Protest fear on Bengal gas project

Protest fear on Bengal gas project

 A protest by land-losers in South 24-Parganas demanding more compensation has left some Bengal government officials worried about the fate of a Rs 10,000-crore central project.

The project, to be implemented by Gas Authority of India Limited, would require 400km of pipelines to be laid in Bengal to transport compressed natural gas from Gujarat.

Although the project does not require buying or acquiring land, government officials fear that farmers whose plots would be dug up to lay the pipes might demand money.

According to the officials, although the government plans to compensate the farmers for any crop damage when their plots are dug up, “there is no compensation just for the land being dug up”.

“The Union cabinet has already cleared the CNG project…. If implemented, it could be the biggest investment in Bengal in recent memory,” an official at Nabanna said.

“But the movement in Bhangar (South 24-Parganas) indicates that protests over land acquisition can start again in Bengal. Many senior officials are worried.”

The Bhangar protests have prompted the state government to halt a project by Power Grid Corporation of India Ltd to ensure steady electricity supply in east Calcutta, including Rajarhat.

Although the land had been bought directly from the farmers in Bhangar, those whose plots came right under the high-tension wires started demanding a higher compensation.

Asked about the decision to halt the Bhangar project, Trinamul minister and local MLA Abdur Rezzak Mollah said: “We don’t want a rerun of Singur. We don’t want to use police to disperse the agitators. It has to be handled politically.”

An official said: “The CNG project requires 400km of underground pipes to be laid. If the landowners demand compensation like their counterparts in Bhangar, it would be difficult to find a quick solution.”

He said the pipes would transport CNG from Gujarat to Bengal. The pipeline would enter Purulia from Jharkhand and reach Calcutta via Bankura, Burdwan, Hooghly and Howrah. In the second phase, the pipeline will be extended from Calcutta to Haldia.

Sources said the CNG would be supplied to several gas stations that are to be set up over the next few months. Besides, Calcuttans will have the option of cooking gas supplied through pipes. The gas may also be used commercially in Haldia.

Several officials told this newspaper that the government planned to announce the CNG project at the Bengal Global Business Summit next week.

“The project was supposed to be announced at the summit. But after the government halted the power project in Bhangar because of protests, we are not sure whether it would want to highlight the CNG plan,” an official said.

Some officials, however, said the government’s decision to put the Bhangar project on hold was a “wise move” as that would prevent land protests from spreading to other parts of the state.

“The government has now bought time from the protesters,” a source said.

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