NTPC officials mark the commencement of work at the Katwa plant site on August 1
Aug. 6: The state government’s hands-off land policy delayed the project by nearly three years. Now, Trinamul factions allegedly fighting over supply of construction materials, another problem hobbling industry in Bengal, has posed a threat to NTPC’s proposed power plant in Burdwan’s Katwa.
Days after the commencement of work at the site of the Rs 9,000-crore 1,320MW plant, friction between three syndicates allegedly backed by Trinamul factions brought work to a standstill last evening. Police intervention this afternoon ensured restoration of normality.
A Trinamul faction was accused of hurling bombs at the construction site and firing gunshots in the air last evening, minutes before a meeting between NTPC officials and two other ruling party groups to resolve an impasse over supply of construction materials. The meeting had to be called off.
“A public sector company cannot start work in full swing because Trinamul factions are fighting over the supply of construction materials. This is another blow to the image of the state, which has already fallen off the radar of investors,” a power department official said.
The alleged attack took place five days after NTPC began work on fencing parts of the plot in Katwa.
NTPC had been given 556 acres by the Left Front government for the project. But the central power utility ran into land problems after Trinamul came to power. Because of the Mamata Banerjee government’s initial refusal to acquire even “an inch of land”, NTPC scaled down its plan to produce 1,600MW and accordingly reduced its land requirement to 800 acres from 1,100 acres.
In February, the Trinamul government gave NTPC 97 acres of vested land as a “gift”. The utility is in the process of buying 130 acres of the remaining 147 acres directly from farmers.
The project, conceived in 2006, was originally supposed to start generating power by 2015. Following the dispute over land, NTPC pushed back the deadline to 2019.
“Now, we don’t know what will happen to the project,” an NTPC source said, adding that last evening’s incident had “once again shaken” the utility.
“We were hopeful that syndicates would not be an issue because the ruling party had assured us of playing a positive role. But yesterday’s incident was a wake-up call,” the source said over phone from Delhi.
The government has assured NTPC of “all co-operation”. After last night’s attack, 100 police personnel led by Burdwan additional police chief Prasanta Mukherjee and subdivisional police officer (Katwa) Dhrubajyoti Das have been posted at the site.
Last evening’s meeting had been convened by Shibashis Basu, an NTPC official handling the Katwa project. Trinamul leaders Taritava Sen, Chandicharan Sen and Gobinda Chatterjee had been called to the meeting to sort out the alleged tussle over the supply of construction materials.
Sources in the district administration said Taritava allegedly backed one syndicate while Chandicharan and Gobinda supported another.
The third syndicate, allegedly backed by Jangal Sheikh, has also been demanding that construction materials be taken from it, NTPC sources said.
Although Sheikh, out on bail in connection with a murder case, wasn’t present at the meeting last night, around 60 of his associates arrived at the project site on 40-odd bikes, the NTPC sources said.
“The group hurled bombs and fired in the air before entering Basu’s office,” an NTPC official said.
Sources in the district Trinamul said Sheikh enjoyed the backing of Birbhum party chief Anubrata Mondal and Katwa town Trinamul president Amar Ram. Ram denied knowing Sheikh.
Sheikh’s associates allegedly threatened Basu and “ordered” him not to hold such meetings in the future. They also allegedly demanded that the syndicate they were attached to be awarded all contracts without negotiations or floating of tenders.
They left the site only after Basu said he would convey their demands to higher authorities. The NTPC sources said Basu had submitted a report on the syndicates and their demands.
“We try to provide employment and opportunities to local people as much as possible in a transparent manner. Due process must be followed,” an NTPC official said.
Katwa subdivisional officer Mridul Haldar, who deployed the police contingent at the NTPC project site, said work was going on normally. “The police are looking for those behind the attack. We will take stern action,” he added.
The Burdwan Trinamul leadership said the attackers had no links with the party. Taritava, Chandicharan and Gobinda refused comment. Jangal could not be contacted.
“I don’t know Jangal and Trinamul is in no way involved in last night’s incident,” Katwa town Trinamul president Ram said.