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Mainstream, Vol XLVII No 13, March 14, 2009

Mainstream and Nano Car Project of the Tatas at Singur

Sunday 15 March 2009, by D P Sen



“Do not judge me by my actions, do not judge me from man’s point of view. Judge me from God’s—by the hidden purpose behind my actions. ”
- – Fidel Castro (Mainstream, November 29, 2008)

The editorial entitled “Moral Victory for Evicted Peasantry” (Mainstream, September 13, 2008) gives unqualified and blind support (and even twists facts to support) the objectives and virulent agitation of the Trinamul Congress under the leadership of its supremo—Mamata Banerjee—for the return of 400 acres of agricultural land in Singur to the unwilling peasants (numbering about 2300) evicted due to acquisition of their land by the Government of West Bengal for the Nano car project of Tatas. The editorial has gone out of its way to write: “She has of late not decided anything without taking them (associated political parties, addition mine—D.P.S.) into confidence.” The editorial is completely misleading and supports an agitation with retrograde implication for West Bengal both for the present and immediate future.

Due to various reasons (including aggressive and irresponsible trade unionism) West Bengal, which was one of the leading industrial States of India till the middle of the 1960s decade, is now in a sagging industrial situation. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, the present Chief Minister of West Bengal and a Polit-Bureau member of the CPM, initiated a commendable and vigorous programme to reverse the same in right earnest. The Nano car project of the Tatas is a part of the above pro-gramme. An area of land measuring 1000 acres, which was acquisitioned by the Government of West Bengal under an Act of the British regime, was leased out to Tatas on concessional terms. The entrepreneur was also given other tax benefits.

The technology of the Nano car is a novel one. The car created world interest. Additionally, it was announced that the car would cost US $ 2000-US$ 2500 (Rs 1 lakh), quite cheap by any standards, and it would be available in the market before Durga Puja festival of West Bengal, that is, by the first week of October 2008. The writer thinks in that case West Bengal would have had the privilege of being the birthplace of the Nano car, but this did not happen due to the agitation of the Trinamul Congress.

On August 24, 2008, when the Nano car project was in the final stages of production, Mamata Banerjee started an indefinite dharna at Singur with her demand for returning 400 acres of land of the project area which seems to have been earmarked for ancillary industries. Mamata Banerjee and thousands of her Trinamul Congress followers organised a massive and virulent dharna outside the Tata Nano car plant at Singur and laid siege to Durgapur Expressway (a national highway). The dharna was organised on a number of well- constructed platforms with ceilings. Mamata Banerjee and leaders of her party and others harangued on the platform. Additionally and importantly, employees and engineers of the Nano car plant were threatened and prevented from joining their work. This went on for days together. Under impossible circumstances, the Tatas closed down their project at Singur (West Bengal) and ultimately shifted to Gujarat. Mamata Banerjee also suspended her agitation sometime in the first week of September 2008 on the ground of the coming Durga Puja festival of West Bengal. Different timings announced by the Tatas for their Nano car and different timings of actions by Trinamul Congress are worth noting.

The Governor of West Bengal through his untiring effort was successful in bringing both parties together for suitable and amicable settlement but his effort failed. One is curious to know why a second meeting was hastily arranged when the first meeting was successful.

It seems that, according to both Mamata Banerjee and Mainstream ancillary industry can be easily shifted elsewhere, for example, on the other side of the expressway and 400 acres of land can thus be returned to their original owners. The proposal is not so simple and is not realistic without sacrificing the main project. It is reasonable to assume that 400 acres of land in question have already been leased out to the Tatas and are not in possession of the government. Secondly, land acquired by the government in accordance with an Act of the country cannot be handed over back to their earlier owners outright even if the government so desires. Appropriate prescribed procedures are to be followed. Thirdly, on the issue of the shifting of the ancillary industry to the other side of the expressway, a number of owners again will be evicted and they will also bestir themselves to acquire their land. Another political party will come forward for the evicted owners. Fourthly and importantly, it has been tangentially implied that ancillary industry is of secondary or tertiary importance in relation to the main industry and can be located anywhere. This is absolutely wrong when the cost of the commodity has been announced. Functional requirements (motion, speed, friction, high temperature etc.) demand that ancillary industry should be located as close as possible to the main industry from the standpoint of cost/benefit ratio, commercial angle, quality control and management. The entrepreneur would decide the issue and not politicians.

The editorial has implicitly questioned the policy of diverting fertile agricultural land for industrial purpose. In many countries of Europe and post-independence India and West Bengal, agricultural land has been diverted for non-agricultural purposes such as development of industry, urbanisation and river valley projects.

It may be concluded by stating that the ferocious dharna organised by Mamata Banerjee was completely successful in forcing the Tatas to shift their Nano car project from Singur and West Bengal to jeopardise, at least for the time being, the initiative of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee to rejuvenate the industrial activity of West Bengal. But the above effects were not the declared aims of her dharna or the agitation of the Trinamul Congress.

The declared objectives of the agitation of Mamata Banerjee are yet to be achieved. Evicted and unwilling peasantry of Singur are yet to get back their land. Whenever a population—group or even a family—is evicted by the government, it should and must see that the evicted people are well rehabilitated. Certainly Mamata Banerjee has every right to bargain for a better deal for the evicted unwilling farmers of Singur.

D.P. Sen
- Karunamoyee
- Salt Lake
- Kolkata

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