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Coal hurdle to big projects

Calcutta, Nov. 24: Two big-ticket Bengal projects involving a total investment of over Rs 40,000 crore are in trouble because they are likely to make an estimated 200 million tonnes of coal inaccessible.

The Rs 22,000-crore aluminium smelter and power plant of Vedanta Resources near Ranigunj is slated to come up in an area now under Coal India’s leasehold, while Bhushan Steel is to build a plant near Asansol where the land has been notified as a “coal block”.

At a meeting in Asansol today, additional district magistrate Biswajit Dutta discussed the problem with representatives of the two companies. “We will send our observations and recommendations to the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation (WBIDC) within 10 days,” Dutta said.

The Vedanta project, spread over 1,100 acres, comprises a 6.5-million-tonne aluminium refinery and 3,000MW power plant.

The company, listed on the London Stock Exchange, has 270 acres with it. But the rest of the land, which has to be acquired, is believed to be sitting on 51 million tonnes of coal.

Coal India has even started mining nearby and a shift of location appears the only way to rescue the Vedanta project.

State officials appear more confident about keeping Delhi-based Bhushan’s 6-million-tonne steel plant where it is — Salanpur — with some minor realignment. It is the only hope because the company has ruled out relocation. For the realignment, the state has to convince Delhi to denotify the block, said to be having 150 million tonnes of coal.

Nearly 85 per cent of the project’s 2,500 acres has been notified by the Centre as a coal block for which mining bids are being invited.

A Bhushan official said: “We have spent considerable time on the project. Realignment is OK but we won’t go ahead if the project is shifted.”

Vedanta officials were not available for comment.

The meeting also discussed a proposed Videocon steel plant in nearby Jamuria.

Both Coal India and the Central Mine Planning & Design Institute said there was coal in this project area, too, but could not say when they planned to start mining. The area neither falls under Coal India nor has it been notified as a coal block.

ADM Dutta said: “The Bhushan and Videocon projects can go ahead. We are recommending that to the WBIDC.”

Coal India had earlier raised objections when coal-bearing land was offered for the airport city project in Andal, near Durgapur. The state then agreed to downsize the project area and take Coal India into confidence for future plans.

Today’s meeting was part of a process to decide how land for big projects can be arranged with least damage to coal.

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