Gasping Bengal gets some gas

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By SAMBIT SAHA in Haldia
  • Published 24.04.07

Haldia, April 24: The first liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal in the east is expected to come up in Haldia.

The Rs 1,000-crore project is one of the first big-ticket investments to be firmed up in Bengal after the Nandigram flare-up.

The project has been proposed by SRM Exploration, owned by the promoters of low-cost airline SpiceJet. The Haldia Development Authority has already earmarked 100 acres for the plant.

The promoters plan to bring natural gas from West Asia in liquid form and sell the fuel to domestic industry. LNG, a popular source of energy in the US, is a cheaper and cleaner option than coal, naphtha or diesel.

“We have allotted the land to the company. It has paid the money for it as well,” said Lakshman Seth, chairman of the Haldia authority and local MP. Seth has been at the centre of the land controversy in Nandigram with many blaming his overdrive for the backlash that ended in bloodshed.

The MP was speaking at the foundation ceremony of a Rs 150-crore bio-diesel plant, also the first in the east, by Emami Group.

Standing by Seth’s side was chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, whose comments suggested that while Nandigram — across the river — has not been forgotten, the government wants to “change” Bengal.

“Haldia is changing. We want Bengal to change as well,” Bhattacharjee said. “So many young people are looking for jobs. What answers do we give them if we don’t set up industry and create employment?” he asked.

Bhattacharjee said two car companies wanted to set up plants in Haldia but he did not give details.

If the LNG venture rolls without a hitch in Haldia, it will be a showpiece project for Bengal. Only two LNG projects operate in India now. Located at Dahej and Hazira in Gujarat, one is owned by the state-run Petronet LNG and the other by Shell India. A third one is coming up at Dabhol in Maharashtra.

Parwez Ahmed Siddiqui, the Haldia authority CEO, said the SRM project was awaiting environment clearance from the Centre. “It may be ready one to one-and-a-half years after work begins. Since the region is starved of gas, the company expects good demand from industries that are using coal and naphtha now,” Siddiqui said.

Availability of the gas is also expected to attract more industries to the region, where a chemical hub originally meant for Nandigram may be shifted.

The south-based Shriram Group, which is setting up a coke oven plant in Haldia, will execute the LNG project.