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Singur talks yield little, to continue

Singur talks yield little, to continue
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First Published: Sat, Sep 06 2008. 12 02 AM IST
Updated: Sat, Sep 06 2008. 12 02 AM IST
Kolkata: Talks between the West Bengal government and protesters aimed at rescuing the Tata Motors Ltd’s factory slated to make the Tata Nano, the world’s cheapest car, ended Friday evening without a breakthrough, an official said.
But more discussions were scheduled for Saturday and the regional opposition Trinamool Congress, which had spearheaded opposition to the plant, said it remains hopeful of a solution.
The discussions came after Tata Motors announced this week it was scouting for new sites to build the Nano after violent protests forced it to suspend construction on the nearly built factory at Singur, close to the state capital Kolkata.
“We are heading toward a solution,” said Partha Chatterjee, a senior leader of the Trinamool Congress.
He made the comment after the end of the talks on Friday, which lasted three hours and involved members of the Marxist state government, Trinamool Congress and other protest leaders.
“There was no resolution but talks will be resumed tomorrow (Saturday),” said Dhruba Basu, spokesman for state governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi, who chaired the meeting.
The talks were aimed at appeasing the protesters, who claim farmers were forcibly evicted to make way for the ultra-cheap car plant.
The government had no immediate comment on the talks.
Before the discussions, the governor, a grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, appealed to “all sides to try to maintain and encourage calm... andtake steps to build a mutual confidence.”
Tata group chairman Ratan Tata warned last month he would move the plant out of West Bengal if the demonstrations continued, even though Tata Motors has already invested $350 million (about Rs1,500 crore) in the project.
The plant in Singur, out of which the first Nano was due to roll out next month, is 90% complete.
A Tata Motors spokesman said earlier this week there was “no way this plant could operate efficiently unless the environment became congenial and supportive of the project.”
Tata Motors has said it still aims to launch the Nano in October. It can produce the car at other plants but mass production could be set back by a year if it has to build a new factory elsewhere, analysts say.
The car is priced at Rs100,000.
Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee, who has been strident in her opposition to the plant, sounded a conciliatory note Thursday after meeting with the governor.
“We want Tata Motors to roll out the world’s cheapest car from Singur factory,” she said, downplaying a demand that the state government return 400 acres of land taken from farmers.
The stand-off reflects a wider dispute between farmers and industry over land rights across the nation. On one side are many farmers who say they will starve without their land, while business and government say India must industrialise swiftly to create jobs to employ the army of young people joining the work force.
Business leaders have warned the hostile reception could hurt India’s image asa viable investment destination.
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First Published: Sat, Sep 06 2008. 12 02 AM IST