Singur, West Bengal: Arun Das was once an activist belonging to the Trinamool Congress. The 55-year-old joined the party when it was formed in 1998. He quit because he didn’t agree with its opposition to the Tata Motors Ltd factory for the Nano in Singur.
Holding area: Nano cars at the stockyard of Lexus Motors in Singur, West Bengal, barely 3km from Tata Motors’ abandoned factory site. Indranil Bhoumik / Mint
The protests forced the car maker to move the factory to Sanand in Gujarat. When he left the party, Das booked a Nano despite being told by some people that “he would pay dearly” if he did so.
Das, who expects to receive his car next month, isn’t worried. “The Nano is no more a no-no in Singur,” he said.
A Tata dealer has started stocking Nanos in a yard close to the controversial factory site.
The local branch of State Bank of India had received over 30 loan applications for the Nano car and so far sanctioned seven, according to its manager P.K. Chandra.
In the 18 months since Tata Motors left Singur, things have changed.
Several people in Singur have applied for the Nano—some have even received the car recently—and many of them were those who had earlier opposed the factory, according to Das. “They now agree with me that we shouldn’t have opposed it.”
Bashir Mallick, a small trader and a Trinamool Congress activist from Rajarambati near Singur, supported the agitation against the factory, but now drives a Nano.
“We have nothing against the Nano,” said Rabindranath Bhattacharya, the Trinamool Congress’ legislator from Singur. “We opposed the forcible land acquisition.”
His reference is to the West Bengal government’s acquisition, sometimes forcibly, of land from farmers for the Tata Motors factory.
The Trinamool Congress, the traditional rival of the Left Front government in the state, adopted the cause of such farmers as its own and orchestrated protests targeting Tata Motors and the state government.
Interestingly, Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee is now India’s rail minister. She inaugurated last week an auto hub at Shalimar railway yard on the outskirts of Kolkata. Soon after, 30 Nanos rolled into the yard after being unloaded from a train.
Tata Motors’ Kolkata dealer Lexus Motors Pvt. Ltd receives 40 Nanos a week from Pantnagar in Uttarakhand, where the cars are made in another Tata Motors factory.
The cars stocked in Singur are sold in West Bengal.
Lexus keeps the cars in a stockyard in Singur, barely 3km from the abandoned factory site.
While some protesters might have had a change of heart regarding the Nano, what hasn’t changed is the fate of those people who protested the state’s move to forcibly acquire their land by not accepting any compensation for it.
There were 2,156 such people who refused to accept cheques and they together own 243.66 acres of the land acquired for the factory, said Abdur Rezzak Mollah, West Bengal’s land and land reforms minister.
The state government has offered the land—around 900 acres in all—to the railways, but Banerjee has said her ministry would only consider using it for a project if the state government returned at least 400 acres to the farmers who opposed the acquisition.
“The state government doesn’t want to get into this because of legal complexities,” said a state government official, who did not want to be identified given the controversies surrounding the factory site at Singur.
Though it recognizes that no project will be set up in Singur unless at least 250 acres is returned to the farmers, the state government has tried to wash its hands of this responsibility, according to this person.
Tata Motors, which was allotted 645 acres, has said it would vacate the land if compensated for the amount it invested in the factory; the state government estimates this at Rs300-500 crore. If Tata Motors vacates the plot, its component suppliers too would follow suit. They were given around 250 acres.
“Compensating Tata Motors isn’t going to be a problem for the railways, but it refuses to take the responsibility of returning land to farmers,” the state government official added.