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KOLKATA, India (AFP) — An Indian court gave the green light Friday to the controversial acquisition of land for a Tata Motor plant to build the world’s cheapest car, the Nano.
The ruling by the Calcutta High Court came just a week after a model of the no-frills 2,500-dollar car was unveiled amid huge hoopla at a New Delhi auto show with experts saying it could revolutionise how millions travel.
Violent protests erupted against the takeover by West Bengal’s Marxist state government — which has been vigorously wooing private investment — of the nearly 1,000 acres (400 hectares) of farmland for the plant.
Some farmers charged that the government took their land in Singhur, 50 kilometers (30 miles) north of state capital Kolkata, against their will, and that they had been paid half the market value.
But the court rejected arguments that the acreage for the 10-billion-rupee (226 million dollar) plant was acquired illegally.
There was “no colourable exercise of power” by the state government in acquiring the land, Chief Justice S.S. Nijjar and Justice P.C. Ghosh said, dismissing all the 11 petitions challenging the land acquisition process.
A Tata Motors official would not comment on the court decision, saying it was up to the state government.
But the company “is moving along on target” for the jelly-bean shaped car, called the Nano, to roll off production lines in the second half of the financial year to March 2008, said the official, who wished to remain unnamed.
“This (court order) will definitely strengthen the industrial drive in the state,” West Bengal’s Industry Minister Nirupam Sen told reporters in Kolkata.
“There is provision of appealing to the Supreme Court but I don’t think there will be any opposition to the High Court order,” he added.
Work began on the factory in Singhur, 50 kilometers (30 miles) north of state capital Kolkata in January 2007 with the approval of the state’s industrial development corporation.
Tata has said the plant which will have an initial annual production output of 250,000 units, rising later to 350,000, will create more than 10,000 jobs in the region.
Opponents say 1,200 sharecroppers and 300 agricultural labourers in five villages derived their living from the land.
West Bengal, which has the world’s longest serving democratically elected communist government, has been energetically pushing creation of a pro-business climate after years of promoting land reforms and “peasant empowerment.”
“The support we got from the West Bengal government during our difficult times has been of great help in making my dream come true. This will pave the way for further investments in the region,” Tata Group chief Ratan Tata said last week when unveiling the Nano.
The state government has argued acquisition of land for industrial projects is imperative for development of the state where poverty is acute.
But strikes by opponents critics who accuse the government of selling out the rights of the poor have blemished its reformist efforts to lure investment.
At least 34 people died in protests in Nandigram village in West Bengal last year as locals clashed with police and local government supporters over plans to acquire land for a low-tax Special Economic Zone.
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