News & Current Affairs

September 8, 2008

Nano car plant protest suspended

Nano car plant protest suspended

Mamata Banerjee at the protest outside Nano plant

Opposition groups described the agreement as big victory

Opposition groups in the Indian state of West Bengal who have been blocking construction work at a Tata Motors plant have suspended their protests.

The move came after the state government promised to return some land at the plant site that is owned by the government.

Tata Motors stopped work last week on the plant where it plans to build the Nano, the world’s cheapest car.

Tata had threatened to move production elsewhere if the protests continued.

“The government has taken the decision to respond to the demand of those farmers who have not received compensation,” said Gopalkrishna Gandhi, the governor of West Bengal.

‘Big victory’

Mamata Banerjee, the leader of the main opposition Trinamul Congress party leading the protests, described the agreement as a big victory.

A committee is to decide the details of the land return next week.

Tata did not take part in the talks between the West Bengal government and the protesters.

The government agreed to return the maximum possible land within the plant site outside Calcutta to “unwilling farmers” who were against acquisition of their farms.

The opposition groups, led by the Trinamul Congress party, agreed to the government’s proposal to provide the rest from around the plant site.

Nano car

Tata Motors, India’s biggest vehicle makers, will retain 650 acres of land for the plant. The ancillary factories for the plant will get the 290 acres allotted to them.

West Bengal chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya said that the government had some land inside the plant site where it had planned some commercial parks and a green patch.

“That land may be given to the farmers,” he said.

The West Bengal governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi said the agreement was a “victory for all, for industry and agriculture, for the government and the opposition”.

Tata had faced violent protests and political opposition over the acquisition of farmland for the factory in Singur in the state of West Bengal.

Tata’s owner, Ratan Tata, has said he will consider moving production of the Nano out of West Bengal if unrest around the plant continues.

Tata plans to launch the Nano later this year, priced at about $2,500 (£1,370) from the plant in West Bengal.

India’s rapid industrialization in recent years has been the backbone of the country’s strong economic growth.

But this process has provoked a backlash since the majority of Indians still earn their living off the land.

The policy of creating special economic zones to attract new investment has provided a focal point for the anger of poorer, rural families who rely on their land for food and income.

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‘Climate crisis’ needs brain gain

‘Climate crisis’ needs brain gain

CMS (M. Brice/Cern)

The UK alone has invested more than half-a-billion pounds in the LHC

The most brilliant minds should be directed to solving Earth’s greatest challenges, such as climate change, says Sir David King.

The former UK chief scientist will use his presidential address at the BA Science Festival to call for a gear-change among innovative thinkers.

He will suggest that less time and money is spent on endeavors such as space exploration and particle physics.

He says population growth and poverty in Africa also demand attention.

“The challenges of the 21st Century are qualitatively different from anything that we’ve had to face up to before,” he told reporters before the opening of the festival, which is being held this year in Liverpool.

“This requires a re-think of priorities in science and technology and a redrawing of our society’s inner attitudes towards science and technology.”

Huge expense

Sir David’s remarks will be controversial because they are being made just as the UK is about to celebrate its participation in the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s biggest physics experiment.

The Collider, built at the Cern laboratory under the Swiss-French border, is starting full operations this Wednesday.

It will seek to understand the building blocks of matter, and, in particular, try to find a mechanism that can explain why matter has mass.

This international venture is extremely expensive, however. The UK alone has contributed more than £500m to the LHC – the largest sum of money to date invested by a UK government in a single scientific project.

Sir David said it was time such funding – and the brains it supports – were pushed to answering more pressing concerns.

“It’s all very well to demonstrate that we can land a craft on Mars, it’s all very well to discover whether or not there is a Higgs boson (a potential mass mechanism); but I would just suggest that we need to pull people towards perhaps the bigger challenges where the outcome for our civilization is really crucial.”

Big ideas

Chief among these challenges for Sir David is the issue of climate change. When he was the government’s top scientist, he made the famous remark that the threat from climate change was bigger than the threat posed by terrorism.

He said alternatives to fossil fuels were desperately needed to power a civilization that would number some nine billion people by mid-century – nine billion people who would all expect a high standard of living.

“We will have to re-gear our thinking because our entire civilization depends on energy production, and we have been producing that energy very largely through fossil fuels; and we will have to remove our dependence from fossil fuels virtually completely, or we will have to learn how to capture carbon dioxide from fossil fuel usage,” he said.

Finding and exploiting clean energy sources was now imperative, he said; and Sir David questioned whether the spending on particle physics research in the shape of Cern’s Large Hadron Collider was the best route to that goal.

He even doubted whether Cern’s greatest invention was an outcome that could only have come from an institution that pursued so-called “blue skies research”.

“People say to me: ‘well what about the world wide web? That emerged from Cern’. Brilliant. Tim Berners Lee was the person who invented that. What if Tim Berners Lee had been working in a solar [power] laboratory? Perhaps he would have done it there as well. The spin-out would have come from the brilliant individual.”

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