Mumbai, Dec. 12: Tata Motors says it has been taken by surprise by the virulence of Mamata Banerjee’s protest against the acquisition of Singur land for the “people’s car” project.
“We didn’t identify the plot,” said Tata Motors MD Ravi Kant, trying to remove any misconceptions that might have arisen in the political acrimony between the Trinamul leader and the CPM-led Bengal government.
“The Bengal government offered us a choice of six plots. We picked the Singur land because it was the best on offer…. Our prime consideration was the proximity to Calcutta and the 2-km frontage that would afford the best visibility (to the factory),” Kant said.
The Tatas had thought Mamata and her party would support the venture because it would come up in a Trinamul constituency. “We didn’t anticipate the political uproar that has since ensued,” he said, iterating that the Trinamul leader hadn’t responded to several feelers the Tatas had sent.
Mamata has denied receiving feelers.
“We want to explain all aspects of the project to her,” said Kant but added that the Tatas would not accept any conditions, including Mamata’s demand to relocate the project, for talks.
Kant said the Tatas remained committed to two objectives: Singur and the car rollout deadline in 2008. They will not compromise on either – as of now.
“But it’s proving to be a race against time. We are already behind schedule. We are still committed to Bengal where we plan to invest Rs 1,000 crore along with the 70 vendors who will move in along with us,” he said.
Will the Tata investment draw other auto companies to Bengal' “Of course, it will. The automobile industry typically works in clusters.”
Tata Motors is trying to telescope other project deadlines to make up for the loss of time caused by Mamata’s protest. Her fast completed nine days today.
The Uttaranchal factory – where the Tatas make the Ace, the small commercial vehicle that has become a huge success – has the land but not the facilities as of today to make the Rs 1-lakh car. “We are not looking at the option yet,” he said.
Kant gave some details of the car, which is being kept under the wraps. Members of an Assembly standing committee from Bengal have had a sneak preview and Kant claims they came away impressed.
“We will start off with a petrol version and later, depending on demand, we will look at a dual fuel option.” Maruti, for instance, offers a petrol and LNG option in its Wagon-R.
The car has been designed in-house with some European help. “It’s only slightly smaller than the Indica. It will accommodate two people in front and three in the back,” he said, gently cocking a snook at the people who had ridiculed the idea of a sub-$2,000 car which has never been attempted anywhere in the world.
Kant said a foreign architectural firm was ready with the designs for the factory and the administrative block that will come up at Singur. “We are taking the land on lease and adequate compensation will be paid to the farmers.”
He refused to make a firm commitment on jobs for the displaced people. “We are making a car and we will recruit people who are employable. The project will provide direct employment to about 2,000 people and indirect employment to another 8,000.”
The Tatas say that after the brouhaha over Singur blows over, the bigger challenge will be to generate enough demand. “We are looking to sell 250,000 units of the small car in the next two years. Hopefully, it will go up to 350,000 units. The ultimate objective is to sell 1 million cars in the next four years,” he added.
The total number of cars sold last year was less than a million units.