KOLKATA, India (AFP) — India's West Bengal state made a last-ditch appeal Friday to vehicle giant Tata Motors not to shift production of the world's cheapest car despite huge protests triggered by a land dispute.
Tata began moving machinery and equipment from the nearly completed factory in West Bengal state on Wednesday after weeks of demonstrations halted construction on the site.
"The chief minister has written to (Tata Group chairman Ratan) Tata requesting him to restart work at the Nano plant at Singur," Industry Minister Nirupam Sen told reporters in state capital Kolkata.
The appeal came as Chief Secretary Amit Kiran Deb said a meeting would be held Sunday between the Marxist state government and senior Tata Motors officials to discuss the future of the plant.
Ratan Tata would meet West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee in state capital Kolkata, he said, without elaborating.
Protesters charge that the government forced farmers to give up their fertile land for a pittance so the plant could be built.
"There might be some people who were creating problems but that's not the voice of all the people and we want to convey it to the Tatas," said Sen, the industry minister.
He added that it would be a "big loss" to the industry-starved state if Tata abandoned the high-profile plant.
The state cabinet on Thursday promised Tata full government assistance for the plant.
However, there was no let-up in the demonstrations as some 5,000 protesters rallied at the plant, demanding the return of expropriated farmland.
"No land, no industry," the protesters shouted. "We won't allow industry on agricultural land."
The company suspended building the site on Kolkata's outskirts late last month.
The plant, which has emerged as a symbol of the clashing interests of India's farmers and industry, could not be a production site unless there was a congenial atmosphere, the company has said.
That possibility appeared more remote after attackers last Monday beat up two security guards at the plant. It was the latest in a string of violent incidents at the site by protesters.
The firm has promised to roll out the car, to be sold for 100,000 rupees (2,150 dollars), in the October to December financial quarter but has said it will try to launch it as close to next month's big-spending festival season as possible.
The company has not said where the vehicle -- dubbed the "People's Car" and aimed at making automobile transport affordable to ordinary Indians -- would alternatively be built, only saying it would be at one of its existing sites.
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