Darjeeling, Feb. 24: The Darjeeling municipality has received an initial payment of Rs 21 lakh from the state government which took over the country’s oldest hydel project from the civic authority 36 years ago.
The sum of Rs 21 lakh is not a big sum when compared to the estimated cost of the Sidrapong hydel project in 2006-07 which was Rs 8 crore. But the gesture of the government proves that it has agreed that the civic body should be paid for the project.
The Sidrapong project was acquired by the West Bengal State Electricity Board on January 30, 1978, as part of the government’s effort to bring power generation and distribution under one head.
Darjeeling municipality chairman Amar Singh Rai said he had received an “ad hoc compensation” of Rs 21 lakh from power minister Manish Gupta in Calcutta a few weeks back.
“Since 1978, successive municipal boards had pursued the state for the money, but to no avail,” Rai said.
Rai had approached Mamata Banerjee for the money during her visit here in January.
“She told me to forget about the amount and said it was a very old issue. I had, however, taken all relevant documents to prove our point. Soon after she returned to Calcutta, Gupta called me up and asked me to collect the cheque. The government has acknowledged that it needs to compensate for the project.”
“Gupta has said the remaining portion of the compensation will have to be worked out,” Rai added.
A senior power department official said in Calcutta today that the rest of the amount would be released in three or four tranches. “The chief minister has instructed us to ensure the release, after this was pointed out to her by the municipality,” said the official.
Sources in the municipality said the value of the project was worked out to be Rs 2 crore in 1978. “The Darjeeling municipality owed the power department a sum of Rs 45 lakh in 1978. Ideally, this amount should have been deducted and the rest of the amount should have been handed over to the civic body then,” said a source.
Taking into account appreciation and escalation of prices, the civic board had pegged the value of the hydel project at Rs 8 crore in 2006-07.
The Sidrapong hydel project, situated about 12km from Darjeeling, and in the foothills of Arya tea garden was commissioned on November 10, 1897 by Charles Cecil Stevens, the then acting lieutenant-governor of Bengal. The project was the first power utility run on commercial basis for use of general public in India.