Some pertinent questions

These questions pertain to the drama going on in West Bengal, India over the past two years. They have intensified of late since the industrial house of Tata, which has announced the world's 'cheapest' car in collaboration with Fiat & Marco Polo of Italy has a deadline to meet. It has promised its potential customers & investors that the first vehicles will roll out by October 2008.

This piece is not to go into the whole background & history of the West Bengal Govt's 'secret' deal with the house of Tatas, the political compulsions & expediencies which have prompted the main opposition party, Trinamool Congress to take up the cudgels on behalf of the unwilling farmers who have been dispossessed of their land virtually forcibly or the overall state of industrialization in West Bengal. There are numerous articles and pieces available which describe all that, though mostly with a pronounced slant one way or the other. I have provided a couple of handy links here (title line & link above) for those who may be interested.

Let's now get onto the questions.

  1. Given the inadequate infrastructure in terms of roads & parking spaces across most Indian cities & towns and the spectre of deadly pollution and an all too-frequent smog, does India need a small, cheap car? Would improving the road infrastructure, controlling environmental factors & significantly improving & enhancing public transportation facilities not be much higher priorities instead?
  2. Producing the world's cheapest car means cost cuttings & savings all around if the organization wants to achieve decent profits from the venture, which the Tatas most certainly do. This among other things would translate into a high degree of automation, high productivity & cheap labour among many other factors. What then is the employment potential for a bunch of unskilled farmers and farm hands who would now be forced to seek employment having been dispossessed of their lands? How many of them can indeed be accommodated and at what level of wages? By promising them employment opportunities and a better future has the government & administration sold them a lemon instead?
  3. In a country which has a vigorous democracy and where both federal and state governments are democratically elected, can a state government enter into a 'secret' deal with a business organization, ostensibly with a view to carrying out a covert land-grab operation at well below 'market' prices, dispossessing many farmers in the process and using state funds to subsidize & sweeten the deal for the industrial house? Can it also promise to promote the product in all ways possible, given that its politicians are totally inept & virtually clueless about business and its officials are mostly a bunch of 'crusty' bureaucrats with little or no understanding of business matters & issues as well?
  4. Given that the ruling party in West Bengal has been opposing vigorously a government to government deal like the Nuclear deal entered into by the Govt. of India with the U.S. administration and even decided to withdraw support when the govt. decided to press ahead with it, how can it be entering into 'messy' & 'unclean' deals where equity, transparency & fairness are markedly lacking, with a business house ?
  5. Since the state government played such an interventionist role in the whole episode, what does it plan to do for those farmers who were dispossessed of their lands and cannot or do not want to become ill-paid unskilled labourers for the Tata Nano plant?
  6. The world's cheapest small car should have been made possible by engineering innovation and manufacturing efficiencies, planning & cost control. Instead if it is happening owing to virtually throwaway prices for land further topped up by huge subsidies given out by the state government. Has the end-user price of Rs. 1 lakh been achieved through dubious means and is it an artificially depressed price?
  7. What checks & balances are needed to prevent a democratically elected state government pledging Rs. 2000 million of state funds to nurture greenfield & experimental projects, specially when it is well known that the State Government's financial savvy is highly questionable and its coffers are nowhere near being full?
  8. In a federal set-up, does the state government have the right to vilify, question & abuse the nominated governor of the state, specially when the person in question is known to be a very fair, mature & decent gentleman?
  9. Is the media playing a balanced role generally in this whole controversy or are large sections of it, acting under various influences, functioning either as the handmaidens of the Tatas or the State Government or the major opposition party?
  10. Are Trinamool Congress & its leader Mamata Banerjee mere rabble-rousers, as they have been portrayed by a section of the media, or are they fighting for a fair and just cause?

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