The construction of 144 houses for the poor in the Kalianwali village of Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal’s home constituency Lambi is, perhaps, the only one positive thing done by the Guru Gobind Singh HMEL-HPCL oil refinery in its first two years after commissioning in 2012.
The refinery seems to have established some rapport among the villagers of the CM’s constituency; however it has totally failed to keep the neighbouring village of Kanakwal satisfied over safety issues. The residents of this village, who have been complaining of pollution of environment and spread of skin diseases, have been demanding relocation as soon as possible.
The villagers were once again shocked when they heard the sound of a big blast and saw high flames coming out of the refinery along with metal pieces on Friday. Like natives of Kanakwal, industrialists and unemployed youth in the region are also fed up with the refinery, that has failed to meet the high expectations raised by the political leaders while giving heavy tax exemptions to the Rs. 2,000-crore project.
NO BENEFIT TO INDUSTRY
“You will hardly find any Punjabi worker on a higher post in the refinery. The local industry in Bathinda has derived no benefit from the refinery. The government had promised a lot to the local industry, but nothing happened. We have repeatedly asked the administration to arrange our interaction with refinery officials to find business opportunities but in vain,” said president of the chamber of the commerce and industry, Bathinda, Raman Watts.
“They have been receiving big tax exemptions and interest-free loan from the state government. What is logic behind extending these exemptions if the refinery is not doing anything for the local industry and job- seekers,” said Raman.
Official figures suggest that there are no more than 2,000 workers in the refinery, which was supposed to provide 2,00,000 direct and indirect jobs. The Punjab government has also failed to identify the 100-acre land to set up the downstream industry in the form of a plastic park, which is now the only hope for the region.
The hotel industry is also not getting the expected business. “We are getting only 10% of the business that we were getting during the construction of the refinery. Many of us spent a lot of money expansion of hotels in the hope that we would get more business after it gets commissioned,” said Satish Arora, president the hoteliers union.
REAL ESTATE SECTOR
The real estate sector is also not happy. “Prices in the real estate sector shot up sky-high during the construction of the refinery. Rent of the houses in the city touched Rs. 20,000 per month.
Everyone was expecting better and investing in the real estate. That boom was over as soon as the refinery got commissioned,” said Raman.
TUSSLE WITH PPCB
The refinery also remained a subject of a tussle with the Punjab Pollution Control Board after it failed to follow environmental norms and the PPCB had to ask it to submit Rs. 10 lakh as a guarantee till it developed a green belt. Bathinda residents were also expecting that the city will get back the Shatabdi train as soon as the refinery was commissioned but the train is nowhere in sight so far that was halted in 2002 after low response.