Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Farewell to the Tatas: Costs and benefits of the Tata-Singur Project, a detailed dissection of the deal

October 3, 2008
By Dipankar Basu, Sanhati. Open for comments
Summary of findings:
Costs: the total cost of the Tata-Singur project incurred by the exchequer, and hence ultimately the tax payers, will be approximately be Rs. 3000 crores on a net present value basis when we add up the costs pertaining to the land subsidy, the tax holidays, the soft loan, the real estate gift and the subsidized electricity using an interest rate of 11%. This is about 58% of the total realized industrial investment in the state of West Bengal in 2007.
Benefits: Maximum cap of 12,000 direct jobs with 10% unskilled employment, minus employment destruction. The other claim about the Singur project generating prospective investment in the future rests on equally shaky foundations. The question really boils down to whether the Tata plant can attract other major investments and lead to an industrial rejuvenation of Bengal. The example of Jamshedpur in neighbouring Jharkhand should be carefully looked at. Tata’s factories in Jamshedpur did nothing for the overall industrialization of the state of Bihar or now Jharkhand. It remained an enclave of industrial activity, without forging strong forward or backward linkages in neighbouring areas.
Tata’s net worth versus what they demand from tax-payers: If we add up the figures for the Tata Group’s overseas acquisitions, we arrive at a rough figure of $14,062 million, which converts to roughly Rs. 56,248 crore (using an exchange rate of Rs 40/$), and this is not even a complete list of Tata’s recent acquisitions. And, what does all this lead to? It inevitably leads us to the conclusion that a corporation which can invest more than Rs. 56,000 crores for acquisition of strategic foreign corporate assets requires the financial support of India’s impoverished taxpayers, to the tune of Rs. 1140 crores in real terms, to set up a small car manufacturing plant in India!
A discussion of TINA is given.
Cost and Benfits
The Agreement
Land “Acquisition” and Use
Total Cost of the Project
Hidden Land Subsidy
Cost of Circumventing the Law
Soft Loans and Tax
More Gifts from Santa: Real Estate and Subsidized Electricity
Adding up the Costs
What are the Benefits?
Oh! So Poor Tata
TINA Logic
Agreement between Tata Motors Ltd., Government of West Bengal and WBIDC
Singur stands for many, often contradictory, things. It stands for the model of neoliberal industrialization that the Indian state is trying to push down the throats of it’s citizens at the behest of big capital. It stands for the unprincipled and populist politics of dormant right-wing forces. It stands for the abject surrender of an erstwhile communist party to the dictates of capital, the full flowering of a tendency that surfaced in the Indian political firmament circa 1967. But Singur also stands for the struggle of labour against capital, decidedly in confused and masked manners, but a struggle that has the potential to galvanize resistance against neoliberalism. When the Tata Group, forced by the long-standing struggle of the small farmers and landless labourers in Singur, was reported to be planning a move to Pantnagar in Uttarakhand, there were simultaneous reports of a possible Singur waiting for them in Pantnagar. A Singur in Pantnagar! That is the real significance of the struggle of the landless labourers and peasants of Singur.
Right from day one, the West Bengal government and the mainstream media has been building up the case for the manufacturing plant in Singur on the basis of half-truths and untruths. For a long time, the West Bengal government continued denying the fact that it had “acquired” a large tract of the proposed 1000 acres from unwilling farmers by using coercion, strong-arm tactics and certainly without their consent. Towards the later part of 2006, after considerable protests and a public hearing organized by intellectuals and activists, it had to finally accept it’s own earlier statements as false. Now it is known by all and sundry that 411.11 acres of the total 997.1 acres has been acquired without consent of the relevant farmers. For a long time, again, the West Bengal government continued denying the fact that most of the land that was sought to be “acquired” was fertile and multi-cropped agricultural land. It was only when earlier this year the Supreme Court pointed towards a possible violation of the Land Acquisition Act, responding to a petition filed for immediate halt of the Nano car project, that the West Bengal government finally accepted that it had been willfully misleading the public in this regard for so long; the SC had pointed out that acquiring and using fertile, multi-crop agricultural land for industrial purposes goes against even the Land Acquisition Act, which the West Bengal government was, paradoxically, trying to use to “acquire” that land. Now it has been established beyond any shadow of doubt that the land on which the proposed plant is to come up is, in the main, fertile, multi-cropped agricultural land. Another myth that had been in circulation for some time was the following: the land in Singur could not be used for agricultural purposes for most parts of the year because of water logging. This claim has also been contested and shown to be untrue. Now it is accepted by all serious commentators that the land had, before being fenced off by the West Bengal police, been in constant use throughout the year for growing various agricultural crops, and that it provided livelihood for more than 12,000 families. Even though these and other such claims of the West Bengal government and the mainstream media have been refuted point by point, over and over again, with facts and arguments and lot of patience and care, they keep turning up ever and ever again like bad coins. They will, as long as the social forces whose interest they represent continue their efforts to hegemonize society; and we will continue refuting them point by point, with patience and care and logic and facts.
But even when these particular canards are discounted, there seems to be a larger argument for industrialization that Singur purportedly represents. The West Bengal government and large sections of the mainstream media tend to equate Singur with industrialization and portray any and every opposition to Singur as opposition to industrialization. The apparent strength, or shall we say charm, of this argument becomes obvious when we see even an preeminent thinker like Amartya Sen falling for it. But this argument is deeply flawed. Opposition to Singur is not opposition to industrialization, it is opposition to neoliberal capitalist industrialization. Opposition to Singur is opposition to the conflation of industrialization with neoliberalism, a scenario where the State steps up it’s efforts to subsidize capital and shore up it’s profits while capital externalizes it’s costs onto labour and the environment with impunity. It is this model of industrialization that we oppose.
An alternative model of industrialization, as far as we can see, would operate in an exactly opposite fashion. It would tax capital and not subsidize it, prevent capital from externalizing it’s costs onto labour and the environment rather than facilitating it, intervene in decisions related to the choice of technique to be used in production, force private capital to do proper cost-benefit analysis before embarking on a (socially) costly industrial project, intervene through fiscal and monetary policy to maintain overall levels of aggregate demand and try to ensure full employment with living wages for workers. In the alternative vision, the State would use tax revenues to build infrastructure, provide social sector services and closely monitor and improve the well-being of the people. Singur, and the model of industrialization that it stands, takes us in the exact opposite direction; that is why it needs to be opposed. It destroys livelihoods tied to agriculture without creating compensating jobs in industry, it willfully snatches away fertile, multi-crop agricultural land for industrial purposes when so much fallow (and other unused and misused) land is there to be used, it externalizes the costs of production on the most vulnerable sections of the population and the environment, and all this while the State steps in to massively subsidize private capital even further. If, therefore, due to the struggle of the project affected people the Tata’s finally leave West Bengal, it should call for rejoicing not for middle-class chest-beating that is so much on display these days. For it would be one of the important victories in the emerging struggle against neoliberalism in India.Cost and Benfits
In this article we will try to study details of the costs and benefits of the proposed manufacturing plant in Singur on the basis of information that is available in the public domain. But a caveat is necessary. This is not a full blown cost-benefit analysis because we shall not venture to quantify the indirect benefits of possible net employment generation and the income that might arise from there. At this point, it is not even clear whether there will be positive net employment generation; it is not at all obvious, in other words, that the employment destruction entailed by the project will be exceeded by the employment generated by it. Moreover, a full cost-benefit analysis would require much more information than has presently been made available by the West bengal government; on the basis of the available information, which pertains mostly to the benfits that the West Bengal government plans to make available to the Tata’s, we shall mainly try to approximately quantify the costs to the exchequer, and ultimately to the people of the state.
A careful study of the details relating to the proposed project in Singur, to the extent possible by the publicly available information, is important for two main reasons. First, it is important to do a dispassionate analysis of the costs and benefits of this project; since the West Bengal government has been continually making largely unsubstantiated claims about the putative benefits of this project, it is high time we carefully analyzed the foundations of this claim. Second, this project is very much in line with the current trend of neoliberal capitalist industrialization in India anchored tightly in the visions of the Special Economic Zones (SEZs); hence a study of this project will highlight, and help us evaluate, many of the important characteristics of neoliberal capitalist industrialization that has been envisioned and aggressively pushed by the Indian state since the early 1990s. Parenthetically, one should also note how acceptance of the logic this project signals the gradual dissolving of social democracy in India: from”managing” the conflict between labour and capital, social democrats are increasingly moving towards “managing” labour for capital.
The main document that we will use for the purposes of this study is the text of the recent “agreement” signed between the Government of West Bengal, the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation (WBIDC) and the Tata Motor Ltd. (TML) pertaining to the proposed manufacturing plant in Singur. By a careful analysis of the information contained in this document, and complementing this with some more information from other sources we will, hopefully, be able to arrive at a true picture of the costs and benefits of this project. But before we get into the nitty-gritty of the agreement, let us remind ourselves about the severe difficulties that we have faced over the past few years in just trying to get hold of the information that is relevant to this project. Recall that the details of the “deal” wasn’t made public initially because the West Bengal government believed it was a “trade secret”. Once this argument was properly trashed, the government shifted gears. During this period, it wasn’t made public despite repeated Right To Information (RTI) applications because, according to the government, the Tatas didn’t want it to be made public! Finally what has been made public, mainly because of pressure from the standing committee on industry of the West Bengal state assembly, are only parts of the “deal”; this all we have for the purposes of study and analysis. The TML filed a case in the Calcutta High Court and got a stay against the rest of it being made public. What is there in the rest of it? We, and the more than 12000 project affected families in Singur, can only guess. The entire episode, to say the least, is patently undemocratic, and makes a mockery of the intent of the recently passed Right to Information Act. One does not, of course, discern even an iota of concern about this important matter displayed by the “peoples’ government” in West Bengal!

To read the entire article click Farewell to the Tatas: Costs and benefits of the Tata-Singur Project, a detailed dissection of the deal at Sanhati
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