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Fresh protests loom over Nano project

Farmers threaten to resume protests if talks to resolve the dispute over land do not produce results soon.

india Updated: Sep 09, 2008 12:36 IST

Farmers threatened on Tuesday to resume protests that blocked construction work on a factory to build Tata Motors' super-cheap Nano car if talks to resolve a dispute over land do not produce results soon.

The Nano project, in the eastern state of West Bengal, has been mired in a land row since the snub-nosed, $2,300 car was unveiled to a rock star reception in January.

Farmers unwilling to give up their land blocked roads and, with backing from the local opposition party, threatened workers. This prompted Tata Motors to suspend work at the factory last week and scout for alternative sites.

As India's top vehicle maker threatened to walk away from West Bengal, the state's communist government and opposition Trinamool Congress began negotiations and formed a committee to resolve the dispute.

"We have not given up the protests, we have only suspended our agitation," said Partha Chattopdhayay, a senior leader of the Trinamool Congress, which has halted protests for seven days. "We are awaiting the report of the committee."

The committee members were meeting on Tuesday to begin a survey of the factory site and try and identify any land that could be returned.

The stand-off is unlikely to delay the planned October launch of the Nano, billed as the world's cheapest car, as some units could be built existing plants.

Trouble began after the government acquired around 1,000 acres (400 ha) farmland for the factory last year. The government offered compensation but some farmers rejected it, demanding that at least 400 acres be returned.

The Nano protests reflect a larger standoff between industry and farmers unwilling to give up land in a country where two-thirds of the population depend on farming.

The Nano dispute has also led to calls for speedy reforms of a colonial-era land acquisition act that has tripped up several large industrial projects.