If the Tata Nano factory is relocated out of West Bengal, the state will have a 10 to 15 year setback in its efforts to generate employment and self-employment through the manufacturing sector. If the pull-out indeed happens, the losers will be West Bengal and its people. Already, the state is lagging well behind others in attracting investment.
The timing of a pull-out will be disastrous.
The Tata Nano investment is a symbol of West Bengal’s new phase of industrialisation. It gives confidence to other investors, both domestic and foreign. That Ratan Tata decided to locate this investment here has had a positive impact for West Bengal across India.
The Tatas are seen as a role model, caring not only for their employees but also for the community. If the Tatas cannot survive in Singur despite the goodwill and respect they command, the repercussions will be felt across the cross- section of business and industry. The survival of others in the state would then be very difficult.
The manufacturing industry is the key to employment generation. A car factory results in many small and medium enterprises growing alongside. Sadly, the current dispute has focused on the ancillaries that necessarily have to be located next to the mother plant to achieve cost and other efficiencies. Hero Cycles in Ludhiana is a classic example of this model. Physical separation impacts the viability of the project, especially where there’s a commitment to deliver the product at a very low price.
The people of West Bengal do not need to leave their state if jobs are available there. The Tata Nano factory offers the youth of West Bengal a new opportunity — near their homes.With this, would come many other investments bringing a new life to the people.
The agitation in Singur is not just about a single company: it’s about the revival and regeneration of an entire state. Over the last few decades, West Bengal’s image has been hurt. As a result, investments in the manufacturing industry are more the exception than the rule. Some hope has come from the location of IT companies. However, IT cannot replace manufacturing. IT’s employment pattern is ‘white collar’. Manufacturing provides jobs to the ‘blue collar’ work force.
So it’s crucial for the people that the manufacturing industry gets re-established in West Bengal. What could be better than the Tata Nano project — talked about globally with excitement — to push this process?
(Tarun Das is Chief Mentor, Confederation of Indian Industry (CII))