The two-wheeler project promoted by Indonesia’s Salim Group in Uluberia, 40 km from here, is scouting for additional land for vendors, some 16 months after the foundation stone was laid, suggesting a longer wait for the roll-out of the first indigenously manufactured two-wheeler from eastern India.
Mahabharat Motors Manufacturing Pvt. Ltd, the company Salim floated for the project, was allocated 65 acres from a block of land the West Bengal government had originally acquired for an industrial park. The group, which saw its proposed projects in Nandigram and Haldia get displaced by protests against land acquisitions, has been dragging its feet on this project even though the land for it was allocated in February 2006.
Now, the company is looking for another 35 acres to accommodate its component suppliers near the site, says Sabyasachi Sen, the state’s principal secretary for commerce and industry. This is being done at the insistence of Zong Shen Industry Group of China, which has recently become the technology and equity partner for the project, he said.
Construction of the main plant is expected to begin after the monsoon, says Sen.
Prasoon Mukherji, Salim Group’s Indian representative, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. The project, involving a cumulative investment of $250 million (Rs1,025 crore), is set to miss its original deadline for rolling out the first motorcycle in 2007. In the first phase of the project, Mahabharat will invest $60 million to produce 60,000 motorcycles a year. This will be ramped up to a production line capable of 500,000 bikes a year. The company has maintained it will employ 500 workers to start with, and, at peak capacity, that will rise to 6,000.
West Bengal has been very keen to revive its automotive sector, which went into a decline after Hindustan Motors Ltd, the maker of the country’s first indigenous car, the Ambassador, lost almost all its market to Maruti Udyog Ltd and other players. Hindustan Motors’ Uttarpara plant, in the Hoogly district to the north- west of here, has been running at as low as 35% of its capacity.
Lately, the state has been seeing some automotive investments but mostly in assembling units, such as the heavy duty vehicle-making facility in Haldia by Ural India Ltd or the other motorcycle unit set up by the Xenitis Group in Chinsurah in Hoogly district. The Tata Motors Ltd’s small car project at Singur and Mahabharat are the two manufacturing projects the state has been able to attract in the automotive sector.