The issue of setting up a cement plant in the rural Chamba district, which has been simmering for nearly 20 years, has surfaced again, with the main political parties in the state making it a major poll plank in the run up to the Lok Sabha elections.
The cement plant was proposed to be set up in the Baroh-Sikridhar hills in the Churrah sub-division of Chamba, which is among the poorest districts in the country, at an estimated cost of Rs 800 crore.
The idea of setting up the plant was floated more than 30 years ago, when the Janata Party was in power in the state. However, it failed to take off even after two memorandums of understanding were signed.
A pact for setting up the cement plant was first signed with Larsen and Toubro (L& T) on September 24, 1998, when the BJP was in power in the state. The Dhumal-led government had granted a mining lease to the project promoter. However, after the change of guard in Himachal Pradesh in 2003 and the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government losing power in the Center the following year, the plan to set up the plant was put on the back-burner.
The Virbhadra Singh-led Congress government cancelled the MoU with L& T in 2004 for inordinate delay in getting environment clearance from the Centre.
The project was allotted to Jaypee Associates Limited (JAL) on February 1, 2007. According to the new deal, the plant, with the capacity to manufacture 2MT cement a year, had to become operational within five years of getting clearance from the union environment ministry. The plant had about 70 years’ deposits of limestone and was to generate nearly 1,000 direct jobs, besides 5,000 indirect jobs, along with one means of employment to every displaced family.
However, as soon as the process for obtaining environmental clearance began, the Congress government was thrown out of power in the state. No serious efforts were made to get the plant up and running over the next five years of the BJP regime, leading to undue delay in getting environmental clearance.
The hopes of the locals, who were excited about the possibility of new job opportunities, were dashed again when the Congress came into power in 2012 and the Virbhadra Singh-led government cancelled the MoU with JAL in February this year.
The state said the company could not obtain the required permissions, including environment and other clearances, within the stipulated time.
With election campaigning picking up in the state, candidates from the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are making promises to set up the plant, which was intended to provide direct and indirect employment to thousands of people in the area.
As the elections draw closer, BJP candidate Shanta Kumar has been issuing statements, promising to set up the plant if the party formed the government in the Centre.
Congress candidate Chander Kumar too had made similar promises to the people of Chamba.