Singur will haunt Nirupam Sen till his last breath.
“The 2008 puja day when Ratan Tata announced his exit from Singur marked the saddest day of my life. It will continue to haunt me till my last breath,” a normally reticent and stoic Sen told HT on May Day in an interview spanning 90 minutes and a range of emotions.
Standing two-and-a-half years away from that dramatic experience, Sen speaks of lessons learnt from Singur, one of which is not to turn the hurry of an industrialist into a hurry of the government.
“Perhaps we worked too fast. Governments are known for slow pace but we acted in real haste. Ratan Tata was in a great hurry. The car had to be placed in a global market in an atmosphere of stiff competition. So we had to deliver fast,” admitted Sen on Sunday, 48 hours away from facing the ballot in Burdwan South constituency.
“Despite the pace, we did nothing wrong. Every step was done according to law. That is why Calcutta high court cleared the acquisition,” said Sen.
Does Sen rue the fact that the Singur plot was shown to the Tatas in the first place?
Sen parries a direct reply but concedes that Tata Motors managing director Ravi Kant agreed to a location near Kharagpur. “Ravi Kant had agreed to the Kharagpur location, so did the technical team of Tata Motors. But when Ratan Tata was offered the Singur plot, he insisted on it as, according to him, the project was a showpiece and deserved such a suitable position,” said Sen. He also revealed the plot in Singur would have directly cut the cost of the car for its proximity to Kolkata.
“In Kharagpur, Tata Motors would have needed to build a township. In Singur, no such expenditure on infrastructure was required because people could have stayed in Kolkata. The proposed Dankuni township was also supposed to come up next door,” said Sen.
With Tata predicting global attention to the Nano, he also emphasised the location for easy accessibility for foreign visitors.
Sen said the Tatas are ready to surrender the plot to the government. “They have asked for compensation from us but we have conveyed to them that we cannot pay compensation,” Sen said, perhaps pointing to another potential imbroglio.
Tata Motors has been renewing the lease every year with the annual rental coming to R1 crore.
Though the Left Front is facing the strongest anti-incumbency wave in the past 34 years, the industry minister, who was the backroom boy of the project, has his thoughts clear on the epoch-making 997.11acre plot.
“The land cannot be returned both by law and for practical difficulties. If you want to return part of the land to its original owners, you cannot return one’s plot to another. That would certainly involve numerous litigations. Moreover, the character of the land has changed permanently and is unfit for cultivation now,” he said.
Despite all, Sen thinks Singur was a risk worth taking. “I am ready to make sacrifices. If need be, we would sit in the Opposition. No government is permanent in democracy,” says Sen.