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Land protest halts Bengal power project

Calcutta, Jan. 11: The Bengal government today halted for the time being a Power Grid Corporation of India Ltd (PGCIL) project in South 24-Parganas because of protests by farmers demanding more compensation for land.

"It has been decided that the project will not be taken forward until the situation becomes normal in the area (Bhangar).... In the meantime, the state government will conduct an inquiry to find out the reasons behind the agitation and try to solve the problems, if any," a state government official said.

PGCIL, a public sector company that owns and operates 90 per cent of the country's power transmission system, had taken the initiative of setting up a 400x220kV substation in Bhangar to ensure steady electricity supply in east Calcutta, including Rajarhat.

After land was acquired in 2014-15, work on the project began. However, the project was hit by sporadic protests last year by landlosers over compensation and high-tension towers.

Nearly a third of the work remains unfinished although the target was to build the substation by April 2016. Sources said the Bengal government had informally communicated to PGCIL that work would have to be stopped for the time being.

"The state government had helped the central power utility to buy land directly from the farmers in late 2013. It is surprising that the agitation started when the project was nearing completion," a Bengal government official said.

The decision to press the pause button on the project comes in the run-up to the Bengal Global Business Summit, the annual investment meet that will be held on January 20 and 21.

Trinamul leaders, however, said they were more interested in the political fallout of the land-related protests.

"We do not want a rerun of Singur. We don't want to use police to disperse the agitators. It has to be handled politically," said Abdur Rezzak Mollah, the food processing and horticulture minister and Bhangar MLA.

Several officials questioned the effectiveness of the direct land purchase model that the state is advocating instead of acquisition.

The decision to halt the PGCIL project for the time being was taken at a time chief minister Mamata Banerjee has been stressing the need to build more power substations to tackle low voltage in rural areas.

"In the last administrative meeting, the chief minister had asked the power department to set up at least 300 more substations to stabilise electricity supply in the state," an official said.

According to officials, the state government was buying time so that some of the demands of the Bhangar agitators could be met.

"Power minister Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay has been asked to consider the demand of adequate compensation," Rezzak said.


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