Durgapur Expressway, close to the factory, even as authorities started removing the makeshift podiums put up by the protesters.

A section of the farmers, who owned some 400 acres out of 997.11 acres acquired for the project and ancillary units, was protesting since Aug 24, asking the government to return the lands, which, they said, were forcibly acquired.

They were making their demands for the past two years but subsequently lay total siege at the factory from where the Tatas propose to bring out the world’s cheapest car Nano, priced at Rs.100,000/$2,500.

Concerned over the security of its 800-odd employees, including engineers from Singapore and South Korea, the industrial house, the largest in India with $62.5 billion turnover, suspended work completely since Sep 2.

The state government and the opposition late Sunday found a formula to end the impasse after a series of meetings mediated by the governor.

As per the agreement, as conveyed to the media by the governor, the state government will form a committee to look into the demands of the affected farmers, and submit its report in seven days.

Till then, construction of the ancillary units on the disputed land will be on hold, and the protests would be withdrawn, Gandhi, flanked by Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee, told reporters after the agreement was struck Sunday night.

But the Tatas said they were distressed at the so-called agreement, saying it will leave them in a “disadvantageous position” and negate the very basis and understanding on which we agreed to set up the Nano factory in West Bengal.

Senior Tata officials said privately that they were also surprised at not being invited for consultations when the agreement was being thrashed out between the Communists-led government and the Trinamool Congress-backed protesters.

“It is not clear what this agreement actually means. Does it ensure continued viability of the Nano project?” queried Tarun Das, the chief mentor of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII).

“Does it assure sustained peace to enable uninterrupted work in the long term? It would be helpful to get clarification on these issues,” he added.

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