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Taking no chances, Tata team dials Uttarakhand

Mumbai, Sept. 5: The Tatas have sounded the Uttarakhand government on the possibility of shifting the small-car project to Pantnagar if they decide to leave Singur, a top government official said.

“I have had talks with Tata Motors officials yesterday. They told us about the problems they are facing in Singur. But they said they haven’t yet decided on a pullout,” Uttarakhand chief secretary Indu Kumar Pande told The Telegraph.

Pande said the Tata officials hadn’t discussed the issue of land allotment for the small-car project. “They haven’t specifically asked us for the land. In case they do, we will try our best to accommodate them here,” Pande added.

A spokesperson for Tata Motors refused to comment.

Pande said the 3,390-acre Pantnagar industrial estate currently has about 200 acres to spare.

The Tatas were among the first automobile companies to come to Pantnagar two years ago and are seen as catalysts of change in the region.

In April 2006, the automaker was allotted 976 acres at the rate of Rs 125 per square metre. Since then, the land rates have soared 20 times to Rs 2,500 per square metre.

Both Pande and S.P. Tri- pathi, the general manager of the Integrated Industrial Estate at Pantnagar, said the Tatas have about 300 acres of surplus land at the plant where they make the Ace — the sub 1-tonne pick-up truck.

“Out of the 976 acres allotted to them, they have built a plant on around 300 acres. Another 300 acres have been reserved for 62 vendors that the Tatas have brought with them. That leaves about 300 acres of surplus land. In case they seek more land, we’ll be able to allot them 300 to 400 acres around the estate,” said Tripathi.

There seems to be a discrepancy between Pande’s and Tripathi’s statements on how much land can be given to the Tatas. One reason for this is that in states like Uttarakhand, forest and semi-agricultural land can be turned into plots for industrial use at a mere flourish of a pen without having to worry about Mamata-style protests.

Pantnagar presents several advantages: the Tatas could settle for less than 1,000 acres since many of the vendors for the Ace project, like Tata Ryerson, are also involved in the Singur project.

Tata Motors is a pioneer in Pantnagar. Ashok Leyland and Bajaj Auto followed the Tatas into the Pantnagar industrial enclave.

Other industrial players in Pantnagar include Dabur, Nestle and Britannia.

Snack food maker Haldiram’s has also come calling.

As pioneers who catalysed change in the region, the Tatas could push the Uttarakhand government for concessional land prices if they decide to move the small-car project to the state.

Pantnagar is about 235km from Delhi and scores over Singur because of tax breaks available to hill states and the advantage of a small airport that provides connectivity to the capital.

In Bhopal, Union comm- erce and industry minister Kamal Nath said he spoke to Ratan Tata over telephone and offered him Madhya Pradesh as an alternative destination to set up the Nano plant in the event of the industrialist quitting Bengal.

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