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Tata and the Singur project

A horrific sight awaited me outside my window as I awoke this morning. I saw that a part of the large community sports ground opposite my building was being dug up. It seemed to be part of some kind of planned work. Later, I found out that the local MP is planning a four-storeyed gymnasium in one corner of the ground.

So, tomorrow, the Congress (ruling party of Maharashtra) has called a protest rally to save the ground, which has been a long-time favourite with local cricket-lovers and joggers/walkers. The Congress, undoubtedly, is more interested in the matter as the MP behind the project is from the Shiv Sena, a rival party in the state.

Things have taken such a political twist in another state as well – West Bengal. The matter of West Bengal’s Singur district has become a political battlefield now, with most parties looking for their 15 minutes of fame by expressing their views on the matter.

The case: the left government of West Bengal has given around 1000 acres of land in Singur to Tata Motors for the construction of a manufacturing site that will produce India’s cheapest car (Rs 1,00,000 per car). Work has already begun on this project but now the opposition party in the state, Trinamool Congress has launched a protest on behalf of farmers from Singur who claim that agricultural land is being used for the project. Apparently, only 60 acres of the 1,000 acres of land being used to set up the factory is barren; the rest are a combination of farmland (some for three-crop cultivation), wetland, temple site, Hindu cremation site etc.

Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee is on hunger strike to protest this alleged injustice. Renowned social activist Medha Patkar, who has been banned from entering Singur, is also refusing to eat and drink. The ruling left government, which has been criticised for pandering to corporate interests contrary to its ideologies, has called both protesters to the table but they refuse. At the centre in Delhi, the opposition BJP party has launched an attack on the left for ignoring Singur’s farmers. Work, meanwhile, on the project continues as the state government thinks this is good investment for West Bengal. They claim to have paid most farmers a more than handsome compensation for their land.

In all this, the only silent party that everyone is waiting to hear from is the Tata group. Though there have been some comments from the Tata Motors chairman on how they do everything according to the rulebook, those comments still remain at best, non-specific. Their showroom in West Bengal’s capital, Kolkata, was ransacked; protesters who took to the streets were beaten by the police; and, life in Kolkata has been brought to a standstill on more than one occassion by protesters and political activists. The Tatas remain silent despite all this.

Their silence caused much annoyance in January, when in a similar land acquisition debate, 12 tribal people were shot at by the police in Kalinganagar (Orissa state) when they protested alleged land grabbing by the state government for industrial purposes. Tata Steel was one of the big land buyers in that case.

But this time, with things taking such a high-profile political turn, and the media closely monitoring the issue, it will become incumbent upon the Tatas to come forth and make clear their position at some point. After being revered in India for their community work, an accusation of land grabbing and destruction of people’s livelihoods will be a shameful blot on their whiter than white reputation. Also, they may not relish the idea of being at the centre of a political tug-of-war.

Poulomi Saha, India Editor, Mumbai

10 Comments

  1. Its an excellent picture that you have conveyed in the blog. I have a few comments to add ,

    Singur is a small rural town in Hoogly its an important site for the fact that durgapur exp way cuts through it.

    I have been doing some research on the types of compensations promised to the landowners, but could not find any trustworthy source. If you know the types of the compensation ( for example the official site of the hoogly dist gives the detailed layout of the owners share of the land as a series of pdf files, but does not mention the price or if they are promised some bonds to ensure periodic payments ). I will appriciate if you can add these informations, thank you , himadri

  2. I think what TATA does is entirely wrong.
    For a man to become rich, he cannot cannot ditch the poor farmers.
    Its a matter of democracy
    I strongly object this acquisition
    Let TATA pay Rs one crore an acre to farmers or let him make farmers as partners to his company

  3. With respect to the Singur, Nandigram etc. I had posted a post on my blog about land reforms and the learnings & activities of Hernado Soto on the topic.

    However today my comment is about a slightly different matter. How is it that the Singur issue has occupied so much mindspace while in Chennai a Dubai based company called ETA construction, has added hundreds of acres of land to their land banks.

    All land bank deals of construction companies also need to be looked into carefully. Not only new manufacturing project sites.

  4. Sunday, February 3, 2008
    The rise of the Car Nazis: Ratan and the Tata Wannabes

    Ratan Tata has made an illegal Left turn in a no-car zone. The Nano is a no-no.

    The people of India, and I am one of them, do NOT need a mis-named people’s car. We need a People’s Bus, A People’s Mass Transit, a vastly expanded People’s Railway, we need PUBLIC MASS TRANSPORTATION that is ecologically sustainable and delivers a public convenience that meets the needs of our underserved Indian URBAN AND RURAL masses and is the envy of, and a model for, the entire world. I proudly count myself among these masses, even though I teach in the US and live and work in India only about six months of the year.

    Q.Why did Ratan Tata and the Tata Group choose to put their wholly admirable “frugal engineering” expertise into a private and personal car and not into making buses and mass transportation vehicles? A. Corporate greed and selfish personal ambition.

    The Tata Group has decades of engineering knowhow in the heavy truck sector. Why didn’t they build on this experience and come out with buses and other mass transport innovations? Again the answer is corporate greed and selfish personal ambition. Ratan Tata has absolutely no stake in the Greater Collective Good (GCG). Tata is all about profit. Ratan Tata cynically hired Rajendra Pachauri of Nobel-winning IPCC fame (at an undisclosed sum)for his TERI and ratan Tata has effectively bought Pachauri’s meek submission to Tata ‘s reckless corporate goals. This is the same Pachauri who as Chair of IPCC was telling entire nations what to do about climate change, but he can’t tell Ratan Tata to focus on ecologically sustainable modes of public transportation. Why didn’t Pachairi resign when Tata rolled out the Nano to a largely salivating middle class public? Tata is is all about a narrow self-serving short term view in which he and Tata Group can make a quick buck and now unfortunately this corporate recklessness is reinforced by the award of a Padma Vibhushan. That PV should have gone instead to Medha Patkar and she would have probably declined it! She would be right to do so. No point accepting a Padma Vibhushan from a Govt. that is committed to predatory capitalism against its own people.There are only a handful of folks like Patkar, Arundhati Roy, Anna Hazare, P. Sainath and a few others who cannot be bought and sold by corporate interests and criminal politicians.

    What many Indians (especially the avidly consuming, bribe-giving, politically apathetic and ethically indefensible middle class in India) fail to appreciate is that a fabulous city like New York where I teach about six months a year is heavily invested in mass public transportation. NYC has been heavily invested in mass transit for over half a century.

    I don’t own a car. And I don’t plan to own one, certainly not the Nano. I walk. I always ride the incredibly crowded, poorly maintained buses and trains in India and I am proud to say that I have adamantly refused to ride in a car in India.

    In New York, I do have a bicycle. Tens of thousands like me in New York ride our magnificent, er often tardy and continually underfunded subways of the NYC Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA). I can get all around town and all the outer boros and to JFK airport for $2 and then I am happy to pay another $5 to get me on the public mass transportation called the Airtrain right into JFK airport.

    Even our Billionaire Mayor Mike Bloomberg rides the subway everyday to work. It’s a great feeling to get on a train that runs under New York and to know that we are contributing zero pollution to our wonderful global city. That is precisely what we need in India. NOT crazy Ratan (“I have no watan”) Tata and his no-no Nano.

    Both the centre and the states must urgently invest in public mass transit which they have criminally neglected and disproportionately taxed since the 50’s.

    The Nano represents a vivid test case for our civil society and the need for urgent development of a consciousness-raising Critical Environmental Studies in schools and colleges. I have presented the above ideas in India during conferences on Environmental Sustainability and will not rest until such proposals gain policy implementation.
    The Gandhian post-revolutionary, democratic Indian nation-state deserves a lofty vision, mission policies and practicies that affirm the public trust. Public mass transportation that is ecologically sustainable and continually innovating in the public interest, is part of that noble public trust.
    Dr. Chithra KarunaKaran
    City University of New York (CUNY)
    http://www.ethicaldemocracy.blogspot.com

  5. The total debt of this West Bengal Government is more than 1,50,000 crores Indian Rupee. This is the achievement of the Left Front Government of West Bengal in past 30 + years. Yes they have done Haldia petrochemicals. CPM and their alliance CITU have opened their office in front of the gate of Haldia Petrochemicals. If Haldia petrochemicals wishes to 1)appoint an employee, 2) wants suppliers of paper-stationary goods, 3) wants trucks for uploading their finished products, etc. etc. they will have to approach to CPM party office first. Without permission of Laxman Sett, MP, nothing is possible there. CPM is saying a lot of people will get job in Singur Tata Nano project. The first thing CPM will do – they will open their party office in front of the Tata nano main gate. Only the CPM party cadars and supporters 1) will get job in the said project, 2) CPM party cadars will be able to supply paper-stationary to Tata, 3) The vendors, tea stall owners, food vendors etc. etc. all will have to be CPM supporters.

    Jindal group has set up factory in Shalboni in West Bengal. There they acquired land from the farmers themselves. They paid the price fixed by the land owners/farmers. They have made those land/owners farmers the share-holders of their up-coming factory. They are giving employment to those land owners/farmers. Why did CPM Government acted as a mediator in case of Tata Nano project?

    CPM Government in West Bengal in case of this Singur Tata Nano project has wrongfully acquired that 997 acres of land in Singur. They are telling that they have taken the land for public purpose. Taking land from public/ poor farmers/ land owners forcefully and giving the same to Tata – How can they say that they have taken that land for public purpose? Taking land for public purpose by any Government means the Government will build Dam, rail line, hospital, bridge, etc. which will serve public purpose. Taking land for Tata from public is not for public purpose. It is not pro-public. It is against public.

    Today they are taking land in Singur, tomorrow tey will take land in Katowa, then they will take land in Nandigram and then in whole West Bengal. The peoples of West Bengal, their ancestral properties, their dwelling place, their own land is not safe in the hands of this CPM Government. My question is did this CPM party declared to the peoples of West Bengal that if they will come to power after winning the election they will take over the land of the poor farmers, they will take over the residential house of the common people? If today Tata wants to purchase the residence/ land of CPM Ministers of West Bengal for commercial purpose , will they give away their lands and residence against a sum of money fixed by Tatas? After loosing the panchayet election in Nandigram and singur CPM is telling the peoples of West Bengal that it will be harmful for the peoples of West Bengal if Tata pulls out from Singur. CPM is thinking that peoples of rest of West Bengal except Singur will give them vote in the next Parliament election. My question is today it is Singur. Next is what? Tomorrow after the election it will be Kharda, next it will be Nadia, next Malda and so on. Today the peoples of Kharda is safe. But tomorrow?

    CPM tells about Haldia petrochemicals. Who was the mastermind behind that Haldia petrochemicals project. Who is the owner/ co-partner of Haldia Petrochemicals – The answer is Mr. Purnendu Chatterjee. But alas. Today although beeing the ownwer/ co-partner of Haldia Petrochemicals, Mr. Purnendu chatterjee has no right to appoint a manager, an employee without the permission of the CPM. Mr. Purnendu Chatterjee became bound to knock the doors of Court to get justice.If we look at past, CPM Goverment in West Bengal acquired Huge number of factory owners and industrialists has gone away from West Bengal due to agitation and inquilab zindabad done by CITU abranch organization of CPM. Today CPM party cadars and promoters are developing High rise buildings in those barren lands/ factories from where the industrialists have fled away. Then they are selling apartments in those high rise bulidings to general public of West Bengal. My question is so why does CPM say that they are unable to give back that 400 acres of land to the farmers?

  6. undoubtedly all sides – the government, mamata (trinamool) and the tatas are posturing. but, the truth as always lies somewhere in between.

    i would not have expected mamata to have behaved any differently. aren’t all political parties genetically coded to fish in troubled waters ? would the CPM have behaved any differently if they were in the opposition ?

    overall, i think the CPM is reaping what they have sown over the last 30 years. and it was a monumental miscalculation on their part to think that they’d be able to steam roll any challenge on the ground by the brute force of their cadres.

    i have tried to do my 2 bit analysis. you may like to read it at:
    Nano Vision – http://www.ghoses.blogspot..com

  7. A

    WE ALL DREAM THAT INDIA WILL BE A DEVELOPED COUNTRY ANS WASH OFF THE DEVELOPING TAG ONE DAY.

    AGRICULTURE IS NEEDED AS LONG AS SUPPLY DOESN’T EXCEED DEMAND.

    THE PROBLEM WITH BENGAL IS:-
    1)THE POPULATION IS MAXIMUM
    2)LAND PER DECIMEL IS VERY LESS.

    THUS THE LAND SHORTAGE AND EXCESS POPULATION IN BENGAL DOES NOT SET IT ON THE SAME FOOTING WITH STATES LIKE PUNJAB(WHO EXPORT AGRI PRODUCTS).

    BENGAL NEEDS INDUSTRY AND IT WILL BE A MATTER OF PRIDE TO HAVE THE NANO IN BENGAL.- MAHARASTRA GOVT IS PLANNING TO GIVE RED CARPET WELCOME TO TATA’S.

    MAMATA IS MORE WORRIED ABOUT THE PEOPLE OF BIHAR THAN BENGAL.
    BIHAR HAS BEEN HIT BY TRAGIC NATURAL CALAMITY AND SHE WANTS WB GOVT TO DONATE.VERY GOOD PROPOSITION.

    BUT AT THE SAME-TIME WHAT ABOUT THE Crs WE ARE LOOSING ON National Highway and the rising cost of edible products in the market.

    MOREOVER IF THE MINORITY FARMERS PROTESTING-GET BACK THERE LAND. IT WILL NOT BE FIT FOR CULTIVATION BUT WILL BE SUITABLE ONLY FOR BUILDING REAL ESTATEs AND MALLs.

  8. Politicians of this country never misses an opportunity to use any developmental issue for the sake of vote bank politics. I was not expecting Ms.Banerjee to be any different from this. She has got it all wrong in singur,instead of demanding a better compensation for the farmers who have lost their land, she has chosen to oppose the very initiative, which in the long run would have helped West Bengal in its pursuit of Industrialization. What has Ms.Banerjee got to offer for those who will be loosing their jobs at TATA Motors? What about the plight of the small industries who have invested heavily & are totally dependent on TATA's NANO Project? TATA Motors is supposed to have a "Plan B" to relocate the NANO Project. Does Ms.Banerjee have a similar plan for the development of Singur?

  9. Anonymous

    What I don’t understand if the focus on Tata community services. What exactly have they done that is not for their employees’ benefit and which other corporate houses have not?

  10. Anonymous

    I wonder why there are so many intellectuals around. I feel I am one of the idiots who cannot understand how talking intellectual shit helps a country. Take an example of Tata. When China is setting an example in every aspect Tata an indian company dreamed big to set up an example which is not easy to surpass. But what he forgot was this is India. I do agree that land aquisition is done by a rotten act which almost translates to grabbing why cant we improve on the act an give an compensation that is according to market rates. But Mamata di thinks that land cannot be bought or sold. What if Tata wants to set an example. Lets hinder him in every way. After all it is India. And there are intellectuals every where. Shame on you West Bengal. Wait till the chinese oneday asks you to clean their toilets.

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