Nano Project: From Singur to Sanand

Tata Motors has really moved fast. It has not only dropped the Singur as the mother plant for manufacturing its prestigious Nano cars, but also quickly taken the decision to shift to Gujarat and signed the Memorandum of Understanding with Gujarat government too.

Modi has given Tatas 1,000 acres of land in Sanand, 30 kms from Ahmedabad. It’s a land of Anand Agriculture University. Uttarankhand has also given the land of GB Pant Agricultural University to Tata Motors and other automakers in Rudrapur. Naturally, one can have few questions. Why was the university allotted so big land initially? Was it not for experimentation of agricultural innovations originating from the researchers at the universities? Why has it gone access? Was it access without any proper planning initially itself? Have the universities become complacent rather ineffective in its task of researches for the Indian farmers who feed the nation or export? Or do the political leaders, be it Tiwari or Modi force the universities to spare the fertile land of agricultural experimentation to attract the big businesses? Unfortunately, I don’t have answers for these questions and those who can provide will not do that at least in the interest of the nation.

Let me confess that I am pretty happy with Tata Motors’ choice for Gujarat (Sanand). I consider myself one of the first to perhaps suggest Gujarat as possible location in one of my writings, when the dispute at Singur started troubling Tata Motors’ dream project. There are some more reasons for my happiness. I was one of the key players for an automobile plant near Vadodara that Hindustan Motors set up to produce trucks in collaboration with Isuzu Motors of Japan. I cherish many good memories of those days when I used to visit the place quite often with Japanese technical staffs, executives and bankers. Hindustan Motors failed to produce Isuzu trucks from Vadodara plant as it took a lot of time and in the process yen appreciated high enough to make the project unviable. The untimely death of Mr. NK Birla, an aggressive executor and mishandling of the project implementation by the executives hired by the management from TELCO (present Tata Motors) were also the reason to suspend the project after producing few hundreds from the CKDs. Ultimately, Hindustan Motors handed over the plant to General Motors when it entered India to produce cars. I still wonder why GM selected Vadodara as location for manufacturing cars. Vadodara didn’t have any infrastructure in those days required for car industry. GM has gone for its second plant that it is setting up in Maharashtra.

Interestingly, Hindustan Motors had initially started automobile assembly operation near Okha Port in Gujarat in early 40s. In late 40s, it got shifted at Hind Motor near Calcutta. Some one has called Tata Motors’ selection of Gujarat for location of Nano mother plant after driving out of Singur that is so near to Hind Motor as a sweet revenge for Gujarat. However, I don’t agree to that.

I still repeat my appeal to the plant engineers and industrial engineers as well as senior executives to innovate on the concept of the buildings for a car manufacturing and go up in height with multi-floors or with any other concept that minimizes the land requirement. Land resources of the country are limited. Can they educate the country with some benchmark figures from auto plants of similar scale of production in Japan and South Korea? I remember my recommending Buddha Babu to request Birlas to give its 743-acre plant at Hind Motor that is almost dead and most of its land has now been sold to some realtor. I don’t know if Birlas paid for the land to the then West Bengal government, and if at all it did how much.

However, West Bengal must create a condition so that Tata Motors can have an assembly plant in the buildings already constructed at Singur. For cars planned at extra low cost, East India that will have to grow fast will be the best market. And the 1- million or more volume projected for Nano and various models based on its platform may require a number of assembly plants, perhaps one in each zone.

I wish Tata Motors could do a faster work at Sanand with neither monsoon nor Mamta to trouble. Let Bengalis for the time being be happy with the outsized model of Nano, the ultra-cheap car from Tata Motors at the Durga Pooja festival in Kolkata this year. Let Modi win over Mamta and her rival Buddha, more so over Bengal.

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