03/07/2008, 00.00
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Farmers expelled from their land to give way to plant to build world’s cheapest car

In West Bengal 400 hectares of farmland is expropriated for factory that will build the Nano car. Many farmers refuse to give up their land and homes but the government is going ahead anyway. Legal action and public protest are planned.

New Delhi (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Farmers displaced to give way to the Tata Motors plant currently under construction in Singur (West Bengal) are planning legal action and road blocks. In the meantime a new state-of-the-art factory will rise on a 400-hectare area that once was farmland; production of the first 250,000 cars per year is scheduled to start in October.

Unveiled in January as the cheapest car in the world (US$ 2,500), the Nano is already the symbol of India’s emerging industry and of the growing affluence of its middle class.

Tata says the project will create more than 10,000 jobs and bring prosperity to the entire region.

Many farmers whose land was expropriated have protested for the past year but as the months go by their resolve has gotten harder to maintain because without land they cannot make ends meet. Many survive only thanks to neighbours’ handouts. At least four committed suicide.

The owners of 136 hectares have rejected compensation. Interest paid on cash compensation packages do not make up for returns on farms, hitherto their only source of income.

“It's a battle of nerves. They're wondering how long we can face these hardships,” protest leader Prosenjit Das said.

Villagers vow to be a headache and generate negative publicity for the car maker. They plan to appeal to the Supreme Court and blockade access roads.

The government favours Special Economic Zones (SEZ) on land ceded at favourable prices and tax holidays to large corporations, but the amount available is limited and usually already under cultivation. Singur for instance is located on a highway just an hour from Kolkata.

Next year is an election year in West Bengal and the state’s ruling Communist Party is at the centre of great many controversies. Last year it gave the green light for the establishment of a SEZ in Nandigram. Farmers were thrown out at that time causing a revolt that ended in deaths and hurt people.

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