32 yrs later, Modi to inaugurate Assam gas cracker project today

  • Rahul Karmakar, Guwahati
  • Updated: Feb 05, 2016 11:52 IST
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will inaugurate the Assam Gas Cracker Project in Dibrugarh district on Friday. (AFP)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will inaugurate the Assam Gas Cracker Project on Friday in the northeastern state’s Dibrugarh district, the eighth premier to be associated with a venture envisaged 32 years ago.

Modi is also scheduled to address a public rally at Moran nearby before inaugurating the project, which has come to be known as the “all gas” project for all its missed deadlines and overshot budget.

The petrochemical project, executed by Brahmaputra Crackers and Polymers Ltd (BCPL) will use naphtha and natural gas from Assam’s oilfields to produce ethylene, the feedstock for manufacturing polymers that are basic building blocks of plastics.

Gas Authority of India Ltd (GAIL) has 70% stake in BCPL while Oil India Limited, Numaligarh Refinery Ltd and Assam government have 10% each.

The project was envisaged by Indira Gandhi in 1984 and given a shape by Rajiv Gandhi to be associated with the anti-foreigners agitation-ending Assam Accord of 1985.

Five more PMs between Modi and the Gandhi mother-son duo were involved with the project, as an advertisement issued by the Assam government on Thursday recollected “those days” in an apparent bid to prevent the BJP take all the credit from the Congress.

The ad underlines the failure of Third Front prime ministers HD Deve Gowda (1996-97) and IK Gujral (1997-98) as well as NDA’s Atal Bihari Vajpayee (1998-2004) in kick-starting the project.

“It was only when Dr Manmohan Singh took over as prime minister in 2004 that the detailed feasibility report was prepared… and approvals were given in 2005-06,” the ad issued by the state Department of Industries and Commerce said.

Singh, it further said, facilitated all arrangements of “huge central government support” and laid the foundation stone at Lepetkata, 530 km east of Guwahati, on April 9, 2007.

The ad also remembers PV Narasimha Rao who had laid the foundation stone for the project at another place – Tengakhat – in November 1995. But it avoids relating why Tengakhat, 45km east of Lepetkata, had to be abandoned.

Besides opposition from some locals, the defence ministry had objected to the selection of Tengakhat as it was close to the air force’s strategic Dinjan base.

Lepetkata turned out to be wiser choice since it did not involve displacement. Much of the 3,000-bigha land for the project belonged to tea estates and the government.

The ad, though, recalls with bitterness how Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) “belied hopes” and “kept delaying the implementation under one pretext or the other” before walking out of the project.

BCPL, however, kept missing deadlines in completing the project. As a result, the project has overshot its initial estimated cost of Rs 500 crore in 1985 by 1993%.

“What matters is that it is finally ready, and we hope it benefits the plastic-based industries in the northeast. But the entire purpose will be lost if plastic-based industries do not get the raw material at a much better price than Haldia and Panipat,” Amit Jain, vice-chairman of Federation of Industries of North Eastern Region, told Hindustan Times.

According to chief minister Tarun Gogoi, the state government will soon commission a 1,500-bigha plastic park in Tinsukia district to accommodate 400 downstream plastic processing units. He had laid the foundation stone of this park in February 2011.

“The gas cracker project will provide indirect employment to nearly 100,000 people when these units come up,” he said.

Once commissioned, the project is expected to produce 220,000 tonnes of ethylene, 60,000 tonnes of propylene, 60,000 tonnes of polypropylene, 55,000 tonnes of raw gasoline and 12,500 tonnes of fuel oil annually.

The plant will produce various ranges of polymers for different applications in sectors such as packaging film, injection, raffia and blow-moulding which will be marketed with assistance from GAIL.

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