There Must Be No Free Exit for the Tatas

A key point in the corporate discourse on the ongoing economic reforms in India has been the clamour for what big capital calls an ‘exit policy’. Ratan Tata has just revealed what big corporates mean by this phrase. Paraphrasing Caesar, Tata’s exit from Singur could be described as a straightforward case of “I came, I destroyed, I left”.

Till recently we were told that Singur was the ultimate answer to Ratan Tata’s search for a suitable site for his dream project of producing a ‘people’s car’. Now he tells us that conditions are no longer conducive, that the Tata group cannot operate in police protection. If Ratan Tata has an ‘ethical objection’ to police intervention, he should have abandoned his project at the very beginning of the process of land acquisition. The whole process has all along been soaked in coercion and violence including brutal doses of police atrocities.

Perhaps the Tatas could not stomach the fact that the people of Singur should show the guts to challenge the combined might of the Tata empire and the state, and go on raising awkward demands regarding return of their land and payment of adequate compensation for the losses borne not only by landowners but also sharecroppers and agricultural labourers and other self-employed toilers who depended on the Singur land for their living? They might have found it even more offensive that the West Bengal government might be forced into contemplating a negotiated settlement over the issue of land and compensation. After all, the touchy Tatas went to court to stop people from knowing the terms of the agreement they had signed with the Government of West Bengal and the West Bengal Industrial development Corporation (WBIDC), and the High Court dutifully obliged them by suspending the much-trumpeted ‘right to information’ in due deference to the wishes of the corporate emperor.

So either the Tatas are too touchy to do business in conditions that do not totally conform to their ‘tastes’, or more plausibly, the pullout decision must have been prompted by high level political considerations involving the powers that be in New Delhi as well as Kolkata. By all accounts, the pullout is nothing but a cynical corporate political game being played out at the expense of ordinary people and peasants of Singur. While analysts may continue to investigate the real reasons underlying the Tatas’ pullout plan, we must also deal with the more burning post-pullout questions like the fate of those who lost their land and livelihood in the bargain, the future of the site in Singur, and the lessons that we must learn from the entire episode.

Nano or no Nano, the people of Singur have already suffered heavily. Many have lost their land; many more have lost their livelihood. So the question of compensation will still have to be resolved by making adequate provision not only for the land-losers but also for all affected share-croppers, registered as well as unregistered, and labourers, agricultural as well as other self-employed ones. More importantly, the Tatas cannot be allowed to leave behind 1,000 acres of ‘scorched earth’ in Singur’s fertile green belt. In two years the Tatas have transformed 1,000 acres of multi-cropped arable land into corporate wasteland and they must now be forced to bear the entire cost for reclamation of the same. There can be no free exit for the corporate land-grabbers – they must be made to pay the full price for both acquisition as well as reclamation of the Singur land.

For the CPI(M) establishment in West Bengal, the exit of the Tatas from Singur is a loss that merits state mourning. And while bidding a tearful adieu to the Tatas, it seems desperate to teach the ‘audacious’ and ‘recalcitrant’ people of Singur a lesson or two on the lines of Nandigram. Any such move must be squarely resisted. Instead of raising accusing fingers at the protesting people and tilting at so-called ‘anti-industry’ windmills, the CPI(M) will now have to answer for this pathetic denouement to their much hyped-up ‘industrialisation’ blitzkrieg. They had painted the walls of Bengal red with the simplistic slogan “Krishi amader bhitti, shilpa amader bhabisyat” (agriculture is our foundation, industry our future). The state-sponsored corporate wasteland of Singur provides a stunning refutation of this simplistic formula: the ‘foundation’ lies shattered while the ‘future’ has melted into thin air even before people could experience its shape or size, or sound or smell.

All the appeasement of the Tatas has fallen through and now the West Bengal government will have to clean up the table as well as foot all the unpaid bills! The CAG has already found the WBIDC guilty of incurring “excess expenditure of Rs. 2.99 crore towards payment of avoidable interest of Rs. 1.44 crore and delayed ‘consent awards’ of Rs. 1.55 crore” and dishing out subsidy worth “Rs. 76.11 crore to Tata Motors Limited on leasing of 645.67 acres of land at Singur for ninety years”.

Nano is of course not the first ‘corporate disaster’ of its kind. Bhopal 1984 continues to haunt us with the sordid story of how corporates like Union Carbide-Dow not only walk away from the environmental and humanitarian horrors they cause; but are even welcomed back with no questions asked by governments eager to appease them. Significantly, it was Tata which palled up with Dow to facilitate the latter’s comeback bid. Then in the mid-1990s we had Enron. The US told us that the US electricity giant Enron was the answer to our energy crisis and the Congress and the BJP and the governments of India and Maharashtra vied with each other to accommodate all the absurd demands of Enron including an unprecedented provision for a hefty 16% counter-guarantee. Now Enron has simply vanished into the blue in both India and the US and we are left with all the damages. Singur has once again taught us that corporate appeasement is the surest recipe not for industrialisation but for an unpardonable plunder of our natural and human resources.


Estimated loss to WB exchequer

as calculated by D Bandyopadhyay

(Dainik Statesman, 14.10.08 and 15.10.08)

On a conservative estimate, the total expenditure incurred so far by the West Bengal government (which represents a net loss to the state exchequer) in connection with the now aborted Tata-Nano project in Singur has been calculated by D. Bandyopadhyay, former Land Reforms Commissioner of West Bengal, to be of the order of Rs. 432.18 crore. The broad break-up is as follows:

1. Land acquisition cost: Rs. 200 crore

2. Construction cost (18.75 km long boundary wall erected by WBIDC and some other state government undertakings) : Rs. 51.81 lakh

3. Police protection (cost of maintaining two 1,000-strong police battalions as per minimum standards laid down by the Directorate of Police) : Rs. 46.66 crore

4. Loss incurred by West Bengal Housing Infrastructure Development Corporation and Bhangar-Rajarhat Development Authority by way of highly subsidised transfer of 550 acres of land for housing and commercial purposes to Tata Housing Development Corporation as ‘additional infrastructural incentive’ for the Singur plant of Tata Motors Ltd.: Rs. 185 crore

This conservative estimate does not include any of the indirect or invisible expenses associated with the deal, including the core cost of destruction of 1,000 acres of highly fertile multi-cropped land in Singur. A proper enquiry and audit could reveal a loss of much higher quantum to the state exchequer.

Gross Agricultural Income from the once fertile corporate wasteland in Singur

In another article published in the 15 October, 2008 issue of “Dainik Statesman”, an expert in agricultural sciences has estimated gross annual agricultural income from the 1000 acres of multi-cropped land acquired for the aborted Tata-Nano project at Rs. 150 crore.

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