In rural Barmer, a renewed hope as PM Modi launches refinery work
Locals believe that the refinery will now finally materialise, some say they were not happy with works done by chief minister Vasundhara Raje, but will vote for Modi in next pollsjaipur Updated: Jan 16, 2018 22:02 IST
For Sunil Bishnoi, a smalltime trader from Balhotra, the upcoming HPCL refinery at Barmer is already making an impact.
“Paani ki botal dus rupiya, dus rupiya,” (bottled water for Rs 10) shouts Sunil from atop a truck at a makeshift parking lot, about 1 km from the site at Pachpadra where Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the “project commencement work” of the Rs 43,000-crore refinery-cum-petrochemical project.
Like Sunil, many vendors have come all the way from Balhotra, about 15 km away, to sell a variety of snacks and pan masala. The business is brisk as hundreds of people have arrived at venue in buses, SUVs, cars, motorcycles and taxis.
There is renewed hope among people of the region after four years of wait. “This time I am sure that the refinery will materialize as Modi ji is coming for the (foundation stone laying) ceremony,” Udairam, a 65-year-old farmer from Deroi, a village about 45 km away from Pachpadra, said.
Udairam and his friends have hired an SUV to reach the venue. “I am not happy with madam (chief minister) as she has not done much to address the problems of the farmers, but we will vote for Modi next time,” he said when asked whether he was happy that the state BJP government has revived the refinery project.
Farmers in the region are unhappy as they have been able to sell only a portion of the moong crop at fair price.
So what hopes he has from the refinery once it becomes operational? “The youth of our village will get employment. The refinery will change the face of the region,” he said.
At a hotel, about 3 km from the venue, a group is animatedly discussing the impact of the upcoming HPCL refinery. Most of them having invested in property in and around Pachpadra, the site of the proposed refinery in Barmer district, the stakes are high.
“The property prices have soared more than 10 times ever since the government announced the project four years ago,” Punaram Nagana, a hotel owner said.
“However, the token system, in which people bought property at exorbitant rates by giving some money upfront, has ruined many. With project facing delays, many people could not resell the land and forfeited the token money,” he said.
In March 2013, the then Congress-led Rajasthan government had signed an agreement with HPCL for setting up a 9-million-tonne refinery-cum-petrochemical complex in Thar desert near the oil discovery made by Cairn India. After coming to power the same year, the Vasundhara Raje government put the project on hold citing an unfavourable deal and undue financial burden.
In April 2017, Raje government signed a fresh MoU with HPCL for setting up the refinery.
In the past decade, Barmer’s rural economy has been transformed by two big energy projects – Cairn Energy’s Mangala, Bhagyam and Aishwariya oilfields and a 1,080 MW thermal power plant operated by a subsidiary of JSW Energy.
The projects led to a spurt in ancillary industries and entrepreneurship, with residents investing in hotels and transport fleets. The real estate bubble created tremendous liquidity in the surrounding villages that, until recently, bartered goods in times of drought.
With another mega project with an investment of more than ₹43,000 crore about to take off, there is hope of another economic boom.
Meanwhile, some villagers are asked to put away the black jackets and sweaters by the security personnel who don’t want anyone protesting against Modi’s visit to wave any black cloth at the Prime Minister.