Kolkata: The West Bengal government has initiated the process of reclaiming the land in Singur allotted in 2007 to Tata Motors Ltd and its component makers. Officers of the state’s commerce and industries department revealed on Friday that they had “received instruction” to inform the component makers that they were expected to return the land held by them in view of the car maker’s decision to abandon the small car project at Singur.
On 20 May, Mamata Banerjee announced within hours of being sworn in as the state’s chief minister that the administration would return 400 acres to Singur’s farmers who had opposed the land acquisition. The state government had in 2006 acquired 997 acres in Singur, and leased out 645 acres to Tata Motors. In addition, it issued so called “allotment orders” to some 54 auto-component makers, allowing them to take possession of 290 acres. The state government kept the rest with itself.
Because no firm lease agreement was signed with Tata Motors’ component suppliers, the state government is first trying to reclaim the land allotted to them, according to two commerce and industries department officials, who did not want to be named.
They said commerce and industries minister Partha Chatterjee had on Thursday asked them to initiate discussions with the component suppliers. “Accordingly, we have begun drafting letters,” said one of the commerce and industries department officials. “We have also made phone calls today (Friday) to some of the tenants.”
Though Tata Motors announced in October 2008 that it would not build the Nano car factory at Singur because of violent protests against it, the firm continues to pay the annual lease rent and holds 645 acres. The component suppliers too have been paying an “occupation fee” every year.
To return 400 acres to farmers, the West Bengal government must first terminate the lease agreement with Tata Motors and possession rights given to component suppliers.
“Returning land at Singur is our top priority at the moment,” Chatterjee said on Friday. “I have already spoken to (senior barrister) Anindyo Mitra (who is expected to be the state’s next advocate general).”
Mitra could not be contacted because he is travelling.
Though Banerjee said on 20 May that the Tata group could use the remaining 600 acres to build any factory, a West Bengal Industrial Development Corp. (WBIDC) official said it was unlikely that the group would consider Singur for any other project.
Till now, WBIDC has acted as the key facilitator for industrial projects in the state by acquiring and leasing out land for building factories.
“We have in the past persuaded them several times to use the plot in some other way, but it seems they are so hurt from their experience that they do not want to do anything in Singur,” the WBIDC official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
According to him, Tata Motors continued to pay the lease rent only because it wants to be compensated for the “sunk cost”, which he estimates at Rs 350-400 crore.
At the time of announcing his decision to pull the plug on the Singur project, Tata group chairman Ratan N. Tata had said Tata Motors would vacate the Singur plot if compensated for its investment, though he did not mention how much the company had spent on building the factory.
“The intention of the component suppliers, too, is believed to be the same,” said the WBIDC official.
According to the commerce and industries department officials cited above, the component suppliers could be seeking compensation to the tune of around Rs 300 crore.
Meanwhile, the state government has decided that it wouldn’t immediately make the lease agreement with Tata Motors public as announced by chief minister Banerjee on Wednesday. On Thursday, Chatterjee said the state government had come across some “legal complications”, without referring to a Calcutta high court order from September last year restraining the state government from making the agreement public.