Bharati-Apeejay may shift out of Bengal over land concerns

Bharati-Apeejay may shift out of Bengal over land concerns

Kolkata: After Tata Motors Ltd shifted from Singur to Sanand to make its Nano car, another prized project of West Bengal, a shipbuilding yard, is looking to relocate to Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh or Orissa after a two-year wait for 500 acres of land.

“We are evaluating the options and looking at a few states where we can move out," said Sourav Das Patnaik, chief executive officer of Bengal Shipyard Ltd, a 50:50 venture between Mumbai-based Bharti Shipyard Ltd and Kolkata-based Apeejay Group that proposes to construct a shipbuilding yard in Geonkhali, East Midnapore district.

The company has already acquired 1,000 acres in Orissa where it is building another yard. It might relocate its Bengal project there, or to either Gujarat or Andhra Pradesh, Das Patnaik said.

Gujarat, with its record of fast delivery of land for industrialization, as seen in Tata Motors’ case, seems to be a safe bet, the chief executive said. He was, however, quick to add that the firm would still prefer to build the yard in West Bengal.

The company’s representatives met government officials on Friday to discuss the issue.

The state’s commerce and industry secretary, Sabyasachi Sen, said both the company and the government were committed to the project.

He added that the company has made it clear it would not wait “endlessly" and would take a decision after section 6 of the Land Acquisition Act is complied with, which entails hearing of grievances and objections from land owners.

The resistance to land acquisition is coming from the state’s main opposition Trinamool Congress party-led Bhumi Uchhed Protirodh Committee, the same group that last year protested setting up a chemical hub at Nandigram, 30km from Geonkhali.

The group is demanding a hike in land price from Rs11.5 lakh per acre to Rs15 lakh per acre.

The Trinamool Congress leader of the area Gautam Batabyal said the government has to assure jobs, rehabilitation and a hike in land price to those losing their land. They want the government to act as a guarantor to the promises and assurances being given by the company, Batabyal said.

A senior commerce and industry department official said failure of the government to tackle the Singur problem will be felt by all industrial projects coming up in the state.

“It has showed how resentment of a handful few can be cashed in upon by the opposition for their narrow selfish gains and how it can be responsible for scuttling projects," the official said on condition of anonymity.

“The total project cost is Rs2,000 crore. We are not like the Tatas and cannot afford to let Rs1,500 crore go to waste," said a company official, who declined to be named.

Das Patnaik said the project will not be taken up without 100% consent from those losing their land. “The project area has to be a solid 500 acres of contiguous land. Objection from a small section of people and even over a small portion of land will jeopardize the project," he said.

The current economic slowdown has also hit the shipping industry. Orders for new cargo ships are being cancelled, said Das Patnaik. “The booking is usually done two years in advance with only 10% to 15% of the total cost. While some amount is paid in staggered amounts, the final payment, accounting for the rest 40%, is paid at the time of delivery," he explained. “Suddenly there’s no one to finance the ships."

He claimed some orders were almost finalized when this resistance erupted. “We are a fledgling shipyard company. It is important (for us) to think of a timeline and we have already apprised the government that we will wait till the end of this month," he said.