Singur redux: Will BMW go where Tatas could not?

By: |
Singur | Updated: September 10, 2016 6:53:30 AM

The speculation that BMW might come to Singur was fuelled by state power minister Sobhondeb Chattopadhyay’s direction to local authorities that two electric substations standing on 47 acres, part of the land in question, should not be dismantled.

The speculation that BMW might come to Singur was fuelled by state power minister Sobhondeb Chattopadhyay’s direction to local authorities that two electric substations standing on 47 acres, part of the land in question, should not be dismantled.The speculation that BMW might come to Singur was fuelled by state power minister Sobhondeb Chattopadhyay’s direction to local authorities that two electric substations standing on 47 acres, part of the land in question, should not be dismantled.

History seems to have come full circle at Singur. While Tata Motors had been unwelcome in this tiny town that hogged the limelight over the domestic firm’s car factory plan and the violent protests against it, the red carpet may now be rolled out here for German luxury car maker BMW.

Within a week since the Supreme Court overturned a 2008 forcible land acquisition in Singur by the then Left Front government (which ultimately led to the undoing of its 34-year uninterrupted rule) and asked her to return all 997 acres acquired to the original owners in a time-bound manner, chief minister Mamata Banerjee sat with the German firm’s top brass in Munich to ascertain their interest in having a factory on the same land. And at the local level, Trinamool Congress leaders seem to be mobilising public opinion in favour of using the land for industrial purpose. Of course, any change in course is possible only after the court’s order is complied with.

The speculation that BMW might come to Singur was fuelled by state power minister Sobhondeb Chattopadhyay’s direction to local authorities that two electric substations standing on 47 acres, part of the land in question, should not be dismantled.

“First, we heard that the state will give us the land back even if we have taken compensatory cheques. Now, a section of Trinamool leaders are trying to create an opinion in favour of (having an industry here). We are hearing that Mamata will seek public opinion on whether Singur wants industry or agriculture in the form of voice votes,” said 69-year-old Nabin Chandra Chattopadhya from Beraberi in Singur.

Banerjee will arrive at Singur on Wednesday, eight years after Ratan Tata announced pulling his Nano project out of the town and the plan to move to Gujarat. She will address the people from a 5,000 square feet stage; people in Singur are increasingly anticipating a declaration by her on the BMW car project.

In fact, people are glued to their television sets while far away, in Munich, the state’s finance, commerce and industry minister Amit Mitra told the Indian media that Banerjee had a “fruitful meeting” with BMW officials. “We spent three hours there (BMW Museum). A corporate like BMW does not spend so much time for nothing,” Mitra told the media there. But he hastened to add that companies like BMW did not take investment decisions overnight.

BMW executives are learnt to have discussed the possibilities of setting up a component manufacturing unit and a car software development facility in West Bengal. Banerjee, however, pitched for an entire car manufacturing unit.

However, legal experts have a word of caution. “As much as my understanding of law goes, even if Mamata wants to bring industry here, she will have to first hand over the land to its owners as directed by the Supreme Court. Once this is done, the government could again approach the land owners for the land and acquire it for industry with their consent,” Kushal Roy, a lawyer at the local district court, said.

For the farmers and others who gave away the land under government pressure, the current plan could appear attractive. “You have got the compensation and now the land itself is returning to you, and you have the option of giving land once again for industry, which might entail a fresh compensation,” Dibakar Ghosh, a local youth, surmised.

BMW, according to sources, made three presentations to the Bengal delegation comprising Riverbank Developers MD Sumit Dabriwala; Bandhan Bank MD Chandra Sekhar Ghosh; and Kinetic Motor joint MD Sulojja Firodia Motwani. The multinational entered India in 2007 and has so far invested R490 crore for the setting up of assembly lines in Chennai, a parts warehouse in Mumbai and a training centre in Gurgaon.

In Singur, ministers of Banerjee’s cabinet are visiting the site every day to oversee the progress of land clearance, identification and demarcation. Becharam Manna, a Trinamool MLA, said 300 surveyors were working day and night with a target to identify and demarcate 100 plots every day.

The 997 acres consists of 3,535 plots; of the 13,491 owners, 10,852 gave away their lands against compensation. The state had spent Rs 157 crore for acquisition and Rs191 crore for compensation. The state exchequer has R28.5 crore left on account of nonpayment to the 2,639 unwilling owners and share croppers, which has to be given away now

For latest coverage on Maharashtra Assembly Election 2019 and Haryana Assembly Election 2019, log on to financialexpress.com. We bring you full coverage of Assembly Election 2019 on Financial Express, stay tuned for latest election updates.

Get live Stock Prices from BSE and NSE and latest NAV, portfolio of Mutual Funds, calculate your tax by Income Tax Calculator, know market’s Top Gainers, Top Losers & Best Equity Funds. Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.