Upset Ratan Tata warns he may move out of West Bengal (Second Lead)

August 22nd, 2008 - 7:38 pm ICT by IANS  

Kolkata, Aug 22 (IANS) Trouble over Tata Motors’ small car factory site at Singur appeared set to continue with the Tata Group Friday threatening to move out of West Bengal unless the row over farmland acquisition was resolved and a minister saying it would not be possible to return the 400 acres demanded by the opposition.”We cannot operate in this environment,” Tata Group chairman Ratan Tata told reporters here, referring to the violence over acquisition of 400 acres farmland for ancillary industries for the Nano car project in Singur, some 40 km from here.

“If West Bengal wants us, we will be very, very happy to stay and be part of the state’s development,” he said in a rather stern but uncharacteristic remark.

“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,” he said after the annual general meeting of Tata Tea.

“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.”

Meanwhile, Industries Minister Nirupam Sen said he was “hopeful that some solution will come up” to the land imbroglio, but added that it was not possible for the state government to give back the 400 acres demanded by the opposition Trinamool Congress party.

Speaking at a press meet at the Bengal Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Sen said the 400 acres was not situated in one pocket of the project area, where Tata is building the factory of its Rs.100,000 ($2,500) car, Nano. He said the land demanded back by unwilling farmers, 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 like that and if there is any situation where there is excess land, the government can call for public auction.

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

In a related development, Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee termed Ratan Tata’s warning to move out of Singur if violence persists as “blackmailing politics”.

“We don’t believe in blackmailing politics. The state government may give in to this kind of statement, not us. Our main concern is the welfare of the villagers,” she said, adding that the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) led Left Front government was responsible for the violence at Singur.

“The state government is only concerned about millionaires like Ratan Tata. Chief Minister Buddadeb Bhattacharjee is least worried about providing protection to the villagers at Singur,” Banerjee said at a press conference at her city 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.

She also criticised Minister Nirupam Sen’s meeting with Ratan Tata Thursday night.

“Why did Sen had to meet Tata late night? Is this the way a minister should interact with an industrialist? He is just dancing to Tata’s tune…after all the state government only understands the language of money,” Banerjee said.

Banerjee said her party will continue their movement at Singur till the government and Tatas return the land to the farmers.

Tata Motors took up the project of constructing the small car factory in Singur two years back. Since then it has faced lots of resistance from the main opposition party of the state, Trinamool Congress, over alleged seizure of farmland.

The company is building the small car factory on a plot of 997.11 acre, of which the Trinamool-led activists want them to return 400 acres to the farmers unwilling to part with their land.

Out of the total area, 691.66 acres belongs to farmers who gave their land willingly, while 305.47 acres, scattered over the area, belongs to the unwilling farmers.

In his remarks, Tata said: “Industrialisation cannot ignore the rural community and I don’t think that rural community can prosper without industrialisation.”

Tata also said that land at Singur was not being used for cultivation for the past two years and that farming was not possible because of waterlogging.

Asked if the developments would affect the group’s future plans for West Bengal, he said: “Of course, it will”.

Protesters have often entered into scuffles with the factory workers in the past. Last month, an engineer of the construction firm Shapoorji Pallonji was roughed up by women protesters.

Early this month, peasants clashed with the police after a handful of locals tried to break the factory wall with shovels. Two security men were also beaten up.

Nano, a 623-cc car with a 33 horsepower multipoint fuel injection petrol engine, was unveiled at Auto Expo 2008 in New Delhi Jan 10, with the aim of selling it at no more than Rs.100,000, not including the taxes.

The company said it intended to produce about 250,000 Nanos and expects an eventual annual demand of one million cars a year.

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