Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Die is cast: Tata rolls equipment out of Singur

Times of India

KOLKATA/NEW DELHI: Truckloads of material have started rolling out of the Singur Nano factory, a sure sign that Tata Motors is on an exit route from West Bengal. Although there has been no formal communication from the company, the grim message has reached the corridors of power in Kolkata.

According to government officials, the beating up of two security guards at the plant on Monday night might have been the last straw for the Tatas.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, industries minister Nirupam Sen, and even Governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi have resigned themselves to fate of West Bengal turning into a graveyard for industry again. "The possibility of the small car factory coming up in Singur is becoming remote by the day," Sen said in Delhi.

There are no signs of a let-up in the Opposition camp, though. Mamata Banerjee is determined to deepen the impasse and make it a political issue in the coming Lok Sabha polls. She won't listen to the Governor let alone the government, won't take note of the public mood that wants the Tatas to stay, or heed the law that rules out return of acquired land to farmers.

Sources said Tata engineers had dismantled dies and other "key fixtures unique to the Nano" from Singur and started moving them to an undisclosed location a few days back. Pending a final decision, the company could either roll out its first Nano from its Pantnagar or its Pune facility. The Rs 1 lakh car was scheduled to hit the road in October and Tata wants to stick to that deadline. But as an official said, the situation in Singur "was not conducive to work".

Mamata is sticking to her land-for-land demand, hoping that her stubborn stand will yield electoral dividends in rural Bengal it doesn't matter if Tatas exit Singur. Her colleagues in Trinamool are equally frustrated with didi's arrogance but they don't dare go against her. "I am fed up. Let the Tatas do whatever they want. The war of nerves is getting too much," a senior Trinamool leader said.

The rumblings, however, make no difference to Mamata. Her eyes are fixed on Writers' Buildings, and not the small car factory.

Mamata's defiance now revolves round the agreement that the government had signed with the Opposition at Raj Bhavan on September 7, in the presence of the Governor Gandhi. In the agreement, the government agreed to provide land-based compensation in and around Singur, with the maximum from within the project area, and created a panel to examine the scope of compensation and modalities of settlement.

Soon after this, Mamata came out of Raj Bhavan and announced that the government would "return 300 acres from within the project area", and suspended her dharna on Durgapur Expressway. A worried Tata Motors MD Ravi Kant shot off a letter to the government the next day. The CM clarified that the government had not made any such promise to Mamata, because sacrificing part of the project area would hamper the integral nature of the car factory.

The panel with Trinamool MLA from Singur Rabindranath Bhattacharya and Krishi Jami Raksha Committee convenor Becharam Manna as two of the members did scout for land and, as tutored by Mamata, found 300 acres in the project site that could be returned. They refused to identify sites outside the project area. However, both of them primarily agreed to a compensation package that WBIDC managing director Subrata Gupta had offered.

Bhattacharya and Manna had come out of the meeting with a sense of victory and rushed to Kalighat to break the good news to Mamata. Little did they know that their didi would reject the offer outright.
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