Protests Called off at Tata Plant

Government pledged to return disputed land.

Opposition activists in eastern India on Sept. 8 abandoned their siege of a Tata Motors factory set to build the world's cheapest car, after striking a deal to end violent protests against the plant.

West Bengal's Trinamool Congress party, which has been spearheading the opposition, hailed the the pledge by the government to return seized land as "a big victory" for evicted farmers.

"I am suspending protests," party leader Mamata Banerjee told crowds of activists, who chanted "We have won!" and "Long live the revolution!"

But Tata Motors, India's leading vehicle maker, signalled it was not entirely satisfied by the deal, which involves having to shift some ancillary units, such as component vendors. The company also said it was "distressed at the limited clarity on the outcome of the discussions" and was therefore "obliged to continue the suspension of construction and commissioning work at the Nano plant."

Protests against the plant, slated to manufacture the ultra-cheap Nano car, have been going on for two years, but they worsened in the past few weeks with demonstrators besieging the factory and threatening to kill workers.

The plant in Singur is 90% complete, and Tata Motors, part of the tea-to-steel Tata Group, has said it aims to launch the Nano in October, in time for the big-spending annual Hindu festival season. Tata hopes to sell the car at just 100,000 rupees, or $2,264.

Tata Group chairman Ratan Tata warned over two weeks ago he would abandon the plant if the demonstrations continued, even though the company has poured $350 million into the project.

All work on the factory was halted over a week ago when protesters barred workers from entering the plant.

Even though Tata has yet to decide whether to accept the deal, people in Singur village were optimistic the plant would be saved.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2008

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