Singur (West Bengal): The skeletal structures of the plant that will build Tata Motors Ltd’s Tata Nano, the Rs1 lakh car, tower above the swirling dust kicked up by monster dump trucks. Yellow-hatted workers scurry around, almost like an army of ants, trying to make up for a flood-induced lull. Post-monsoons, construction work at this plant is in full swing. Our request to take a closer look was turned down by polite yet firm security guards.
That means the best place to make do is from the Durgapur Expressway, which runs along the site.
“That’s the engine shop,” says a young contract worker from Rudrapur in Uttarakhand, pointing to the biggest shed under construction inside. The young man, who identifies himself as Sarwan Lall, has come with a crane which has been hired to work in the construction of the engine shop.
Gearing up: Construction in progress for the Tata Motors plant. (Photo: Indranil Bhoumik/ Mint)
“We will get Rs1.5 lakh for 30 days with to-and-fro transport cost from Rudrapur being borne by the company,” he says. A little further on is the superstructure of what will be the paint shop.
While the pace of work has definitely picked up, huge swathes of the 997-acre plant are lying empty, with some grading work going on, especially in the areas earmarked for the ancillary units.
“The pace of work has definitely picked up, especially around the engine, paint and body shops,” says a junior engineer with Shapoorji Pallonji and Co. Ltd, the civil contractors for the plant. “However, there’s been practically no work at the test track as well as the vendors’ park,” says another worker who has come out after his shift got over, refusing to divulge his name for fear of disciplinary action.
His colleague, sitting beside him in the white Tata 207DI truck, nods. “They might bring in the first few 100 cars either fully-built or in SKD (semi knocked down) form and assemble them here to show production has started as per schedule, but you never know,” he says.
At a breakfast ahead of the formal launch of the Tata Nano, Ratan Tata, chairman of Tata Motors, said all the cars will come from Singur later this year and Ravi Kant, managing director of the company, said the Singur plant is capable of producing up to 350,000 cars a year in three shifts.
At ground zero, the men of the West Bengal Police, State Armed Police and the India Reserve Battalion (IRB) manning the posts dotting the perimeter of the site would be glad to hear that schedule.
“We hope what you are saying is true and we are able to leave by October, but for all you know, we are stuck here till 2010,” says an assistant sub-inspector of the state police at one of the posts, who declined to be identified. “We have had to buy all these with our own money as the government gave us only tents,” says the policeman, pointing to the hay mats and plywood boards arranged to form a sleeping area.
Their real vitriol is reserved for the vigilante squads formed among the local villagers by the Communist Party of India (Marxist). “We have not been given any arms, even our armed police and IRB colleagues haven’t got any,” says another policeman from Murshidabad.
He claims that this is to prevent the police from taking any kind of action in the event of any demonstration or protest. “Then, these guys will step in with their guns and bombs and...we will be maligned,” he says.
The vigilantes claim that the policemen just loll about all day while they do the hard work. “We lost our land and yet we guard the walls from attacks by those opposed to the factory,” says Rafiqul Sarkar, alias Captain, the leader of a band of six men, who camp beside the Julkia canal and keep an eye on the wall as well as the sodium vapour lamps that illuminate the site.
“Our party leaders have promised us jobs at the factory once it starts,” says Sarkar, who claims to have lost three bighas (about 1 acre) of dual-crop land to the plant.
“We were promised Rs68 per day by the party and we’ve been here for three months now,” says another vigilante, Jaane Sharief, 35. “It’s being launched?” wonders an incredulous Sharief when told that the car will be unveiled at the auto expo in New Delhi on Thursday.