Nano: Plan B off Singur

In last fifty plus years West Bengal has not changed, not even a little. At least whatever has happened between yesterday and today proves that. In morning, a group of agitators, some call them naxlites, stopped and threatened the workers and officers going inside the factory of Tata Motors that is coming up in Singur fast to manufacture the most innovative car ‘Nano’. In evening, workers coming out traveling in 4-5 buses were stopped and intimidated. They had to stay inside. Tata decided to suspend the work and to evacuate its manpower from the plant keeping their safety and security in view. Engineers, executives and technocrats including about 500 construction workers didn’t come to work next day. As such the number of workers attending the plant had dropped drastically. Attendance has been gradually decreasing ever since the agitation started. Ultimately, Tata Motors has stopped work in Singur, and are waiting for the settlement between the leadership of agitators and the government.

CII condemned, ‘The Nano project had caught the attention of the world and showcased India’s potential as a small car-manufacturing hub’. Top industry leaders: Mukesh Ambani, Sunil Mittal, Jamshyd Godrej, Gautam Thapar, Venu Srinivasan apart from K V Kamath, President of CII warned that the country would suffer a big setback if Tata Motors was forced to withdraw the small car project from West Bengal.

Buddha is mum waiting in vain to get the problem solved. He has already been reprimanded for his remarks about the right of strike. It has been left for the CPM secretary to appeal Mamta to break the stalemate. The state government is renewing its appeal for a peaceful settlement of the Singur imbroglio. The Centre with help of Amar Singh could have helped, but its ministers are having different opinions with Kamalnath infavour to help resolve the issue and Sibal as well PR DasMunsi against it. And economist turned politician Man Mohan Singh will hardly take any initiative after the recent humiliation by left leadership. For the politicians, unfortunately, Nano project hardly matters.

Mamta reaffirmed her faith in peaceful agitation with no violence, but at the same time she showed her disinclination to take responsibility of individuals who might have threatened. And this is what the leaders fail to appreciate before starting an agitation. In a country with millions without work and many millions not interested in working, the starting an agitation is easy, as it becomes a tamasa. But controlling the violence and intimidation is difficult. Mamta can’t shirk away her responsibility for the individual’s lapses. Why can’t she organize agitation in Kolkata instead of blocking the expressway? Perhaps as usually it happens, she has stopped hearing the call of time or she has gone mad because of her allusive mass support. One can’t hope of any change in her. Perhaps, even Mayawati is better than her.

Plan B: Media has started guessing about Plan B for Nano if Singur plant doesn’t start production because of the obstruction caused by the agitation of Mamata and her men and if Leftist government under Buddha can’t find a solution fast.
As reported, Tata Motors have started working on a Plan B for the Nano and is gearing up to roll out a couple of thousand units a month from its Pantnagar plant in Uttarakhand. As reported, the paint shop for ACE can meet the requirement for Nano. Sheet metal panels can come from the other plants of Tata Motors and vendors. I don’t know if Tata Motors has farmed out the main components of power train or is trying to produce in-house. For the volume of Nano, it is normally planned in-house. However, it all depends on the number of dedicated and flexible machine tools and equipment planned in manufacturing process. For the body shop, main jigs are dedicated. Tata Motors will have to build a second one or shift one at Singur. Any shifting of equipment and machinery from Singur will be resisted and make the problem more difficult. Trim and final assembly can easily start at Uttarakhand plant on the same conveyor line. As it appears from the visuals of the plant, a lot of work is still to be done. Most of the vendors might have been planning to supply initially from the existing plants. If Tata Motors decides and manages the shift well, the loss at present will mainly be that of the cost of buildings and land.

As it appears West Bengal is not changing its work culture because of the same old mindsets of the union leaders, be they from any party. It will be much better if Tata Motors decides to shift. The plant at Singur can remain as one of the plants for high volume Nano, but not the mother plant.

Even if somehow the Nano plant comes up in Singur, the so-called union leaders of different hues will keep on creating problems that will not allow the plant to operate at global productivity level. I can’t but get reminded of the days of Hindustan Motors and its labour problems, where I got assaulted as I followed what was right for the workmen and the company. The union representatives will not allow getting a new machine improving production and quality started. It will demand incentive norms without following any industrial engineering norms. It will not allow multi-skilling. If one union will agree, the other will oppose. Perhaps I must write the reminiscences of those days.

I am sure Tata Motors must have a strategy to overcome this shameful situation created by politicians’ ego and well supported by so-called activists. However, Nano must come and come fast.

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