Singur: Ashok Ruidas was happy to sell his family’s rice fields for a Tata Motors Ltd factory to build the world’s cheapest car. Now, he’s facing ruin as the plant may not open.
Tata Motors, India’s biggest truck maker, said on Tuesday it was considering moving the factory in Singur, West Bengal, because of a 10-day blockade by the Trinamool Congress.
“If Tata doesn’t remain in Singur, then we won’t get food,” said Ruidas, as he surveyed the blue and white factory 500m across a rice field.
Sushen Santra, 65, an out-of-work farmer who sold a third of an acre to the government for the small-car project, killed himself on Wednesday. Santra’s son Subhas said his father was shocked to hear the news of Tata Motors suspending work at the site.
More than 80% of the 13,103 farmers ousted from their land took government compensation and many say they do not support the blockade led by the Trinamool Congress, the biggest opposition party in West Bengal.
Tata Motors suspended construction of the factory that’s spread across a 1,000-acre site because of “continued confrontation and agitation”, according to a statement on Tuesday. The auto maker is preparing a detailed plan to relocate the plant and machinery, jeopardizing the Rs1,500 crore invested so far in the factory that can produce 250,000 Nanos annually.
The Union government said it was prepared to intercede in the dispute. “Definitely, we will intervene if approached,” heavy industries minister Santosh Mohan Dev told reporters in New Delhi on Wednesday.
While the chief of the Trinamool Congress, Mamata Banerjee, says Tata can keep 600 acres of land used by the plant, she’s demanding that 400 acres earmarked for component suppliers is restored to rice and jute fields.
Mina Vul, a 45-year-old illiterate woman who supports Banerjee, said the 0.05 hectare of land where her family used to cultivate potatoes and rice for more than 50 years was forcibly taken over by the government.
Meanwhile, angered by Tata Motor’s decision to suspend work and angry with Banerjee for her role, building materials suppliers and labourers clashed with Trinamool Congress workers.
The Trinamool Congress has agreed to meet with representatives of the state government to discuss the issue at the governor’s residence on Friday. It wasn’t immediately clear if the governor, Gopalkrishna Gandhi, will mediate. Gandhi met former chief justice of Bombay high court Chittatosh Mukherjee to obtain his advice on the situation.
Mukherjee later said he had agreed to attend the meeting and offer legal advice, but would not act as the mediator. Banerjee said she was hopeful that a solution would be found at Friday’s meeting.
Mint’s Aveek Datta and Romita Datta contributed to this story.