Governor Gandhi begins Singur peace parleys, Tatas noncommital


Kolkata/New Delhi : West Bengal Governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi began preliminary talks Thursday to end the impasse over the Tata Motors car project in Singur, even as company chief Ratan Tata said all steps were being taken to roll out little Nano as scheduled.

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The governor, the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, met representatives of farmers who are protesting the acquisition of some 400 acres of farmland for the project and the state government separately, ahead of the formal talks Friday.

The informal meeting was the result of Mamata Banerjee, the chief of Trinamool Congress, which is spearheading the protests, softening her stand and agreeing to the reconciliatory talks being mediated by the state governor.

“I am hopeful about a solution in the talks set for Friday because both the West Bengal chief minister and Mamata Banerjee are sincere in their efforts to end the stalemate,” Gandhi said, adding Tata group representatives were also invited for talks.

Even at the Tata factory at Singur, some 40 km from the state capital Kolkata, there was not much activity at the makeshift podiums raised by the Trinamool Congress along the Durgapur Expressway, as the farmers anxiously awaited some positive settlement Friday.

Trinamool Congress-backed farmers have been holding protests since Aug 24 at the company’s factory at Singur, wanting 400 acres of land out of the 997.11 acres acquired for the project and the ancillary units, to be returned.

As the protests intensified, the Tata group last week suspended work at the site, which employs some 800 people, including engineers from South Korea and Singapore, saying it will not put its employees at risk. It also threatened to relocate the project to some other state, if the protests continued.

A team of state government representatives including Industry Minister Nirupam Sen, Chief Secretary A.K. Deb and Commerce and Industry principal secretary S. Sen participated in the talks with the governor at his official residence.

“We discussed the details about the project with the governor. We told him about the project size and other related details. He took note of the information we gave him. He will discuss it with the opposition,” Sen told reporters later.

In the national capital, where the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers held its annual convention, Ratan Tata was the centre of attraction, with all wanting to know if he will relocate his factory away from West Bengal.

“Obviously, we are a company which wants to launch Nano as planned. We will try to do everything possible to launch Nano as planned,” he said, without divulging from where he would like the world’s cheapest car to roll out.

Several other state governments have invited Tata to set up the plant in their territory and have said they would roll out the red carpet for the project that has grabbed global attention.

“The question needs to be asked not to me but to others,” he shot back, when asked if Tata Motors will be able to meet the October deadline for commercial launch of the car, expected to cost Rs.100,000/$2,500, excluding taxes.

The annual convention saw all the bigwigs of India’s automobile industry rally behind the small car project of the Tata group, India’s largest industrial house with a turnover of $62 billion from as many as 96 companies.