Kolkata: The West Bengal government appeared close to striking a deal late on Sunday with the Trinamool Congress, the state’s principal opposition party, to end its 14-day siege of Singur, the site of Tata Motors Ltd’s small-car factory.
Shyamal Chakraborty, a member of West Bengal’s ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, state committee said a formula to resolve the impasse had been worked out at chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s 90-minute meeting with Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee.
Chakraborty wouldn’t disclose details of the agreement, and at the time this edition went to press, the stalemate still lingered. Talks were under way late on Sunday. The agreement would seek to sweeten the compensation offered two years ago to farmers who were forced to sell their land for the Tata Motors factory where India’s largest auto maker is building the Tata Nano, billed the world’s cheapest car, with a price tag that may be as low as Rs1 lakh.
Talking terms: West Bengal CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. Indranil Bhoumik / Mint
After several rounds of talks presided over by West Bengal governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi, the state government and the Trinamool Congress had almost agreed on a broad formula. The opposition party has been campaigning for the return of 400 acres to farmers in Singur, where protests have forced Tata Motors to suspend work at the factory. But the governor postponed a press conference where he had been expected to announce the agreement and his office said he had to leave to meet a visiting Chinese delegation.
Though Trinamool Congress leaders almost started celebrating what they called “a major victory”, neither Banerjee nor Bhattacharjee would disclose the formula that had been agreed upon.
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Trinamool Congress leaders speaking on condition of anonymity said the state had agreed to return a portion of the so-called vendor park, or the space allotted to component makers, and that the chief minister had also made a firm commitment that the government would buy a plot of around 100 acres more outside the factory, and allot it to some 13,000-odd farmers from whom land was seized.
Left Front leaders, also speaking on condition of anonymity, denied this, saying the government wouldn’t return land from within the project site. It is not clear yet whether Tata Motors would agree to return land from within the vendor park. The company said earlier it was impossible to return land from within the 997-acre project area. “As we were looking at a unique product at a very low cost we wanted it to be a consolidated car company with its ancillary suppliers incorporated in the same location because logistic and transport cost are a major part of the component cost of any plant,” Tata Motors chairman Ratan Tata had said in Kolkata on 23 August. The government, too, had earlier ruled out returning land from within the plot allotted to Tata Motors and its component suppliers, and had instead offered to build a commercial complex adjacent to the factory for the benefit of farmers affected by the project.
“I am not sure any land is available inside the vendor park, and the government can return it,” an official of the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation, which is acting as the key facilitator, said on condition of anonymity. But Trinamool Congress leaders claimed the government had agreed to put work there on hold and assess how much land could be returned from the vendor park.
Bhattacharjee met the governor at 11am on Sunday and in an hour-long meeting explained what his government could offer. Following the meeting, the governor wrote to Banerjee seeking a meeting at 3pm. In a letter, Gandhi said the state government had agreed to consider returning land to the affected farmers.
Banerjee arrived at the governor’s residence with a big team, which included two leaders from Singur and a lawyer. The governor spoke to the team for around 2 hours before the chief minister returned for a final round of discussion.
Earlier, the chief minister addressed a Left Front meeting in Kolkata, in which he discussed with the CPM’s allies the compensation package that the government was willing to offer to resolve the impasse. Senior Left Front leaders told Bhattacharjee to be more liberal, according to Kshiti Goswami, the state’s minister for public works and a leader of the Revolutionary Socialist Party.