KOLKATA, Saturday, 28 March , 2009: Global auto major Tata Motors may have moved out its Nano plant from the state but the people of Singur still want the project, says West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. "People of Singur want the factory over there, they are very hopeful and I have conveyed this to the higher authorities of the Tata Group," Bhattacharjee said in an interview to a private regional news channel here.
Singur, 40 km from here in the state's Hooghly district, had turned into a battleground for about two-and-a-half years since May 2006 after the state government allotted land for the Nano project. On Oct 3 last year the company announced it had scrapped its plans to bring out the small car, priced at Rs.100,000, from the Singur facility. The plant was shifted to Sanand in Gujarat.
Tata Motors wound up its Singur plant following sustained protests by a Trinamool Congress-led farmers agitation demanding return of 400 of the 997.11 acres acquired for the project. The agitators alleged that the 400 acres were forcibly taken by the government from farmers unwilling to part with their land.
"I am trying to set up a factory in that plot in Singur. We have already spoken to a few Indian as well as foreign companies. In fact, now our industry secretary is in China talking to a company over there," the chief minister said. He, however, said whichever company sets up a plant in Singur, the government would ensure that it generates as much employment as the Nano project was supposed to do and "if possible even more than that". "It is very important that the youth of the state get employment," he said.
Talking about land acquisition and the compensation that was provided by the government to the farmers of Singur who gave their land for the Nano project, he said: "Around 85-86 per cent of the farmers have taken compensation and of the remaining 10-15 per cent many do not stay in India and few others don't have proper papers of the land. That means the number of unwilling farmers were really small."
"I failed to make the opposition understand the meaning of ancillary industries. They didn't understand that this was an integrated project and 400 acres cannot be given away like that. Giving away 400 acres would have meant stalling the project," he added.
Referring to the meeting between the Left Front government and the Trinamool at the behest of Governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi Sep 7 on the issue, Bhattacharjee said: "We didn't sign any deal that night regarding the land in Singur. It was a joint statement in which we stated that we will give back as much land as possible keeping the project intact.
"Later our officials did a detailed study and found out 70 acres from the project, which we were ready to return keeping the nature of the project intact," he said. He said the Left Front government did not believe in using brute force. "In Singur, 80 per cent work was done and we thought we could start the factory. But after the attack on engineers we had to resort to applying force. Otherwise we didn't have any problems with the agitation that the opposition was doing, had they been doing it in democratic way," Bhattacharjee said. He said his government was against using fertile land for industrialisation. "But there is only one per cent fallow land available in the state and it is not possible to set up all the industries on it," Bhattacharjee said.
Regarding the police firing in Nandigram March 14, 2007, he said: "I will always feel sorry for what happened in Nandigram March 14. Police did not go there to torture the locals, they went there along with people of the municipal department to repair road. We even had sought opposition's help that day. But suddenly everything changed and so many people died in the clash."
The state government's efforts to set up a chemical hub project in Nandigram also came unstuck in 2007 following stiff resistance from the Trinamool-led farmers. The project has now been relocated to Nayachar island near Haldia in East Midnapore district. Singur and Nandigram are exceptional cases and do not reflect the trend in the state, the chief minister said. "In Nayachar, we are trying to start work as fast as possible," he added.