The wheel has turned a full circle. Eleven years after the Tatas pulled out the Nano project from Singur, a move that resurrected the political fortunes of the Trinamool Congress (TMC), the party is showcasing the diversified conglomerate's growing clout in the state as part of its election drive.
The 15th episode of #Outside Parliament, a web series by the TMC's parliamentary leader, Derek O' Brien, is titled Tata Companies Trust Bengal.
Against the backdrop of the Biswa Bangla Gate — a few metres from the Biswa Bangla Convention Centre — which hosts the state’s annual investor summit, Bengal Global Business Summit, O'Brien drives home the point with two recent examples: Tata Hitachi is moving a large part of their operation from Jharkhand to Kharagpur, and Tata Sponge is shifting its registered office. The two companies have their set of reasons.
A senior Tata Steel official explained Tata Sponge had grown beyond sponge and beyond Odisha with the acquisition of the steel assets of Usha Martin.
“It was important that they are based out of Kolkata or Mumbai. Since almost all their activities are in the east, we chose Kolkata where we have a few other subsidiaries registered,” he said.
Tata Sponge was potentially Tata Steel’s vehicle for long products acquisitions. Subject to requisite approvals, the company would be renamed Tata Steel Long Products.
Tata Hitachi, on the other hand, had always planned to move its operations to Bengal as the land in Jamshedpur belonged to Tata Motors. The Tata Hitachi management refused to comment.
Tata Hitachi, which is 40 per cent owned by Tata Motors, was said to be a twin project of Nano as they were announced together in 2006 by Ratan Tata, then at the helm of the Tata Group.
Tatas pulled out Nano in 2008 after an indefinite agitation led by the TMC. But Tata Hitachi continued with its operations.
Ahead of the elections, the relocation of the two Tata companies is certainly a shot in the arm for the Trinamool government, which has been branded a “speedbreaker” (to development).
Former professor of economics at the Indian Statistical Institute, Dipankar Dasgupta, said, relocation of the Tata businesses would go in favour of the present government and improve the status of Bengal.
The Tatas are anyway one of the largest private sector employers in the state. TCS alone employs 41,000 people and has taken an additional 20 acres in Bengal Silicon Valley, which will have an additional headcount of 15,000. This is in spite of the Singur experience. In every era, industry in Bengal has been a casualty of political excesses. "Labour laws were flouted during the Marxist regime and companies could not deal with it and left," Dasgupta pointed out.
If the 1960s-70s were marked by the Naxal uprising, then the 80s through to the 90s could be referred to as the period of militant trade unionism. That, coupled with a slow moving economy spurred the exit of many companies, from Bata, to tea major, Brooke Bond India to ICI India, Shaw Wallace, the Singhanias of J K Tyre and electronics giant Philips India, all deserted Bengal.
Whether the current government can turn the tide remains to be seen.
On the road
- Tatas are one of the largest employers in Bengal
- TCS employs 41,000 people and has taken an additional 20 acres in Bengal Silicon Valley
- Listed Tata companies already having registered office in Bengal: Tata Global Beverages, Tata Metaliks, Tinplate
- Company of India Ltd