The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Half a hug on hub
- Govt proposes ‘iffy’ island, Congress not averse

Calcutta, Aug. 3: The state government has shortlisted for the mega-chemical hub an island that carries minimal political risks but is fraught with several imponderables.

Nayachar, an island near Haldia, was today put on the table at an “all-party” meeting as the “obvious” choice from a list of three places.

The Trinamul Congress, the main Opposition party, and the SUCI boycotted the meeting at Writers’ Buildings.

The Congress seemed amenable to the suggestion, largely because of the low political cost. But the gesture was notable in the middle of the tussle with the Left at the Centre on the US nuclear deal. The CPM’s restive allies, too, have promised cooperation.

The government may have succeeded in ensuring the first signs of multi-party consensus on an industrial initiative and denying another flashpoint for Mamata Banerjee to resume her land war but several hurdles lie ahead.

An environment cloud hangs over Nayachar and the Salim Group, the developer, will have to accept land on the island. If the proposal clears these stages, a bridge will have to be built to link the island to Haldia.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and industry minister Nirupam Sen told the participants that consultant Mott McDonald had zeroed in on three sites: an area adjoining the Mitsubishi and Haldia Petrochemicals plots in Haldia, land overlapping Khejuri and Contai and the Nayachar island.

The consultant was engaged to find an alternative site after the government decided not to acquire land in Nandigram. Around 10,000 acres are required, in addition to the existing 15,000 acres in Haldia, to get Petroleum Chemical and Petrochemical Investment Region (PCPIR) status.

Sen said the land near Haldia Petro was fertile, which made acquisition difficult. The Khejuri-Contai stretch was not contiguous with the PCPIR region and infrastructure was poor.

“It is only in Nayachar that the government has 10,000-11,000 acres. Only a few fishermen live there. The area can be used if a bridge is built. Other countries have used such islands as chemical hubs,” Sen said.

Asked about reports that the island ran the risk of instability, Sen said there was no geological data after 1985 and studies would have to be carried out. “The technology to consolidate the soil on such islands is available. They have done it on an island in Singapore.”

However, Sen conceded that if the developer concluded that the project was not feasible on the island, “we’ll come back to the negotiation table with political parties and explore another option”.

He added that the government would notify the Centre and Salim as soon as the Congress clears the proposal.

The Congress indicated that it was not averse to the Nayachar option.

“We want a site where people and settlements are least affected, where least amount of acquisition is carried out and which is least polluting to the environment,” party MLA Manas Bhuniya said.

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