Friday, August 22, 2008

Tata says violence could force Nano plant to move

Accidentally today I'm in NewDelhi to attain Indian Art Summit 2008 @Pragati-Maidan. But with inputs from Tanmoy Chatterjee of HT Kolkata Bureau- this is an excerpt of Ratan Tata's fear

Tata Motors Ltd said it was prepared to move a plant to make the Nano, billed as the world's cheapest car, from its West Bengal site if violent protests continued, despite having invested $350 million in the project.
Tata Motors has faced protests and political opposition over the acquisition of farmland for the plant in the state, which have led to cost overruns and threaten to delay the car's launch.
"What has concerned us is the violence, the disruptions, that has led us to be concerned about the safety of our employees, our equipment and investment, and of the viability of the process," Chairman Ratan Tata told reporters in Kolkata, on Friday.
Tata said the Nano would be ready to launch in or close to October, but irrespective of the investment made so far, the safety of employees and workers at the site was his main concern.
"If anybody is under the impression that because we have made this very large investment of 1,500 crore rupees ($350 million), that we would not move, then they are wrong, because we would move to protect our people," he said.
"There is a concern about our people, a definite concern about not being wanted."
Industry forums called for a peaceful solution to break the deadlock.
"Any adverse development with regard to the upcoming Tata Motors Nano Plant in Singur, will irreversibly hamper the future in industrialisation in the state of West Bengal," Chandrajit Banerjee, director-general of the Confederation of Indian Industry said in New Delhi.
The Nano project has been billed as a key to the rejuvenation of industries in West Bengal, where the world's longest-serving democratically elected Communist government has changed tack after decades of focus on helping agriculture and poor farmers.
The unveiling in January of the 100,000 rupee snub-nosed Nano was hailed by the state's ruling Communists, but protests have since gathered steam.
Trouble began after the government took over 1,000 acres (400 hectares) of farmland for the factory. The government offered compensation, but some farmers with smaller land holdings have refused compensation, demanding that land be given back to them.
India's second-biggest private conglomerate which has interests ranging from software to steel, is known as much for his philanthropy as for being above the political fray.
"If there is a view, for various political reasons, that we should not be here or that what we are trying to do should be altered ... then we would necessarily face a situation, very reluctantly, where we would have to move," he said.
Shares in Tata Motors, India's leading vehicle maker, closed up 1.8 percent at 425.60 rupees in the Mumbai market that rose 1.1 percent.
The Nano has already encouraged other car makers including Renault, Nissan Motor, General Motors, Hyundai Motor to plan to make low-cost cars for India and other emerging markets.
Ratan Tata has said he expects eventual sales of one million units of the Nano in India, with exports also contributing later.
"It would seem that many people have a desire to not see that (launch) happen," he said on Friday.
"It's our desire to see that it takes place," he said, adding there "was no Plan B" for the roll-out of the Nano at this time.
Tata has said the plant at Singur, which was to have an initial capacity of 250,000 units, would be the first, but not the only plant to make the Nano.
The protests reflect a larger stand-off between industry and farmers unwilling to part with land in a country where two-thirds of the 1.1 billion population depends on agriculture.
The West Bengal government had started talks with the Trinamool Congress party, the main political opposition in the state, spearheading the protests.
"Everyone has a right to protest, but in a democratic and peaceful manner. I want them to keep their promise," Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, West Bengal's chief minister said.
Mamata Banerjee, the opposition party chief, wants 400 acres of farmland returned to the farmers, which the government says is not possible to do.
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