Chennai: After a rough ride on its Singur car project in West Bengal, the Tata Group is now facing stiff opposition to the Rs2,500-crore titanium dioxide project proposed to be set up in Tamil Nadu.
Expressing apprehension that the venture would displace them from their native land and deprive them of livelihood, local villagers, mostly belonging to the dominant Nadar community in the south, have decided to strongly oppose the project in southern districts of Tirunelveli and Tuticorin.
The issue is set to snowball into a major controversy, with some political parties, apparently eyeing the Nadar vote bank, also joining in the issue.
PMK founder S Ramadoss, a ruling DMK ally who is trying to get a foothold in south Tamil Nadu, has also reportedly expressed support to the agitating groups.
A Viyanarasu, who has formed a struggle committee called Federation for Tamil land protection, told PTI about 40,000 families would be displaced as the Tata company is planning to set up the plant on 12,000 acres of land.
“The government is talking about employment and economic growth. But take the cases of Koodangulam nuclear plant and Neyveli Lignite Corporation. Jobs and rehabilitation were promised when those projects were implemented but most of the displaced families were left in the lurch. What is the guarantee a private company will honour its word?” he asked.
Though Tata Steel had originally inked a pact with the previous AIADMK Government in 2002, the project did not take off due to undisclosed reasons.
The project was revived after the DMK government took over and Tata Group chairman Ratan Tata flew in to be present when Tata Steel managing director B Muthuraman signed an MoU with the government on 28 June, 2007.
Muthuraman, talking to reporters after signing the MoU, said the state government had promised to acquire required land for the project as early as possible.
This has raised the hackles of local leaders and environmentalists who questioned the need for the government to play the role of a “broker” for a private company.
The issue has also prompted many Nadar associations to rally behind a strong man of the community, who has been holding monopoly in the business in the region till now.
“The people are not ready to allow a north Indian company to plunder their wealth by just getting a pittance in return. If our land contains natural resources, it is our property and only we should enjoy the benefits,” G Karikol Raj, a leader of Nadar community, said.
“Our community people have overwhelmingly supported the ruling party in the last Lok Sabha and Assembly elections. If it wanted to retain the support, the government should immediately cancel the MoU with the Tata company,” he urged.
Actor Sarathkumar, who is popular among Nadars and set to launch a political party next month, MDMK chief Vaiko and Dalit leader K Krishnasamy have also issued statements opposing the Tata plant.
With protests growing strong, the Tamil Nadu Government came out with an appeal to the people not to fall prey to false propaganda and assured them the project would contribute to the industrial growth of backward districts.