Wednesday, October 8, 2008

82% farmers against Reliance SEZ land acquisition: Samiti

Press Trust of India

Alibaug, Oct 6: Most affected farmers and landowners of the proposed Reliance Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in neighbouring Raigad district are against the project, the organisation spearheading the agitation against the SEZ has claimed.Though the government has not yet declared any result on the referendum conducted last month, SEZ Sangharsh Samiti chief Mr ND Patil declared the result on the “basis of information sought by it”.
“About 82 per cent of farmers are not in favour of SEZ,” Mr Patil said in a Press conference here.
“The Samiti has decided to wait till 21 October since all the farmers are busy with rice crop and then decide the further line of action,” he said.
The government has not yet come out with the result of the referendum, an official from the collectorate told PTI.
About 18,000 landowners and farmers from 22 villages voted on the issue on 21 September. Farmers of these villages had opposed the project stating theirs was arable land due to the Hetawane dam located in the area and as such could not be acquired for the SEZ.
But the confusion about the referendum is still not over with chief minister Mr Vilasrao Deshmukh's statement made last week, that the poll conducted in Raigad was not a referendum and no such referendum will be conducted for any SEZ in future.
Source: The Statesman, 7 October 2008

Monday, October 6, 2008

Tata officials visit Andhra sites, face farmers' protests

HYDERABAD: A team of officials from Tata Motors Sunday conducted inspection of two sites near here for their Nano car project but faced protests from farmers, who refused to part with their land.
The team led by Tata Motors' managing director G. Ravi Kant and accompanied by officials of the state revenue department visited Seetarampuram and Aluru villages in Ranga Reddy district. Both sites are close to the Rajiv Gandhi International Airport at Shamshabad.
The delegation first visited Seetarampuram village where the state government has offered 1,128 acres of land at concessional rates.
But as soon as the officials of the company and the revenue department reached there, local farmers gathered and tried to stop the inspection.
The farmers made it clear they would not surrender their land at any cost as they had been cultivating these for decades. The police had to intervene and cane the farmers to allow the team to complete its inspection.
The protest by farmers and local people in Singur in West Bengal has forced Tata Motors to pull out from there.

Friday, October 3, 2008

A tragic road map

The following article was published in The Statesman on 30 Spetember 2008. Based on the analysis of land reform expert Mr. Debabrata Bandyopadhyay it shows the estimated rate of profit from the Singur Plant. We believe it is worth reading, although the views reflected in the article do not have full agreement with the views of the blog.

Manos Ghosh

The improper resettlement and rehabilitation package for 2,500 agricultural households of Singur owning 164 hectares (400 acres) of rich multicrop land forcibly acquired by the Buddhadeb Bhattacharya government for the Nano car project would surely lead to their loss of livelihood, starvation, morbidity, social and economic degradation, not to forget a high incidence of untimely deaths. This is the substance of a fact-sheet prepared by Mr D Bandopadhyay, West Bengal’s former land reforms commissioner and secretary, revenue, government of India, on the gross value of production from 400 hectares of land acquired from over 12,000 owners and co-sharers for the Nano project.

Mr Bandopadhyay says that while the shareholders and the corporate house responsible for manufacturing the Nano will reap a windfall profit from this small car project because of a huge amount of visible and invisible subsidies provided by the state government for the project, Singur’s 2,500 households, whose 162 hectares have been coercively acquired for locating ancillaries, will surely face starvation, family disintegration and untimely deaths if the state government continues to ignore the resettlement and rehabilitation policy guidelines laid down by the Union government for land-losers. “This will mark the beginning of a tragic road map charted out by the CPI-M government for West Bengal’s industrialisation.”

According to the fact-sheet, land-losers of 400 hectares, numbering over 12,000, which includes co-sharers, produce crops worth Rs 10 crore annually will be lost. While the paddy crop of 5,220 metric tonnes from 400 hectares annually fetches an annual earning of Rs. 3.50 crore based on the government’s declared minimum support price, potato also fetches an almost identical sum from the sale of 10,000 metric tonnes from almost the same acreage. Income from inter-cropped vegetables is well over a crore of rupees. Oilseeds and pulses, both of which are cultivated over 200 acres, provide an annual income of Rs 42 lakh and Rs 34 lakh, respectively. While 235 tonnes of oilseeds are produced in the acquired land, the yield of pulses is 200 metric tonnes.

The most positive part of the study is that even a marginal Singur farmer, with a holding of just one acre (three bighas) has an earning that puts him well above the poverty line. Highlighting Singur’s economic prosperity from agriculture, Mr Bandopadhyay says this becomes clear when even the area’s marginal farmers and sharecroppers vociferously claim their income from their holdings is good enough to not only meet both ends but also help them enjoy some of the good things of life.

Mr Bandopadhyay says that according to the Centre’s yardstick, a family of five, with an annual income of Rs 22,000 and below, falls below the poverty line (BPL) category. But in Singur, even a marginal farmer and a sharecropper earns an average annual income of at least Rs 32,000, which places him above poverty line (APL) category without any assistance from any quarter.

In other states, according to Mr Bandopadhyay, marginal farmers with such meagre holdings and poor land quality and crop yield have plummeted below the poverty line. “But not in Singur. If proper incentive and price and other forms of support are provided this income is bound to increase significantly in no time”,Mr Bandopadhyay added. According to him an average annual agricultural income of Rs 10 crore, though distributed asymmetrically among 12,000 affected farmers and share croppers, shows the rich quality and high productivity of Singur land on which the Tatas have been allowed to build their car factory. “If the government and the Tatas don’t do anything to provide alternative sources of income, which must ensure higher returns than the existing ones, then a grave human tragedy is about to befall Singur’s 12,000 “unwilling” farmers. What has been announced as an increase in the compensation package by Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is, unfortunately, less than half of the benefits that must be given to land losers under the national resettlement and rehabilitation policy of 2007. The new compensation package is a sham. “It will pauperise the land losers in no time and eventually force them into penury and extreme hardship”, Mr Bandopadhyay rued. Pointing out that the Singur project is a “job loss growth” Mr Bandopadhyay’s fact-sheet says that whereas the Tata car unit will create employment only for 650 employees (almost all of whom will be outsiders)whose annual wage element will be around Rs.12 lakh per employee, agriculture in Singur provides “unwilling” farmers with an income of at least Rs.32,000 for each of the affected 2500 households with 12000 heads. Even if the creation of 650 jobs at the Tata factory is factored into the Singur employment scene there would still be a net job loss of 11,350 heads which will spell doom for the local economy and social scene. While calculating Tata Motors’ income and expenditure on the Nano project which is based on very liberal assumptions, Mr Bandopadhyay’s projection is that Tata Motors would be earning annually a profit of Rs.600 crore from the project (See table).

The above calculation of surplus of Tata Motors has not been factored into the benefits that the company got through substantial material resources transferred to it either without cost or at a substantially reduced price. The real value of such transfer has not been made public as, according to both the chief minister and his industries minister Nirupam Sen “these are trade secrets which can not be divulged in the interest of the project which is for public purpose”. But according to valuers’ estimate the benefits so received through below the market price transfer of resources of land, water, electricity, transport, security, local tax concession and a loan of Rs 200 crore bearing one per cent interest would total around Rs 2000 crore.

Not only this, the annexure one and two of the agreement provides that the state government would make good the loss that the TM will suffer if and when there is an upward revision of excise duty and corporate income tax during the current decade. And alternatively if and when the excise duty and corporate tax goes down the benefit will go entirely to the TM with the state government having no share in it.

Thus the company’s net worth/ assets, according to Mr Bandopadhyay, would be far higher than the visible investment made by it as indicated above. The enhancement of net worth would be reflected in the soaring stock prices resulting in creation of instant millionaires and perhaps billionaires.

But this largesse provided to TM has created such an uneven playing field that it is being resented strongly and silently by other leading investors in West Bengal. They say that by doing this the CPI-M government has encouraged and practised a patently unfair trade practice just to favour the TM. It also, according to Mr Bandopadhyay, violates the letter and spirit of the Competition Act. “By having recourse to this the state government has committed a highly unethical and illegal act”. And yet the irony is that both the government and the Tatas are not willing to spend much on proper resettlement and rehabilitation of Singur’s “unwilling” land losers. Gross inadequacies and shortcomings in the state government’s compensation package, which the chief minister and his party as well as their camp followers have hailed as the “best” in the country, come out loud and clear when it is compared with similar package offered by other state governments to their land losers. Their compensation package contains so many provisions that each one of them addresses almost all the concerns connected with acquisition of private property resulting in involuntary displacement of their owners and depriving them of their land, livelihood, shelter and restricting their access to traditional resource base.

For instance, the compensation package offered to those whose 1300 acres had been acquired for building the new privately owned Kochi international airport and 800 acres for constructing the new cargo terminal at Nagpur airport have taken care of the traumatic psychological and socio-cultural fallout on land losers. The package has protected the rights to land, livelihood, and employment besides providing other benefits including financial compensation which is based on four times the price of prevalent market value of land. The Kochi package had such a human face that all the 800 land losers found it hard to resist the offer. Not only one person from each family had been provided with a permanent job, or various contracts but he had also been given shares of the airport company, bus or taxi permits, six cents of land for building a house and a free return air ticket to go to any of the neighbouring metro cities of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh or Karnataka. In fact the Kochi land losers in the Marxist ruled Kerala have been given more benefits than those prescribed under the National Resettlement and Rehabilitation Policy of the Union government.

Against this backdrop, the package offered to Singur farmers is a pittance. If the barren and gravel land in Tamil Nadu’s Sriperumbudur, where the Korean car major Hyundai has built two huge car manufacturing units on a 500 acre plot, can fetch over Rs 2.10 crore an acre, why should the state government pay between Rs 7 lakh and Rs 12 lakh an acre for Singur’s best alluvial land, which in terms of land quality is the country’s best? Although Singur in terms of connectivity and proximity to Kolkata is better placed than Sriperambudur. The result is that Singur’s “unwilling” farmers are convinced that the Marxist government is cheating them through land acquisition.. Their general feeling is that the package is “highly exploitative” in nature.

What has shocked many IAS administrators of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, which I had recently visited, is the “dehumanised approach” of their service brethren and their political masters in West Bengal. One such officer asked me in Chennai “Does the government’s responsibility towards involuntary land losers end with the collection of compensation cheque?” The officer was reacting after reading “threatening” statements of CPI-M leaders in the Press that the “unwilling” farmers should at once go and collect their compensation cheques from the collectorate.

(The writer is Editor, Dainik Statesman)

Source: TheStatesman 30 September 2008

Monday, September 29, 2008

Tatas could face Singur in Pantnagar as farmers oppose

The Tatas reported plan to roll out its cheap passenger car from here faces turbulence as another Singur appears to be in the offing with a group of farmers planning an agitation against giving more land to the company for the Nano car project.
On Tata Motors’ proposed plan to manufacture Nano car here, a member of the “Kisan Kisani Abhiyaan” Hanif Gandhi said farmers will launch a movement on the lines of “Chipko movement” if Uttarakhand government provided any more land to the company.
The Tatas already have a vehicle manufacturing plant here covering 1000 acres.
Gandhi said the government has already given 1000 acres of fertile land to the Tatas for setting up a plant here on a low lease.
He said farmers across the country were not happy with giving fertile land to industrial units.
“If the situation is not dealt with seriously, the country will have to face a shortage of food materials in the near future,” he said. Tatas had asked for additional 100 acres of land in Pantnagar to build residential colonies.
On this demand, State Agriculture Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat had earlier said not even one inch of extra land would be given to the company.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

997 acres? CM, experts must come clean

Statesman News Service
KOLKATA, Sept. 18: Does Tata Motors need 997 acres for its "integrated" car manufacturing facility at Singur? At his interaction with the media yesterday, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had insisted the company needs all that land. He went on to say the government's experts had independently corroborated this requirement. But inquiries by The Statesman suggest the experts may not have been right and that comparable car manufacturing facilities around the world do with far less and if this is so, the CM ought to explain how his experts came to their finding.
Mr Bhattacharjee had maintained that at the most 70 acres from the project area could be returned to unwilling farmers. He had said that "the central issue was not 50 or 100 acres but how much land would be required for setting up an integrated factory and how much could be taken out of the project area". Mr Bhattacharjee had added that the land requirement was not "merely a claim by the Tatas, but we have consulted experts before arriving at the quantum of land required for the project".
Tata Motors is said to need some 650 acres or so for the manufacturing plant and about 350 acres for ancillary units, to together make up the 997-acre "integrated" facility that Mr Bhattacharjee spoke of. Reports suggest that the company will make 100,000 cars annually, but that the Singur plant will eventually have capacity to produce 350,000 cars.
Proton, the Malaysian car company, makes 250,000 vehicles a year on a 250-acre factory in Shah Alam. Hyundai Motors India has installed capacity to make 530,000 cars at its 500-acre plant near Chennai. Ford Motors makes 300,000 vehicles annually on a 345-acre plot in Turkey. Toyota Motors makes 500,000 cars plus 500,000 engines in a 7 million square feet factory (about 180 acres) in the United States. Honda Motors makes nearly 200,000 cars on a 231-acre plant in Thailand. On the basis of land used by these facilities, it would seem that about one acre of land would be required to make 1,000 cars annually.
Tata Motors would then need 350 acres ~ and not 650 acres ~ to make 350,000 cars, perhaps even less as the Nano is much smaller than the cars made by the other companies.

Source: The Statesman, 19 Sept, 2008.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Ok, tata: Bengal throwing good money after bad?

Anindita Chowdhury
KOLKATA, Sept. 15: The Tatas may have finally endorsed the West Bengal government's fresh rehabilitation and compensation package for land-losers to ensure that Tata Motors Limited stays put it Singur and the Nano can roll out in a "congenial atmosphere", but at what cost? Both literal and figurative, not to mention political. For, according to calculations made by The Statesman, the government will not only have to dig deep dig into an already depleted public exchequer once again to keep its enhanced compensation promise, but government investment in Singur will be at least one third of the Tata Motors' Rs 1,500 crore investment. And if the VAT holiday and subsidised electricity given to the Tatas, and the vague promises of jobs to land-losers are factored in, the total public investment in a private firm's project to build a car, even if it's the world's cheapest, could well be close to the amount being spent by the business house itself!The irony is even more pronounced when one keeps in mind that the Singur project is no private-public-partnership enterprise ~ it's rightly, and unashamedly, a commercial venture by one of India's biggest business houses. And whatever Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee may believe in connection with industrialisation in one state, apparently through one project in the vanguard, to mix a couple of socialist metaphors, the question arises: is it worth it?The state government has already paid close Rs 133.10 crore, according to the Comptroller and Auditor General's report, as compensation to land-losers and the fresh package which promises to pay 50 per cent over and above the present compensation paid would mean an additional outflow of Rs 65 crore from the exchequer. Then there is a new commitment to pay accumulated wages of 300 days to landless labourers. According to the government, the number of such registered landless labourers and unrecorded bargadars is 955. The minimum daily wage is Rs 75 a day according to the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NGERA), which amounts to Rs 22,500 for 300 days. Multiplied by 955, that's 2.14 crore rupees. And this, only for landless labourers registered with WBIDC; the government has, indeed, gone a step further by stating that those with EPIC and NREGA job cards will also be eligible for this compensation even if they are not registered.The government has also promised to provide "sustainable economic existence" to land-losing families, jobs, in other words, although not spelt out so bluntly, and that's yet another claim on public money. This applies to around 5,000 to 6,000 families (as many land-losing have gone their separate ways over the past two years), a senior official at Writers' Buildings told The Statesman. Whilst some jobs will be provided in the private sector, an overwhelming majority will have to be accommodated in government jobs with all benefits, said the official. The wage bill is likely to be substantial.All of this only adds to government decisions already taken, no doubt in what it perceives as the public interest and geared towards putative job creation, of giving the Tatas land at a throwaway price, a VAT exemption to match that offered by the Uttarakhand state government, and extending a loan of Rs 200 crore to TML (effectively Rs 143.10 crore).Take the effective government, i.e. public, investment in terms of land cost first: At current market value, the price for the 645.67 acres at Singur (that's the deal with the Tatas; the vendors have been given land at a different rate the figures for which, incidentally, have not been provided to the CAG by the state government) is Rs 93.73 crore. Though the Tatas are paying Rs 855.75 crore over a 90-year period, at present value (according to a February 2006 government directive laying down the basis for making such calculations with reference to a 99-year lease) this would be equivalent to paying Rs 18.62 crore. Given the uncertainty over the Tatas commencing work at Singur, forget a 90-year stay, it would be imminently fair and sensible to regard the state's invest­ment as the difference between current market price and what the Tatas are paying in current terms. That amount is Rs 76.11 crore. As for the government, i.e public, investment in terms of VAT concessions, they are substantial, even if it's a fair discount, as the government claims, to attract private investment to Bengal in a competitive environment.The CAG report has stated that the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation (WBIDC) incurred a loss of Rs 81.52 crore on account of the Tata Motors plant at Singur. "The company incurred excess expenditure of Rs 2.99 crore towards payment of avoidable interest of Rs 1.44 crore and delayed consent awards of Rs 1.55 crore to landowners beyond statutory provisions. Further, it subsidised TML by 76.11 crore on leasing of 645.67 acres of land for 90 years," the report reads. Government also paid Rs 3.19 crore for direct purchase of land and payment to bargadars, and another Rs 2.96 crore as development expenses and training programme expenses for the land-losers for economic reha­bilitation came to Rs 78.52 lakh.The state commerce and industries minister has justified the state governments' munificence towards the Tatas say­ing that an auto-cluster would lead to an economic boom for both Singur and the state. It may be recalled that the same state government has now asked the investors to finalise their rehabilitation package for land-losers along with their detailed project report.
Source: The Statesman, 16 Sept, 2008

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Ugly Face of TATA

The Tata Group, a family-owned Indian multinational with 2005 revenues of Rs. 76,500 crores ($17.8 billion), has an unjustifiably good reputation. The corporation’s flagship company Tata Steel made its riches through large-scale takeover of tribal lands in Jharkhand and Orissa and opportunistic business deals with the British colonial powers and the East India Company.Until the onset of liberalisation, Tatas remained the undisputed king of the license-raj, covering its trail of human rights, labour and environmental violations with liberal philanthropic give-aways. As the realities of operating in a globalised environment began sinking in within Tatas, more and more people, including its loyal employees, are beginning to understand that talks of nation-building and corporate social responsibility aside, Tata companies have no obligation to anybody but their own shareholders.As the rapsheet below will corroborate, the corporate house’s reputation is a result of Tata’s successful public relations strategy rather than a reflection of reality.

Helping Killer Carbide
In December 1984, when the Government of India arrested Union Carbide Chairman Warren Anderson for his role in causing the Bhopal gas disaster, Mr. J.R.D. Tata was one of the few Indians to condemn the arrest. Decisions made by Anderson to save costs by eliminating safety systems and approving untested technology at the Bhopal factory were directly responsible for the disaster. Incidentally, significant sections of the Bhopal factory’s sewage and utilities were constructed by Tata Consulting Engineers.In November 2006, Ratan Tata offered to bail out Union Carbide, and facilitate investments by Carbide’s new owner Dow Chemical, by leading a charitable effort to clean-up the toxic wastes abandoned by Carbide in Bhopal. At a time when the Government of India has held Dow Chemical liable for the clean-up and requested Rs. 100 crores from the American MNC, Tata’s offer of charity is aimed at frustrating legal efforts to hold the company liable. Also, admittedly, the offer is motivated by a desire to facilitate Dow’s investments in India. The company has restrained itself from major investments in India out of fear that the campaign for justice by Bhopal victims will derail plans and increase risks of any Dow venture in India.

Bypassing Democracy
Dictating Indian Policy: In 2005, prompted by the corporate-friendly overtures of the Manmohan Singh Government and the Bush administration, business houses in the US and India set up the US-India CEO Forum comprising a select coterie of US and Indian CEOs. The forum has “a mandate to develop a road map for increased partnership and cooperation between the two countries at a business level.” Co-chaired by Ratan Tata, the Forum has made several recommendations to craft new laws, change existing laws and establish policy to make India more investor-friendly. The Forum is pushing for weaker labour laws, facilitation of Special Economic Zones, increased focus on post-graduate education, relaxing liability laws and expediting resolution of disputes especially following events such as the Bhopal disaster. The high-level consent that the Forum has from Indian and US Governments makes it a force parallel to the Indian parliament in law-making.
Holding on to Corporatocracy: Tatas own and operate the only private city in India. The steel city of Jamshedpur, which was founded by Jamsetji Tata in 1904, is one of few Indian cities that does not have a municipality or any local elected Government. Tata Steel-owned Jamshedpur Utilities and Services Company administers the entire town with population of nearly 600,000. The 74th Amendment to the Constitution of India devolves powers to locally elected urban bodies such as municipalities, and requires that all states enact laws to hold regular elections to such local bodies. Converting the Tata-controlled town to a democratically controlled municipality met with stiff resistance from Tata Steel who seemed to suggest that a benevolent rule, such as Tata Steel, was more desirable than a democratic set-up. Defending corporate rule over democracy, Tata Steel’s managing director B. Muthuraman is reported as saying “While you have one successful model which has been there for a hundred years, would you like to bring in some other model which however lofty may not yet have been tried.”
Business with Military Junta: The Myanmar military government which is shunned by the world for its blatant human rights violations has found a friend in India. At a time when several multinationals like PepsiCo have pulled out of Myanmar in a bid to pressure the military government to give way to democratic forces, Tata Motors is striking deals to supply the oppressive regime with hardware and automobiles. The Myanmar military junta is accused of widespread rape and pillage, and the use of forced labour to construct infrastructure for the exploitation of Myanmar’s rich natural resources. For more than two decades, tribal groups have fought a hard and violent battle against the military junta for autonomy. Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has been under house arrest since 1989.
Desecrating Tribal Lands
Parched Earth Tactics: Tatas’ steel town came up in close proximity to thickly forested lands that had the misfortune of carrying some of the richest iron ore deposits. Tribal people then and now seldom have paper titles to their lands. The company initially acquired 3564 acres of land comprising villages at the cost of Rs. 46,332. When the lands were handed over to Tatas for mining in Noamundi and for the Jamshedpur township by the British-controlled Government of India, the tribals were evicted.In 1907, after Tatas had taken over the Noamundi area for mining iron, local adivasis refused to work the mines. In a bid to tame them, Tatas reportedly mowed down the Kusumgaj (Kosam) trees. These trees were the lifeline for the adivasis who collected lac from the lacworms that nest on these trees. In desperation and with no other recourse for a livelihood, more and more adivasis started digging iron ore for Tatas. In 2000, Tata Steel allegedly bulldozed a spring that was the only source of water for the indigenous people of Agaria Tola – a 22-household hamlet on the periphery of Tata’s coal mines. Besides yielding water, the spring was the centre of social interaction for the nearby villagers. Chrome Poisoning: The Down to Earth magazine reports that the Comptroller Auditor General of the Government of India singled out the chromite mines in Sukhinda Valley as a highly polluted area. Tatas are one of the largest mining companies in the valley. The Domsala River and 30 streams that run through this valley are contaminated with dangerous levels of hexavalent chromium leaching from overburden dumps. Hexavalent chromium causes irritation of the respiratory tract, nasal septum ulcers, irritant dermatitis rhinitis, bronchospasm and pneumonia. One study funded by the Norwegian Government under the Orissa Environment Program found that almost 25 percent of people living less than 1 km from the sites suffered pollution-induced diseases.
Luxury Resort in Tiger Country: In the mid-1990s, the Tata-owned Taj Group of Hotels leased a piece of land in the middle of the Nagarahole National Park and Tiger Reserve in Karnataka to build the Gateway Tusker Lodge. Proposed as a jungle camp, the plans for the Lodge resembled those of a 5-star resort complete with tourist facilities, diesel generators, and conference rooms. No clearance was sought from the Ministry of Environment, despite the fact that any activity inside a National Park is very stringently regulated. Massive tribal opposition to the project and a legal challenge eventually forced the Tatas to withdraw from the Tiger’s hunting grounds.

Violence and Massacres
Gua Massacre:
State violence against tribal people is commonplace, particularly in the mining districts of Eastern India. According to an eyewitness, on 7 September, 1980, villagers whose lands were taken over to accommodate a Tata aerodrome in Noamundi went to the aerodrome to confront then Tata Steel chairman Russi Mody and present him a memo. On seeing the crowd, Mody’s aircraft returned to Jamshedpur without landing. All this happened at a time when long-oppressed tribals were asserting their rights, and the struggle for a tribal state was at its peak in the Jharkhand region of Bihar. Tatas and other vested interests are said to have pressed the State Government to take stringent action against tribal activists. The 8 September firing against innocent tribals in the Gua marketsquare, and the subsequent killing of 8 unarmed tribals inside a hospital was the “strict action” that was taken to quell tribal discontent.
Kalinganagar Massacre: On January 2, 2006, a police battalion armed to the teeth opened fire into a crowd of tribal villagers in Kalinganagar, Orissa. The tribal people were protesting the illegal construction of a compound wall by Tata Steel on lands historically owned by them. The local people had made it clear that Tata Steel was not welcome. Just days before the massacre, Tata Steel had three meetings with the chief minister of Orissa. Five corpses returned after post-mortem were mutilated; one dead woman’s breast was ripped off, and a young boy (also killed in the firing) had his genitals mutilated. All had their palms chopped off. Tata has said the incident was unfortunate, and that it will continue with plans to set up a steel plant at the location despite the opposition.
Singur Oppression: In 2006, Tatas obtained a bonanza. More than 900 acres of fertile agricultural lands in Singur, near Kolkata, was handed over to Tata Motors by the West Bengal Government for a project that will churn out Rs. 100,000 ($2000) cars. Farmers, many of whose lands were forcibly acquired, opposed the handover of their lands to Tata. Goaded by Tatas, the West Bengal Government has come down heavily on the Singur farmers and their supporters, converting this once-peaceful village into a war-zone with round-the-clock presence of armed police providing protection to Tata Motors site and workers.
Toxic Dumping
Saline wastes: In September 2003, an effluent spill from Tata Chemicals’ soda ash factory in Mithapur, Gujarat, spread over more than 150 acres of the sea in the Gulf of Kutch Marine National Park. The National Park covers one of the most biodiverse regions – mangroves, corals, mudskippers, whale sharks -- in the coast of India. About 10 km_ of the marine protected area has been considerably degraded due to the settlement of solids associated with the effluent of the industry, according to the National Institute of Oceanography. The salt pans in the Mithapur area are also named as the cause for the rapid salinity ingress into the groundwater. Several villages have lost their farmlands to accommodate open unlined dumps for Tata’s saline effluent.
Hell on Earth: Patancheru, a chemical industrial estate near Hyderabad, is referred to as Hell on Earth owing to the unlivable environmental conditions in that area because of industrial pollution. Rallis India, a Tata subsidiary manufacturing pesticides here, was singled out by the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee on Hazardous Wastes which identified the company’s toxic waste dump to be a toxic contamination source of concern. The company’s wastes are stored in massive solar evaporation ponds that stinks up the air with poisonous chemicals, villagers say.
Mountains of Waste, Jugsalai: Thousands of tonnes of boiler ash generated from Tata Steel units are dumped in the open in the middle of Jugsalai town near Jamshedpur. During the dry months, the heavy metal laced dust from the mountain of ash flies in the air causing visibility problems and breathing distress. Groundwater in the area is polluted, as per Tata Steel’s own admission, and contains higher than permissible levels of hardness and dissolved solids.
Joda Mines: Begun in the 1950s, the mining boomtown that houses Tata, Birla and Jindal iron ore mines, has fuelled the riches of several corporates but has gained nothing in the process. Joda town and the road to it, according to one journalist, is one big pothole. The constantly plying ore trucks, and the round-the-clock mining has meant that local residents, workers and commuters have no fresh air to breathe. It is a wonder that these dustiest of dusty mines are located at the edge of the Sidhamatha Reserve Forests, home to the elephant and tiger.
Coal Slurry Dumping: Tata Steel’s collieries in West Bokaro and its coal washeries in Bokaro have been discharging a coal-dust-rich slurry into the Bokaro River, effectively killing the river by smothering the river bed. The process also uses large quantities of freshwater and discharges it along with the coal-dust as effluents.

Hazardous Incidents
Founder’s Day Fire: On March 3, 1989, a fire broke out in the VIP gallery during the Founder’s Day celebrations. Sixty children were killed and 111 injured in the fire that was caused by negligence and poor planning that prevented fire tenders from arriving at the scene of the accident in time. The problem was further exacerbated when Tatas refused to move the injured and dying to a burns speciality hospital in a bid to cover up the event. A Factories Inspectorate report lays the blame squarely on Tata Steel. More than 10 years after the tragic event, Tatas had still not paid compensation to the legal heirs of the deceased or to the injured. Even the Supreme Court alluded to pay-offs by TISCO, asking TISCO how much it was paying the Court-appointed arbitrator.

Anti-Labour Antecedents
In the 1920s and 1930s, when it was still called Tata Iron and Steel Company, TISCO’s largely tribal workers fought pitched battles with the European and Parsi management. Work conditions and the right to organise were important rallying issues, and over the years, the company developed a reputation for union-busting often by violent means.
Worker Suicides: After Ratan Tata took over in 1991, the Tata Group companies have witnessed aggressive streamlining and down-sizing. In 2003, two contract workers who were part of the Tata Hydrocompanies Employees Union doused themselves with kerosene and set themselves on fire outside the Tata headquarters. Along with 68 other workers from the Tata Power Company, the two suicidal workers were protesting the illegal termination of their contract in 1997 by Tata. As land prices skyrocketed in Mumbai in the 1980s, textile mills sitting on prime real estate in Mumbai (formerly Bombay) began starving as mill managements failed to invest in modernisation and upkeep. Mill-owners preferred to run their establishment into the ground in the hopes that lucrative land deals would allow them to shut down the mills and make money in the process. Tatas, which ran Svadeshi Mills -- one of the oldest textile mills in Mumbai – had earlier obtained permission to sell a fourth of its landholding, and hand-over half the land for a recreation ground, a public housing scheme and a public sector factory to employ retrenched labourers from the textile mill. While a fourth of the land was sold, the latter did not happen. Workers allege that whatever was sold was undervalued to allow the company to siphon funds meant for mill revival or rehabilitation of workers to other group businesses. Driven to desperation, at least one Svadeshi mill worker committed suicide after the August 2000 closure of the mill forced 2800 factory-floor workers into destitution.
Sub-contracting: Fostering Insecurity: According to highly placed sources within the Tata company, Tatas have resorted to large-scale deployment of contract labour in a bid to cut costs. In contravention of the Contract Labour and Regulation Act, contract workers are engaged in prohibited activities, including those that can only be performed by trained permanent staff, and works of perennial nature. Workers allege that the company discriminates between its employees and contract workers. At Tata Steel in Jamshedpur, for instance, company employees eat better food in superior ambience than contract workers. Wage differences are also wide although the nature of work performed by contract workers is no different from that of company employees. Contract workers also work longer hours on harder jobs. Lack of skill and work pressure has meant that contract employees meet with more accidents.
Lay-offs: Contrary to Tata’s much-touted credentials of providing employment security, the corporate house’s massive downsizing at its flagship Tata Steel provides a case in point. Tata’s workforce stood at 78,000 in 1994. By 1997, it was down to 65,000. By 2002, another 15,000 jobs were eliminated, and the total workforce in 2006 stands at 38,000, slightly more than half of what it started out with at the onset of liberalisation. Of this, more than 25,000 people received voluntary retirement benefits. However, many allege that the scheme was not all that voluntary. Able-bodied workers were rendered jobless as they succumbed to intense emotional pressure. Reports allege that teachers were asked to sweep roads if they did not take up “voluntary retirement.”
Union busting: In 1989, workers belonging to the trade union Telco Kamgar Sanghatana at Telco’s plant in Pune struck work demanding wage hikes. Tata management attempted to break the strike by offering a wage hike to rival unions and warning every employee of dire consequences if labour unrest continued. In September 1989, about 3000 workers went on an indefinite hunger strike. As the strike progressed with workers fainting and no signs of a rapprochement, the State Government came under intense pressure from Tatas and other capitalists. On September 29, under cover of darkness the State Reserve & Pune City Police launched Operation Crackdown. 80 buses were deployed to round up and take fasting workers to jail. Tata had managed to break the strike with the help of the police.
Killings: In the past, at least two prominent Tata trade unionists – Abdul Bari and V.G. Gopal – were gunned down by rival unionists as they were setting off for negotiations with the management. In both instances, Tata workers and independent observers allege the behind-the-scenes involvement of Tata management.

Tata Bye-Bye
Tata’s unpopularity is evident from the fact that local people in various places around India have successfully thwarted the company’s attempts to set up businesses on their lands. The ongoing struggle in Singur, the stand-off in Kalinganagar are merely the most recent and prominent.About a decade ago, protests by tribal residents in Orissa forced Tatas to pull out of a venture to mine bauxite from the sacred Baphlimali hills in Rayagada district. In 2000, three tribal youth were shot dead by the police during a peaceful demonstration near the proposed mine site. In 2000, Tatas were forced to abandon a proposal to set up a steel plant in Gopalpur-on-Sea, a coastal town in Orissa following massive protests from the more than 20,000 people that were to be evicted to make way for the plant. This project too ended only after blood was shed. In August 1997, the police opened fire at a protest rally in Sindhigaon, where two women were crushed to death in the ensuing pandemonium.In the late 1990s, Tatas shelved a proposal to convert large portions of Lake Chilika – a massive brackish water lake of international prominence – into an aquaculture farm after protests by the 120,000-strong fishing community that depended on the lake for a livelihood.

A Historical Record as Collaborators
Drug Running: Tata archives that talk in glowing terms about Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata fail to record the family’s involvement in shipping opium to China in the mid- to late 1800s. The opium was grown in India and shipped to China by agents such as Tata for the British.
Empress Mills: Tata’s first industrial venture, a textile mill in Central India’s cotton-growing region, was opened on 1 January, 1877 – the day Queen Victoria was proclaimed Empress of India. The event was commemorated by naming the company Empress Mills.
Fueling British Expansionism: Commissioned in 1908, the Tata Iron and Steel Company in Jamshedpur cut its teeth supplying the British empire with steel rails that were crucial in Britain’s war effort in Northern and East Africa during the 1st World War. When the war was over, Viceroy Lord Chelmsford said: “I can hardly imagine what we should have done if the Tata Company had not been able to give us steel rails which have provided not only for Mesopotamia, but for Egypt, Palestine and East Africa.”
Supplying the British Army: The American civil war ended in 1865, re-opening raw cotton supplies from the Southern states of the US for England’s textile mills. That sent India’s cotton suppliers on a tailspin. Many didn’t recover, but the Tata family managed to stay afloat by securing a lucrative contract to supply food and clothing to the British Army’s Magdala campaign in Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) in 1868.


Saturday, August 30, 2008

We demand return of Singur farmland to the peasants

The West Bengal government, CPM and a section of media have been engaged in campaign that if Tata has to quit from Singur, then it will be a great loss for West Bengal as already chief ministers of five different states invited Tata to shift the nano project in their states.

It is now important to remember that Tata had to quite from Kalinganag (Orissa) and Dhaka (Bangladesh) because of strong public protest. There is no point to believe that in other states Tata will not face any resistance from the people as the government has to acquire land for the proposed project; none of the chief ministers will donate their paternal property to Tata. These chief ministers and the state machinery are the agents of multinationals and comprador big capitalists. They have engaged themselves in a race to prove their loyalty to their masters.

The CPM says and a section of Bengalee middle class believe that the Singur nano project along with ancillary units will generate a huge job market that could help relieve the problem of unemployment in the state. It is better to remember that having engaged somewhere with a salary not sufficient to meet the ends should be termed as severe exploitation rather than employment. All over the country and in the West Bengal people have to work mostly in contractual basis more than eight hours a day for mere Rs 60 to 80. In Singur project the scenario will not be the different. The project is not to solve the problem of poverty and unemployment, but to maximize the exploitation.

Our critics, at this point will say, if there will be no investment by the multinational or comprador giants, then whatever people can earn now will be stopped. Therefore, for the interest of people we need their investment although the working condition may not be ideal. To improve the condition, we should negotiate with them, but must not oppose.

With due respect to our critics we would like to mention that people simply cannot negotiate with these sharks. They are motivated by maximization of their profit; and it means maximization of exploitation of people. Here negotiation means acceptance of the terms and conditions which favours the interest of the multinationals and comprador capitalists. And we already showed why we should not call the engagement of the people in their projects as employment.

Our intellectual critics sometimes remind us the huge value addition that takes place in a factory. From the same land the annual income must be far less if it is engaged in agriculture. Here we need to mention that we do not consider the issue as a simple matter of industry versus agriculture. In contrast, we see what fraction of the income will be for the people from a given land. In case a factory is built by a corporate giant on a land, the fraction of the income retained with the people is far les than that retained if it were engaged in self-farming. We do not blindly oppose building a factory on a land, but do oppose maximization of the extraction of profit for the interest of corporate sectors.

We have no doubt over the dwindling situation of agriculture. But, it is because of the severe semi-feudal (for example in the form of usury) and imperialist exploitation. Peasants do not have any control over the seeds, fertilizers and pesticides. Introduction of the 'hi-fi' technology actually devastated our crop diversity and organic basis of the farming. Pesticides and chemical fertilizers are being used indiscriminately and unscientifically, which is just to promote their sale (and essentially magnifying the profit). There is no way under the circumstances peasantry can survive. The only way out from this situation is to demolish the semi-feudal basis of the Indian socio-economic foundation which is the support of the imperialist plunder.

Looking for an alternative outside the agriculture only helps strengthening the imperialist clutch over the people.

In order to strengthen the unity against multinational corporations, comprador big capitalists, we support the resistance against any attempt for the maximization of their profit. We therefore demand unconditional return of farmland to the peasantry of Singur.