Nano in Karnataka will top 100 years of Tatas’ ties with state

By V.S. Karnic, IANS,

Bangalore : If Tata Motors set up their Nano small car project in Karnataka, it will be the icing on the cake for the Tata Group’s 100-year-old association with the state, formerly the princely state of Mysore.

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The group’s association, first with Mysore and later Karnataka, began towards the end of the 19th century when its founder Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata decided to set up a Research Institute or University of Research, prodded by Swami Vivekananda during a chance meeting on their voyage to America in 1893.

Bangalore, now India’s IT hub, was chosen as the location and the then Maharaja of Mysore, Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV, pitched in to allot over 300 acres of land. With grants from Jamsetji and the help of the then colonial British government, the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) took birth on May 27, 1909.

Jamsetji did not live to see his vision being realised. He passed away in 1904.

Jamsetji did not want his name to be associated with the institute. Hence it was named the Indian Institute of Science. But many old timers in Bangalore and across Karnataka still refer to it simply as the Tata Institute.

As the IISc faculty and students prepare to celebrate in May 2009 the centenary of the institution that has made a name for research across the world, the Karnataka government is furiously wooing the Tata group to set up its ‘dream’ car project in Dharwad, around 420 km northwest of Bangalore.

The Tata group has been in Dharwad since 1996 when it was allotted around 650 acres of land for manufacturing earth-moving equipment. Production began in 1999.

The group’s experience with Karnataka, however, has been mixed.

It has been smooth in the case of one of the group’s traditional strength — automobiles.

The group’s plan to build a new Bangalore international airport at Devanahalli, about 35 km from the city centre in the 1990s, ended on a bitter note, like the Nano car project in Singur in West Bengal.

However, the blame for forcing the Tata group to pull out of the project has been put on the then United Front government (1996-97) led by H.D. Deve Gowda, the first prime minister from Karnataka. The then Karnataka chief minister J.H. Patel had stated that the Tata group “is fed up over the treatment meted out to them by various central ministries”.

Tata Motors managing director G. Ravi Kant has told the Karnataka government that the Nano small car project needs 1,000 acres as it is an integrated project.

The state government says it will provide not only the land but several other facilities for the group if it decides to relocate the plant from Singur in West Bengal.

The Tata group now has around 900 acres in Dharwad, including 300 acres allotted last year for the manufacture of luxury buses and vans in a joint venture with the Brazil-based Marcopolo company.

The state government is aggressively promoting Dharwad not only because the Tata group has a base there already but also because the city is within 600 km of four ports — Panaji (Goa) 160 km, Karwar (Uttara Kannada district) 180 km, Mangalore (Dakshina Kannada district) about 480 km, and Mumbai 550 km.

There are three airports nearby, in the twin city Hubli, 15 km, Belgaum 75 km and Panaji.

Dharwad is well connected by railways and road as it is one of the major cities on the Bangalore-Mumbai route.

While Dharwad is known more for its educational institutions – it is the headquarters of Karnatak University – its twin city Hubli is famous as a commercial hub. Dharwad has pleasant weather through the year as it is 2,500 feet above sea level.

Dharwad has produced several renowned Hindustani musicians such as Bhimsen Joshi, Gangubai Hangal, Mallikarjun Mansur, Kumar Gandharva and Basavaraj Rajguru.

Two poets from the city Dattatreya Ramachandra Bendre (popularly known in Karnataka as Da. Ra. Bendre and by his pen name Ambikatanaya Datta) and V.K. Gokak have won the Jananpith award.

Karnataka officials are hopeful that if not the mother plant, Tata Motors will at least set up a satellite plant in Dharwad as the group is familiar with the terrain and the advantages of being close to Pune, where it has major manufacturing facilities, besides other big cities and ports.

Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa telephoned Tata group chairman Ratan Tata Friday soon after the announcement of Nano withdrawal from Singur and invited him to Bangalore to take forward the state government offer of land and other facilities to relocate the plant at Dharwad.

He has named his principal secretary V.P Baligar and industry secretary V. Umesh to hold talks with the Tata Motors team, which, his spokesperson said Friday, is expected in Bangalore Monday.

If the Tata team is not able to visit Bangalore, these two officials may themselves go to Mumbai to meet Tata Motors managing director G. Ravi Kant, official sources said Saturday.

Given that it may take at least six months for the mother plant or a satellite unit to start operations if the Tata Motors decide to set up one now, the first product from the Dharwad plant may well roll out around Tata Institute’s centenary celebrations, a co-incidence none expected when Ratan Tata unveiled the model of the Rs.100,000 car in New Delhi early this year.