Calcutta, Oct. 28: Central power utility NTPC has asked the Bengal government to acquire land for its project in Katwa, a request that reopens a chapter closed by Mamata Banerjee at a time the equations have changed in Delhi.
The company had last month decided to somehow fit the 1,600MW thermal power plant into the 556 acres it was allotted during Left rule after the Mamata government refused to help it acquire “even an inch of land” in June 2011. Ideally, the project needs 1,100 acres.
However, the power company has now realised it “cannot make do with less than 700 acres” if it has to clear the Centre’s environment guidelines and the state’s own feasibility assessment, a senior NTPC official told The Telegraph.
Bengal was “informally” requested for around 150 acres a few weeks ago and “we are awaiting a response”, he said.
“NTPC officials have almost decided not to pursue the project unless the state arranges some more land,” a power sector source said.
If the Katwa project is shelved, it is unlikely to have any immediate impact — a testimony to the grim state of affairs in a Bengal that is “power-surplus” because of the paucity of industry that needs energy.
The twists and turns of the Katwa project also reflect the tumult in Bengal over industrialisation.
The project was conceived in 2006 during the Left’s industrialisation drive whose success would have raised the demand for power. It was handed over to NTPC in December 2010 after state-run generation utility WBPDCL was hobbled by a funds crunch and resistance from Trinamul-backed Katwa landowners.
But with the new government failing to bring private industry, mainly because of its hands-off land policy, the demand for power has fallen and Mamata doesn’t need to worry about raising generation capacity. Even the promises of investment by Central PSUs are unlikely to materialise, given Trinamul’s exit from the UPA.
“When the WBPDCL is generating 500MW below capacity (because of low demand) in October, long before winter’s onset, the chief minister doesn’t need to yield to the NTPC. But lack of growth in power demand is not something a state should be happy about,” a bureaucrat said.
In September, NTPC had decided to reduce the land requirement by 500 acres by shortening the ash pit from 600 acres to 200 acres and cutting the coal storage facility by 100 acres, a Writers’ source said. But though this was a possibility “on paper”, it would not have passed the state’s feasibility assessment, he added.
“Without an ash pit of at least 400 acres, the Union environment ministry’s clearance too would have been hard to get,” the source said.
NTPC sources said the utility had considered sending out the ash for use by the state’s cement factories to reduce the land requirement for the ash pit. But to dispose of even half the 32 lakh tonnes of ash the plant would have generated annually, the utility would need to find cement units with manufacturing capacity of 50 lakh tonnes a year.
“The annual cement production in Bengal is 80 lakh tonnes, and there is no scope for absorption of such a huge volume of ash from a new source,” a state bureaucrat said.
Power department experts said sending the ash to other states, or to Bangladesh for use in brick-making, by road or waterways would have been shot down by the Union environment ministry because of potential environment hazards.
Power minister Manish Gupta, who had said last month that NTPC was willing to work with the land it had and work would begin next year, was unavailable for comment. NTPC sources said work could begin next year if the state cooperated and finish by 2015, a year behind the revised deadline.