Sunday, May 29, 2022

Tata: Bye, Bye

It's official. The Tatas announced their decision to move their Nano car plant from Singur in West Bengal. "You cannot run a plant when bombs are being thrown at the site. You cannot run a plant when workers are being intimidated and threatened."

Tata: Bye, Bye
| AP
Tata: Bye, Bye

It's official. The Tatas have announced their decision to move their Nano car plant from Singur in West Bengal.

As a visibly emotional Ratan N. Tata, Chairman, Tata Sons & Tata Motors put it, immediately after meeting Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, it was unfortunate that he had to make the decision just before Durga Puja, an otherwise festive time in the state. 

He reiterated that it was a difficult decision and that they were left with no choice. "We can't let our investment lie in limbo...You cannot run a plant when bombs are being thrown at the site. You cannot run a plant when workers are being intimidated and threatened." 

"We had operated here for two years under very trying circumstances. Talks with opposition leader can go on forever, but we don't see a solution in sight, we just don't have that time," he said. 

"This is a decision we have taken with great deal of sadness," he said, "in the interest of the project’s success and viability and in light of the opposition’s continued agitation, there was no option but to move the project out of the state of West Bengal." 

'Shame It Faced Such A Situation'

Ratan Tata was testy when he was asked about the opposition's claim that so much land was not really needed for the plant. "We will manufacture the cars. Let us decide what we need. As far as I am concerned, the land was acquired legally by the government. In a way, the government here was damned if they did, and damned if they didn't. This is a very painful decision. It ends many dreams for many people."

He reiterated that the location of the Nano project in West Bengal was an expression of faith in the investor friendly atmosphere created by the state government. The project was to be a show case plant which would have considerably enhanced the visibility of the state, created jobs for the younger citizens of the state and through the company’s community programs, would have enhanced the quality of life of the urban and rural population.

He didn't put a figure on the financial loss to the company and said it needs to be evaluated. He also didn't elaborate on what they would now do with the land that is with the company now.

He also did not specify where the plant would be shifted: "We have not decided where the plant would be shifted. We have offers from three or four state governments, which we are exploring. Hopefully, there will not be such opposing views there... We hope to find a location with a congenial environment."

He took pains to publicly assure all employees of the Singur plant and those undergoing training that they would find a place in other plants of the company. "Hope they stay in the Tata family, but obviously not in Singur."

He said the vendors would also move with the mother plant. "We will try to protect the vendors as much as we can. We will do everything to ensure they move with us. They are integral part of the project".

"This is an Indian project. Shame it faced such a situation," he said, and ruled out any reconsideration of the decision. "Once we have taken the decision, we have taken it".

Getting philosophical and pondering over the way things turned out, he said: "What everybody has to decide is whether people need industrial development. Whether young people will have the opportunity for employment."

'Ms Banerjee Has Pulled The Trigger'

Ratan Tata went to some length to express "extreme anguish at the heightened level of agitation and hostility by the opposition parties led by Ms. Mamata Banerjee, resulting in a concern for the physical security of their staff, contractors and vendors. Threats, intimidation and instances of assault and general obstruction in one form or the other have been the order of the day".

"Tata Motors had constructed the plant over the past two years, despite continued agitation and hostility as also continuous affect on the reputation and integrity of the Tata Group. Tata Motors has now almost reached a start up position of the plant. However, the heightened hostility and agitation had caused the commissioning and start up phase to be suspended. The contract labour had also been intimated and assaulted, thus making it impossible to continue. Tata Motors had suspended work for an entire month on the plant. Unfortunately, there was no de-escalation in the level of hostility and agitation. The Trinamool Congress and those supporting them, continue to demand a part of the land to be returned to the farmers by the government, which would render the project unviable.".

He also reiterated that Tata Motor "recognizes all the cooperation it has received from the state government and states categorically that the NANO project having to be moved from West Bengal is entirely due to the continued agitative actions by the opposition party led by Ms. Mamata Banerjee with total disregard for the rule of law."

"What could we have done when Ms Banerjee says, 'I won't allow a single Nano to roll out'? How do we go on with production when Ms Banerjee publicly says people of West Bengal do not want us?"

"When I addressed the media last time, I had hoped some understanding will be arrived at with the protesters. But shortly thereafter the agitation increased. The highway (near the Nano plant) was barricaded."

"Two years back, I had said if you hold a gun to my head, either you pull the trigger or take the gun away as I will not move my head. Ms Banerjee has pulled the trigger," he said, looking visibly emotional. "We wanted to bring this investment to West Bengal," he said.

'Where Is The Gun?'

On her part, Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee was unmoved: "It is an unfortunate comment of an individual blaming me for the pullout decision at Singur." She demanded that Ratan Tata should return the acquired land to farmers, who had been unwilling to part with it for the Nano project. 

"It hardly matters to us. It is a joint gameplan of the CPI(M) and the Tatas to leave ... The allegation that our agitation was violent, is bogus," she claimed. She stuck to her line questioning why the state government was 'not serious' about implementation of the agreement signed in the presence of Governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi at Raj Bhavan on September 7: "We agitated for 21 days and later suspended it hoping that the agreement will be implemented."

She claimed that Ratan Tata had made a statement two years ago that he would not leave Singur 'under any circumstances even if a gun was pointed at his head. "What happened today that he had to leave Singur?" 

The Tatas, she said, had declared in writing to her that they will set up the mother plant on 600 acres. "The Tatas cannot get away by just blaming us." She also claimed that the state government will have to go to 'make room for industrialisation and get rid of promoter raj introduced by the CPI(M)'.

'As You Sow...'

Other parties opposed to the Left readily agreed with her. "As you sow, so will you reap. The Communists in West Bengal are suffering from what they practice. These very Communists are also responsible for driving away a flourishing film industry out of Kolkata. The youngsters suffer while the Left rule by blocking development," BJP vice-president Muqtar Abbas Naqvi said.

Congress was not less scathing. Party spokesman Abhishek Singhvi charged the Left parties of failing to strike a balance between growth and equity. "The left had been unable to strike a balance between growth and equitable distribution of state resources among the common people," Singvi said. "Their pious declarations do not even work even in their own backyard and therefore they have to be careful in their preaching and sermons in the future," he remarked, in a clear reference to the passage of the Indo-US nuclear deal a day before, which the Left had opposed.


Needless to say, business and industrial community were upset by the announcement of the decision.  "I just thought the opposite was true. I thought Ratan Tata would gift Nano to the state as a Durga puja gift," a visibly stunned Indian Chamber of Commerce president Sanjay Budhia said. "I am very disappointed and depressed. This will take West Bengal back by many decades. Tata's moving out of the state will have a negative reaction as Nano is the symbol of common man," he said.

Reacting sharply, Calcutta Chamber of Commerce president H V Patodia said this was very unfortunate. "It is an issue of our next generation versus agriculture. This is a great setback. The international investors will adopt a wait and watch approach."

Meanwhile, the CPI-M has called a dawn-to-dusk bandh in Singur. The party's Singur zonal committee secretary Amar Chanda said that party supporters will also lay a siege on the Durgapur Expressway running beside the plant.  

He said the Tata's announcement has shocked residents and questioned why 10,000 land-givers should suffer. He said that the irresponsible action of the Trinamool Congress and its allies, who worked on behalf of just 2,000 land-losers, destroyed the future of Singur as well as that of the entire state. Those who gave the land willingly would be rendered destitute. "We would ask the government why they have to suffer for no fault of them."

Industry Minister Nirupam Sen was equally grim: "This will have a very very negative impact on investment scenario. The perception about a state is very important for attracting investments." 

Describing Tatas' decision as "unfortunate and sad" and a bad news on the eve of the Pujas for the people of Singur and also West Bengal, he said, the decision was natural for any investor facing "irresponsible and destructive" opposition to his project.

"The Tatas had said that they did not want to run the project with the help of the police. They wanted a congenial environment and public support. This is a natural demand for any industrialist. Unfortunately, although the government explained the project's integrated nature to the opponents and appealed to them for a peaceful solution, they did not respond,"  he added.

Pointing out that withdrawal of the Nano plant would also result in the closure of 50-60 ancillary plants in the small and medium sectors, Sen said this had also jeopardised automobile sector investments in the state in the near future.


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