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Doubts on NTPC plant

- Govt officials point to three hurdles in Katwa

Calcutta, Feb. 4: Government officials have pointed to at least three hurdles to the Rs 10,000-crore NTPC project in Burdwan’s Katwa within a week of assurances by the power department and the central utility that all obstacles had been eliminated.

Apart from mentioning loopholes in the government’s proposal to allocate a coal block for the project, the officials at Nabanna have said that the design of the plant could be an environmental hurdle and that NTPC owed a state power utility Rs 182 crore.

Last week, power minister Manish Gupta had assured NTPC chairman Arup Roy Chowdhury of a coal linkage with the Deocha-Pachami coal block in Birbhum. The NTPC had a few months ago decided to directly buy around 150 acres that remain to be acquired for the plant. Once the coal linkage was approved, the central utility was supposed to place before its board of directors the plan to acquire land directly.

Chairman Roy Chowdhury had last week said the plant “would like to float tenders within this fiscal year”.

The Left Front government had acquired 556 acres on which the NTPC has proposed to build the 1,320MW main power plant.

Nabanna officials said the “gaping loopholes” were unlikely to come to the fore before the Lok Sabha elections, due in May. “From the original commissioning deadline of 2014, the deadline now stands at 2019. Realistically, the project is unlikely to be completed this decade, if at all,” an official said in Nabanna.

Coal linkage

Government officials said the state did not have the authority to allocate a coal block for any project. Minister Gupta had on January 27 told the NTPC chairman that coal would be supplied from the Deocha-Pachami coal block in Birbhum to the Katwa plant.

Under the provisions of the Coal Mines (Nationalisation) Act, 1973, all coal belongs to the Centre, which it allocates to state-run utilities.

The Deocha-Pachami block currently supplies coal to the West Bengal Power Development Corporation Limited (WBPDCL).

According to an official, Deocha-Pachami could be given back to the Centre. The Katwa plant is expected to consume around 64 lakh tonnes of coal annually, once operation starts.

Plant design

The total 706 acres on which NTPC has proposed to build the entire power plant could fall short of adhering to environment norms.

According to the Eastern Regional Power Committee’s estimates, around 0.65 acre is required for every megawatt generated. That means the NTPC will need 858 acres for a 1,320MW plant, half of which has to be allocated for an ash pit.

But as the NTPC plans to make the ash pit on the 150 acres it intends to buy directly from farmers, the central utility will have to look for dumping the ash elsewhere after five to seven years.

The NTPC, which is expected to generate around 27 lakh tonnes of ash annually, will have to submit a roadmap for the next 20-30 years for getting a clearance from the Central Pollution Control Board and the Union ministry of environment.

“The NTPC had floated a bizarre idea of sending out the ash for use in Bengal’s cement factories. But to dispose of that much ash, the utility would need to find a cement manufacturing unit producing 90 lakh tonnes a year,” said a power sector official. Bengal’s total cement production is 80 lakh tonnes.

Lack of intent

The NTPC is yet to clear Rs 182 crore it owes the WBPDCL.

Caught in the middle of a deepening fiscal crunch and an anti-land acquisition agitation, WBPDCL had handed over the project to the NTPC in early 2011. But the state power utility had already spent the money to acquire the 556 acres, besides setting up preliminary infrastructure like boundary walls and residential quarters for engineers.

“Not repaying the money clearly shows that the NTPC is keeping its exit route open,” said a power department official.