The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Gas cracker jinx is back

Dibrugarh, Sept. 26: Just when the gas cracker jinx seemed to be wearing off, another land-acquisition dispute has pushed Assam’s most ambitious industrial project — also the one with the longest gestation period — into the realm of uncertainty.

The Assam Tea Tribes Students’ Association (ATTSA) is opposing the Dibrugarh administration’s attempt to acquire an additional 470-bigha plot for the development of a township around the project site at Lepetkata. The union today sent a memorandum to the deputy commissioner, demanding that the administration “refrain from acquiring more land that is currently under tea plantation”.

One of the promises made by Delhi in the historic Assam Accord of 1985, the gas cracker project was originally meant to come up at Tengakhat. Objections from the Indian Air Force led to a change of location. The stakeholders in the Rs 5,640-crore project then had to contend with a dispute over feedstock supply, one that was finally resolved earlier this month.

The organising secretary of ATTSA, Lobin Karmakar, said hundreds of people from the tea tribes would become jobless if the administration were to acquire parts of the tea estates where they were employed at present. “The administration should look for areas that are not under tea cultivation.”

The district administration is looking to acquire 400 bighas from Barbaruah tea estate and another 70 bighas from Surajpur tea estate. As many as 3,030 bighas are required for the gas cracker plant, to be called Brahmaputra Cracker and Polymer Ltd.

About 95 per cent of the land required for the project has been acquired already and the owners adequately compensated. The administration has also drawn up a rehabilitation package for displaced people and assured permanent tea garden workers that they will not lose their jobs.

The assistant general secretary of the ATTSA, Ashok Urang, asked who would guarantee temporary workers a source of livelihood if tea gardens in the area continued to shrink. Barbaruah tea estate spans 2,000 bighas, but Surajpur is only 130 bighas and will shrink by more than half if it cedes land to the government for the gas cracker township.

“The administration must keep in mind that there are hundreds of temporary workers in the tea gardens who only get seasonal employment. These people will come to ruin because plantations will not require extra workers even in peak season if they become smaller,” Urang said.

He said they would do whatever it takes to prevent the administration from acquiring more land under tea cultivation. Labour, planning and development minister Prithibi Majhi said maximum employment opportunities in the project would be for Lepetkata residents.

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