Saturday, October 4, 2008

Transcript of Ratan Tata’s media conference announcing Tata's decision to pull out of Singur

Transcript of Ratan Tata’s media conference

Let me first apologise for the makeshift accommodation. Please excuse us as we had to call the press conference at a short notice. The function rooms were already occupied in the hotel.

When I addressed some of you, I think, at the end of August, I had mentioned that we were facing considerable aggression and agitation on the site of the plant. And if this aggression were to continue, then we would have little choice but to move.

At that time I had hoped that there would be some understanding on the part of the Opposition party, headed by Ms Mamata Banerjee, and that we would see some reduction in agitation and we could go ahead with the project.

Unfortunately, shortly thereafter, the agitation increased, as you know. It moved to the front of the gate and the highway was barricaded for some period of time.

Through the two years, we have faced enormous disruption and assault, intimidation to some of our people.

By taking all things into account, mainly the well-being of our employees, the safety of our contractors and vendors also, we have taken the very regretful decision to move the Nano project out of West Bengal.

This is a decision we have taken with a great deal of sadness because we came here two years ago, attracted by the investor-friendly policies of the current government, which we still have a great deal of respect for, the leadership of Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. And all through the two years that we worked, I am very appreciative of the support that the government gave us and the facilitation that they provided.

Unfortunately, we also faced great agitation and great aggression on the part of the opposing parties, which have in fact been the sole reason for us to take this decision.

Having said this, I just want to say that since the decision has been prompted, because many of you may ask, why we shouldn’t give this more time. We have taken this decision today, perhaps not the best day to make such an announcement on the eve of your Puja.

But we felt we needed to because we do not see any change on the horizon. We continue to be very supportive towards the vision of the government. And why we move the Nano project out of West Bengal? Because we have a timeline to reach. We have made promises to the public in terms of the project running on line. We do not believe that we in any way have lost our enthusiasm for investment in West Bengal.

And I assure you that Tatas will through the course of time indeed invest in West Bengal.

I will be happy to answer some questions if you provide some.

Q: Where will the Nano project be shifted?

A: We have not decided where the plant will be shifted. We have got offers from three or four state governments.

Q: Will the land be returned to the state government?

A: We’ve just made the decision today. The issue of the land is something we may have to discuss with the state government over a period of time.

Q: Do you think, in hindsight, it would have been better if you started the project after talking to the Opposition leader?

A: That issue does not arise. Because the land was acquired, we leased the land from the government. We didn’t buy it. We believe the transaction was legal and transparent. And the fact that this aggression has emerged, I think it’s very unfortunate. You must appreciate that we are not a party to this land dispute. It is clearly between the Trinamul Congress and the government. Accusations and allegations have been made. And, we believe, we have been caught in the political crossfire.

Q: In hindsight, don’t you think you should have purchased the land directly?

A: I think it is very easy to look at everything at hindsight. There may be many ways to approach a project. I don’t know whether I should say this, but I say this with sincerity. I view West Bengal as a terrific state, with a great deal of potential in terms of the intellect of its people. And we came here because I thought we could make a difference. In that context, whether we bought the land or leased the land or whatever we did, we did it in good faith at that time because we wanted to be part of the development of the state. We wanted to make a difference.

Whether we had bought the land, leased the land, whether it could have been done differently in hindsight, is all conjecture.

Q: What about accommodating those who have been trained?

A: We have endeavoured to ensure all people to locate them to other plants, but obviously not in Singur.

Q: Did you anticipate you would face this in Bengal?

A: We did not, I should say, anticipate we will have this kind of problems in West Bengal.... We have no options but to move. It’s a time-bound project, we have commitments that we have made to everyone. In some ways it was beyond West Bengal, it was an Indian project. It’s a shame that this project should have faced this but now that it has, we have to honour what we have said to the best of our ability and we would move.

However, I have assured the chief minister that as far as further investment in Bengal, this will not have any bearing but at the same time we will be extremely concerned about the possibility of agitation. I want to repeat the reason for which we are leaving West Bengal is because of the agitation by the Opposition parties led by Ms Mamata Banerjee.... We continue to be enthusiastic about what can happen in West Bengal. I just hope that West Bengal can be a state of huge development and not a state which stands still because of agitations, strikes and rallies.

Q: Any message for Mamata Banerjee?

A: No. I would like to believe that there is a rule of law, legal redress, that there is a solution to problems without agitation, violence, without threats — that we will not let a single Nano roll out of the plant. How do we go into production with that kind of a statement being made?

Q: Are you doing justice to the age-old Tatas’ philosophy of nation-building?

A: May I respond to that rather aggressively. Are you not addressing the wrong person for that? Am I pulling out on some whim or fancy? Maybe you should ask Ms Banerjee that question.

Q: Is there any possibility that you sit down with the Opposition for discussion?

A: I think that time has come and gone for this investment. A search for a solution could not happen for six months. I don’t know, we don’t have that time. We have been trying for two years in the hope for finding a solution.

Q: About opportunity lost for Bengal.

A: I think certainly, the opportunity for the young people for having jobs, not for just the Nano project, is here today. There will be 100 Nano projects that will come and go. What we have to decide is would the people of West Bengal have a future in industrial development. Will the young people of West Bengal have the opportunity — not because of Nano? Go beyond the Nano…. Will the future generation of West Bengal have the opportunity unless there is investment, industrial investment? One needs to ponder if the way forward is through agitation, rallies, strikes.

Q: You may face similar situation in other parts too?

A: I can’t speak as to what we may face in the country, a decision like this becomes a lonely decision and taken with lot of pain. There is responsibility to our shareholders, we cannot let lie something in limbo, cannot let our investment lie… and I do hope that wherever we move, we can look back and learn a lesson that a congenial environment would allow a project to prosper.

Q: Any equity option to farmers?

A: We are open to anything, any form of dialogue, not through agitation, not means of aggression.

I think, two years ago, I said if somebody puts a gun to my head, you would either have to remove the gun or pull the trigger. I would not move my head. I think Ms Banerjee pulled the trigger.

Q: Any assembly line unit in Bengal?

A: We have received offers from other states and equal to what we received in West Bengal. Nothing more. Eventually, we will certainly have more than one plant and certainly West Bengal could be under consideration.

Q: Any other industry in Singur?

A: You must understand we are manufacturing the car. In Pantnagar, we also have got 1,000 acres: 600 acres for ourselves and 400 acres for vendors. It is not a unique thing. Should the people decide what we need? If we get it, fine. Other people should not tell us what we need to produce a car, in what way. What we need in terms of area, what we need in terms of content. That is something I think should be left to us.

Q: Any change in decision possible if Mamata withdraws her demand?

A: We have now taken a decision. The time has come and gone. It is not good to vacillate back and forth.

Q: Is this a weak government that did not allow the Nano to roll out?

A: I thought the government is damned if they did and damned if they didn’t. If they acted firmly they would be accused of coming down on an Opposition that is in minority. If they didn’t, they were accused of weakness.

Q: Any message for the 11,000 people who accepted the cheques?

A: Don’t ask me that question, I did not agitate, I did not leave on my own desire. Ask the people who created the agitation, who have made it impossible for me to stay.

Q: How pained are you?

A: I am extremely pained. It shatters many dreams many of us have had. There is great pain, but there is also the feeling that this is the right thing, because there is no other option.