An Editorial in thestatesman.net on 22 November 2008: The Statesman
Reveal & seal - Bengal’s agreement with the Tatas
The move has been initiated close to two months after Singur was relegated to the footnotes of West Bengal’s economic history. The state’s trusted and tightlipped information commissioner has directed Tata Motors to submit on 24 November ~ under sealed cover ~ a copy of its agreement on the Nano project, including the “undisclosed portion”. The directive, issued under the Right To Information Act, is itself a contradiction in terms, arguably to protect both the government and the investor who wasn’t. The “sealed cover” clause knocks the bottom of the concept of transparency that the Act is supposed to uphold. Ergo, it remains an open question as to when hoi-polloi will be entitled to know the details, if ever. It is quite obvious that the information will be disseminated on the commission’s terms. No less uncertain is whether, if at all, the nitty-gritty of the agreement will be put in the public domain. Since May 2006, when the agreement was signed, the government, the facilitator called the WBIDC and the Tatas have been uniformly against disclosing the details of a matter of tremendous public import, specifically the use of farmland for a corporate enterprise. The secretive attitude can be said to be quite the contrary to that of the Election Commission which has now disclosed ~ under the RTI Act ~ that commissioner and Congress acolyte Navin Chawla was in favour of postponement of the Karnataka assembly election. Nirvachan Sadan has been forthright enough to reveal the differences on its website.
Alas, one can’t be quite so optimistic in the case of Bengal. Tata Motors is reported to have urged the state information commission to keep the “undisclosed portion confidential”, including details of the car’s design. This is at best a matter of technical interest, one that can scarcely arouse the curiosity of the dispossessed peasant. What pertains to public interest must be disclosed, however inordinately long the delay. And what ought to be on the website with urgent despatch is data on the extent of land acquisition and the price the Tatas have paid, tax rebates, the share of the Tatas, the government and financial institutions in the development of infrastructure, and the social aspects, pre-eminently compensation and employment generation. These are in the realm of basic data for those whose land has been acquired. Any attempt at further hedging by the government, the Tatas or for that matter the information commission, will reduce this invocation of the RTI Act to a deceptively meaningless charade.
Tata Motors moves HC on Singur land allotment
The HINDU, December 3, 2008
Kolkata (PTI): Tata Motors has approached the Calcutta High Court against an RTI application seeking details of its agreement with the West Bengal government on the land allotment at Singur, from where the company has since moved out.
The company on Tuesday challenged before the High court the RTI Commissioner's competence to deal with the matter, with its counsel submitting before Justice Dipankar Dutta that the Right to Information Act was not applicable in case of an agreement involving industrial secrets.
Justice Dutta has scheduled the matter for hearing on Friday.
The company said in its petition that as the Nano project has been shifted to Gujarat from West Bengal, there was no logic in seeking to know a deal which has fallen through.
Justice Dutta had on September 26 set aside an earlier order of the information commissioner here on Tata Motors' plea that it had not been given a chance to be heard by the commissioner before ordering revelation of the agreement.
The court had then directed the commissioner to hear the matter afresh giving all parties fair chance to be heard.
However, after one hearing, Tata Motors moved the High Court again with the fresh plea and Justice Dutta took it up yesterday.
The prestigious Nano car project was shifted to Gujarat following prolonged agitation by unwilling farmers demanding return of land.
High Court asks petitioners to move info panel for details on Nano deal
In a breather for two petitioners who had sought details of the agreement between Tata Motors and West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation (WBIDC) on setting up of a Nano factory at Singur, the Calcutta High Court today said they could seek approach the State Information Commission for the same.
Amitava Chaudhury, an RTI activist, and Partha Chatterjee, leader of the Opposition in the state Assembly, filed petitions in 2007 before the State Information Commission for disclosure of the agreement between Tata Motors and WBIDC.
In 2008-end, the Information Commission asked WBIDC to hand over the agreement in a sealed cover. Following this, Tata Motors filed a petition in the Calcutta High Court with the contention that the Information Commission could not pass such orders as it had not been properly constituted. At that point of time, the Information Commission was run by Chief Information Commissioner Arun Bhattacharya.
Tata Motors had contended that the Information Commission had not been constituted properly as it was run by only the Chief Information Commissioner. Two month ago, Sujit Sarkar, a former IPS officer of the state, was appointed Commissioner of the Information Commission.
KOLKATA: What was under the wraps as a "trade secret" may come to light on Thursday. Chief minister Mamata Banerjee announced on Wednesday her government will make the Left Front regime's controversial deal with the Tatas public.
Mamata reiterated the government's decision to return 400 acres of land in Singur acquired from unwilling farmers. In the same breath, she welcomed the Tatas to Singur. "They are most welcome to set up their factory in Singur," Mamata said.
The move is being construed as a gesture that the ma, mati, manush government has nothing to hide, or a strategy to corner signatories of the deal ministers of the Left Front government who allegedly offered the Singur land to the Tatas at a throwaway price. "We had wanted the document made public, so it will be made public," she said after her second cabinet meeting as chief minister.
She sounded positive about the Tatas. "I have received a congratulatory letter from them and shall give my reply shortly. That's courtesy, isn't it?" the chief minister said with a smile.
Former industries minister Nirupam Sen had tabled a synopsis of the deal in the Bengal assembly, presenting the highlights and the payment procedure by the Tatas. According to the deal, Tata Motors has to pay `1 crore as lease rent for five years for 997.11 acres of acquired land. The lease rent would increase by 25% between five and 30 years, and by 30% between 30 and 60 years. The deal says the company has to pay `20 crore each year between 60 and 90 years. The Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government also granted a soft loan of `200 crore to the Tatas at 1% interest, plus tax breaks and subsidised electricity supply at `3 per unit. There was no upfront amount fixed for the Nano mother plant that was planned over 645.47 acres of land in Singur, according to the deal struck by the Left Front government with the Tatas. However, the government charged an annual lease rent of Rs 8,000 per acre for the 290 acres vendor park.
This data was uploaded on the government website but removed after Tata Motors moved Calcutta high court against the State Information Commission to prevent it from releasing the "secret" sections of the deal. Justice Dipankar Dutta stayed the commission's move for two weeks from September 8, 2008.
Isn't the matter sub-judice? "The stay continues, but I am sure the government has taken legal advice before deciding on revealing the agreement," said lawyer Arunava Ghosh.
Soon after the court order, the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government went silent on the deal saying it was a trade secret. The then Leader of the Opposition Partha Chatterjee didn't even get a reply under RTI Act. The Left Front government cited Section 8-1 (d) of RTI Act to say that it does not have to disclose matters it feels are a trade secret. The Opposition, on the other hand, argued that it was mandatory under the Land Acquisition Act, Part VII, to disclose the deal when land has been acquired for a company. The division bench dismissed this petition.
Now, Chatterjee as industries minister has got hold of the agreement and has shown it to Mamata Banerjee. When the media asked the CM about it on Wednesday, she said: "Our government has no trade secret. We are only bound by Cabinet secrecy." She said she had received documents relating to the Tata's agreement with WBIDC on the small car factory at Singur. "Partha da (industries minister) will study the papers and let you know tomorrow," she said.
Chatterjee, perhaps realising the legal implications involved, said on Wednesday evening that they are "taking legal advice on how to disclose the agreement". He added: "Singur is only a part of the Left Front government dealings with the Tatas."
Legal complications stop Mamata govt from making Singur agreement public
A day after Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said the agreement signed between Tata Motors and the Left Front government for the Nano project in Singur could be put in the public domain as early as today, commerce and industry minister Partha Chatterjee today hinted the process might get delayed because of legal complications.
“There are some legal complications which we hope will be sorted out soon. We have discussed all related issues to the agreement with our officials. We have collected all the papers and will show all these to our Chief Minister,” Partha Chatterjee said after a meeting with West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation (WBIDC) officials here.
The state government is also taking opinion of its legal department on this. “I have seen the papers. I am consulting with all the concerned departments including the legal department,” he said.
Incidentally, an application under Right to Information (RTI) had been filed in 2008 to make the agreement public. After the Left Front-led West Bengal government made a part of it public, Tata Motors had challenged it and moved Calcutta High Court, which gave an interim injunction and directed Chief Information Commissioner, the appellate authority under the RTI Act, to hear the case. However, there had been no further ruling on this.
When asked whether HC ruling was a hindrance for the government to make the agreement public, Chatterjee said, “We are taking all matters into account. Tata is not the only party involved in this, about 54 vendors were also involved. Though some of them were involved only in paper not in reality. So, we won't be doing anything that creates further complications.”
Though the Chief Minster had said on Wednesday that all documents related to the agreement would be made public in a day or two, her cabinet colleague and Commerce and Industry minister Partha Chatterjee refused to give any deadline for this.
“I am very hopeful. I can not say anything else. I was just asked by our Chief Minister to examine the papers. I am doing that and need some more time for that,” he said.
The demand to make it public was a long standing one, from the Trinamool Congress, when in the opposition. Banerjee yesterday said, it was our commitment to make this agreement public.