Shifting of Nano project a sad experience, says PM

By Murali Krishnan, IANS,

On Board Air India One : Lamenting the circumstances in which Tata Motors had to shift its ambitious Nano car project from West Bengal to Gujarat, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Saturday underlined the need for industrialisation as well as for remunerative land compensation to farmers.

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“This is a free democratic country and it is certainly sad the way and the circumstances in which (Tata Group chairman) Ratan Tata had to move his project,” said Manmohan Singh on board his flight while returning on the conclusion of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) summit in Beijing.

This is the first time Manmohan Singh has officially commented on Tata Motors’ decision this month to move its venture to Gujarat following a prolonged agitation by Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee.

Banerjee was spearheading an agitation for several months demanding more compensation to farmers for the acquisition of their land in Singur near Kolkata for manufacturing the Nano that was to roll out this year and priced at Rs.100,000.

“Entrepreneurs are free to decide the location of their plant and in a market economy these things happen. These are decisions that cannot be forced down the throats of unwilling entrepreneurs,” said Manmohan Singh.

“It is also sad because a lot of work has been done in West Bengal and there was a date fixed for Nano’s appearance in the market. That process was delayed, therefore, to some extent it was a sad experience.”

Manmohan Singh said the Singur experience was not a blow to industrialists to begin mega projects but a fine balance had to be struck.

“Let me say that India needs to industrialise. Without industrialisation we cannot find solutions to our employment or development problems. The real issue is what are the terms on which the land is acquired. It should not be acquired at prices, which keep the farmers dissatisfied.”

Industry, he said, should keep an eye on farmers while expanding.

“There should be an increasing attempt to reward the farmer appropriately, also perhaps giving them a stake in the enterprises which come into existence on the land that is acquired.”

The prime minister also made it a point to mention that the government’s rehabilitation policy and the amendment to the Land Acquisition Act, for which a bill was before parliament.

“I would like that this is not an issue which should create fiction and division among parties because India must industrialise to realise its destiny.”

But he emphasized that industrialisation “cannot be on the backs of the poor farmers. They should be given remunerative compensation wherever land is acquired”.