Tata Abandons Cheapest Car Plant

Oct. 3, 2008
Company says it can't run plant when workers are being intimidated.

India's Tata Group announced on Oct. 3 it was abandoning a plant in eastern India which was slated to turn out the world's cheapest car after weeks of violent demonstrations triggered by a land dispute. "You cannot run a plant with police protection, you cannot run a plant when bombs are being thrown, you cannot run a plant when workers are being intimidated," Tata Group chief Ratan Tata told a news conference in Kolkata, capital of the state of West Bengal.

Tata Motors, part of the sprawling Tata Group conglomerate, began moving machinery from the nearly completed factory in Singur on the outskirts of Kolkata late last month after weeks of demonstrations triggered by a land row halted construction on the site.

Protesters spearheaded by Mamata Banerjee, the fiery leader of the regional Trinamool Congress, accused the state government of forcing farmers to give up their fertile land for a pittance so the plant could be built. "If someone had put the gun to my head I would not move away but I think Banerjee has pulled the trigger," Ratan Tata said, referring to Banerjee's unyielding opposition.

The state government had appealed to the Tata Group to remain and said it would be a "big loss" to industry-starved West Bengal if Tata pulled out of the state.

The plant, which has emerged as a symbol of the clashing interests of India's farmers and industry, could not be a production site unless there was a "congenial atmosphere," Ratan Tata said.

The firm had promised to roll out the car, to be sold for 100,000 rupees (US$2,150) , in the October to December financial quarter. But Ratan Tata said he could not say exactly when the car would now be launched. He also would not say from where the vehicle -- aimed at making automobile transport affordable to ordinary Indians -- would roll out first.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2008

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