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Rediff News  All News  » Business » Nandigram set to flare up over chemical hub

Nandigram set to flare up over chemical hub

Last updated on: April 09, 2009 10:51 IST

After nearly two years of relative calm, fresh tension appears to be brewing over the West Bengal government's plans to set up a petroleum, chemical and petrochemical investment region spanning Nayachar Island and the adjoining mainland comprising Haldia and Nandigram.

This is because Nayachar is only 50 square kilometres (sq km) in size and the PCPIR will cover 250 sq km, including the 61 sq km now under existing chemical and related units in Haldia.

As a result, locals there -- more so in the area broadly called Nandigram lying across the minor Haldi River from Haldia -- fear a fresh round of land acquisition, as the state government pushes ahead with its PCPIR plans with Indian Oil Corporation and Calc Refinery Ltd as its anchor tenants. The PCPIR is one of the Left Front government's showcase projects in its efforts to accelerate growth in the state.

The combating sides, the ruling CPI (M)-backed local committees and the Trinamool Congress-backed Nandigram groups, appear to be lining their supporters for the next round of the PCPIR battle.

Protests over alleged forced land acquisitions in 2006 and 2007, which spilled over into violence and 14 local deaths, forced the state government to relocate the PCPIR to the largely uninhabited island of Nayachar, where the few migrant families were considered CPI (M) supporters. But it has been silent on the remaining land that still has to be acquired on the mainland.

Nandigram, once a CPI (M) stronghold, became Trinamool country after the land acquisition protests. Since this traumatic event, the CPI (M) and the Left lost all elections in the area.

Meanwhile, the prospect of compensation has caused a population explosion of sorts on Nayachar.

"The number of people on the island has gone up from a few dozen families of temporary fish farm operators to nearly 4,000, with migrants claiming to be from South 24-Paraganas or Nandigram in East Midnapore," confirmed a senior police officer from Kolkata.

A source in the office of a senior local Left Front leader said, "People are flocking to Nayachar, hoping that they will get some compensation when industries come up in the area."

The police source indicated that a coastal police outpost may be set up in Nayachar. Any move to start civil work there could precipitate conflict, warned the police officer, adding that the state cabinet and local leadership from all parties had been alerted on the issue. The CPI (M) source said work would begin only after the Lok Sabha polls.

Meanwhile, Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee -- whose protests over compensation prompted Tata Motors to pull its Nano project out of the state last year -- said her party would resist even that part of the PCPIR located on Nayachar.

The PCPIR project will be executed by a special purpose vehicle called the Prafulla Chandra Roy Chemical Complex, set up as a joint venture between the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation with a 49 per cent stake and the New Kolkata International Development with a 51 per cent share.

NKID is a consortium between Unitech Ltd (with 40 per cent), Salim Group of Indonesia (40 per cent) and Universal Success of Indonesia (20 per cent), with Jurong Consultants of Singapore providing the expertise.

The possible political conflict is only one of the problems facing the PCPIR. Its economic viability was already under question, as the entire island has to be raised by at least three metres to protect it from tidal surges of the Bay of Bengal which can go up to three metres above sea level.

The island also had to be connected to the mainland by a 4-km bridge with clearance of at least 50 metres, because of the shipping lanes passing by it.

In addition, the PCPIR on Nayachar violated existing environmental laws under the Coastal Regulation Zone Notification of 1991.

Pradeep Gooptu in New Delhi