Kolkata: More than three months after global auto major Tata Motors decided to shift out of West Bengal the project to build the world's cheapest car, a question mark still hangs over the fate of the farmland acquired for the factory.
"The plot is still bound by walls and there are security guards all over. Farmers have not got back their land as yet," farmer leader Becharam Manna said.
In 2006, the West Bengal government acquired 997.11 acres at Singur in Hooghly district for Tata Motors to construct a factory to roll out its Rs.100,000 ($2,500) Nano car. But strident protests against the acquisition by a section of farmers forced the company to relocate the plant to Sanand, near Ahmedabad, in Gujarat.
Manna's forum to "save" farmland at Singur was at the forefront of the movement - spearheaded by the opposition Trinamool Congress party - and represents farmers whose land was allegedly forcibly acquired by the state government.
The Trinamool-led protesters demanded return of 400 acres, which they claimed had been forcibly acquired. But Tata Motors argued that the Nano project was an integrated facility, where the mother plant and the ancillary units had to be together and that it was not possible to relocate the 56 ancillary units elsewhere. "The 400 acres are still lying with them (Tata Motors)," Manna said.
Added Manik Das, one of those unwilling to part with his landholding: "My two-acre plot was acquired for the factory. They have not returned it to us yet. We are still continuing our agitation and asking them to give us back our land." Das cultivated potato and paddy on his plot.
Asked when the company planned to return the land to the West Bengal Industrial Development Corp (WBIDC), a Tata Motors spokesperson said: "We cannot indicate a specific date. Our equipment is still lying over there. We are in discussion with WBIDC."
WBIDC is the premier agency of the state's commerce and industries department to promote industrial development, attract investment and facilitate infrastructure growth in West Bengal. WBIDC leased out the land in Singur to the auto major.
"The land is still with Tata Motors. There is no indication (from the company) on vacating the land right now. They are paying lease rent regularly to us," WBIDC managing director Subrata Gupta said. Gupta said the company will take some time to remove its equipment from the plant. "They told us they will require about 10 months."
Ancillary units too are yet to remove their equipment. "We are with Tata Motors, wherever they go, we have to follow them. We have not removed our equipment from the Singur plant yet," a source in one unit said. "Tata Motors will give us some amount (as compensation). We are rebuilding everything at Sanand," he added.
When the auto major announced last October that it had decided to pull out of Singur, it had already invested Rs.15 billion (Rs.1,500 crore), with ancillary units having sunk in Rs.5 billion (Rs.500 crore).
Incidentally, the Congress party has decided to jump in on the Nano bandwagon, demanding that measures be taken to set up industrial units at Singur for the sake of those farmers who willingly gave their land to the government for the Tata factory.
Earlier this month, party workers demonstrated in front of the factory gates, saying if no industrial unit can be set up at Singur, the state government should return the land to the farmers.