by: Prerna Kejriwal
In 2003, Ratan Tata, the chairman of Tata Motors set out building a “people’s car”. The car which Tata Motors has named the ‘Nano’ will finally available to the Indian public later this year. The Nano takes after the technology for which it was named – it is a low cost, fuel efficient and low emissions car; it is small but technologically advanced.
The Nano was originally set to be launched in January 2008, however, trouble at the manufacturing plant in Singur forced the Tatas to not only delay its launch but also relocate. The West Bengal government had allocated about a thousand acres of agricultural land to Tata Motors displacing about twelve thousand farmers in the process. A couple thousand of these displaced farmers started protests and were given political support by Mamata Banerjee, the leader of the Trinamool Congress. Media figures such as author Arundhati Roy, actor Aparna Sen and poet Joy Goswami have voiced their displeasure at the acquisition of the land.
When the CPIM government increased compensation, a few more farmers accepted giving up their land. Mamata Banerjee, on the other hand, went on a hunger strike and no amount of persuasion from either the farmers or the government deterred her. The media had several field-days going down to Singur, interviewing and photographing the supposedly fasting Mamata Banerjee. Even though many farmers were happy with their compensations, Mamata Banerjee refused to back down. She, along with her band of supporters wreaked havoc in the district of Singur. The entire state of West Bengal saw several ‘bandhs’ and other non-productive days. There were several cases when villagers sabotaged the factory and manhandled employees of Tata Motors. This entire situation resulted from irresponsible and attention seeking politics.
When finally Tata Motors decided to move out of Singur, the locals were devastated and declared another ‘bandh’. This was rightly done as business fell in the local markets and suppliers of construction materials lost out on large deals. Real estate and rental prices around Singur crashed and the locals lost out on a number of potential jobs. West Bengal, at one time the most industrialized state in India, remains the land of farmers and agriculture that it has become. The high rate of unemployment, poverty and infant mortality along with low per capita income are clear indicators of the non-economic growth of the state. The factory would have done wonders for the development of the economy of the state, but the protests have not only halted this one chance but also deterred future investments in the state. No industrialist would like to take on the land of farmers where factories and growth opportunities are despised. The place which would have become synonymous with the production of the cheapest cars is now synonymous with crashes in real estate prices, dirty politics and failing businesses.