A backward desert region blooms on the back of a refinery

The nine million tonne capacity oil refinery and petro chemical complex coming up in Rajasthan is sure to change the face of the state in the coming years, but the hope of change has already transformed lives of millions living in small helmets and villages near the refinery site in Pachpadra area of Barmer district.

This ambitious Rs 37,229 crore refinery by the HPCL is the largest investment in the state after Indira Gandhi Canal.

Though the refinery is slated to commence its commercial production in 2017, the project has already given new dimension to the lives of people in the backward desert region, which are now already visible at the ground level.

The basic problems in the area which were never addressed in last 60 years, are no more a matter of great concern to the people.

Right from infrastructure and connectivity to the basic necessities like water and education, refinery has laid new socio-economic foundation in the region.

Located some 12 km from Pachpadra, is the Sajiyali village in the heart of arid Barmer. Disconnected from the world and even nearby villages and towns, for lack of roads and zero connectivity through telephones or mobile networks, this village was an island unto itself.

The village has had no source of fresh drinking water but the Barmer refinery is all set to change all that.

“As the refinery work is in full swing, pipelines of fresh water are being laid all around the site that passes through our village. We are excited about getting fresh piped water for which we have been waiting for several decades,” said Rupa Ram Chaudhary from Sajiyali. Mobile companies have started installing towers and roads have been constructed along the village, connecting it to the refinery.

For dozens of villages like Sajiyali various governments have come and gone. But the problem of drinking water is the same even today.

People have to commute about 50 km to fetch water by tankers, which normally charge anything between Rs1,500 and Rs1,800 per tanker.

“The situation had become so bad that none of the families from nearby villages were ready to marry their girls here because their daughters would have to travel
several miles on foot every day just to fetch drinking water,” said Rupa Ram.

But with the refinery work going on in full swing, marriage proposals are now pouring in for our young boys,” he added.

Though the Barmer Oil Refinery will take time to get a final shape, many private institutes have already started encashing on it by selling dreams to youth of getting jobs in the refinery.

Many private institutes are setting up their branches in the nearby villages to enroll students in various courses by promising them a job in the refinery.

These institutes, many of which are ITI institutes, are offering various courses of electrician, technical assistants, railway loco pilots, metro rail technicians and several other courses.

“The refinery will not only stop migration of youth from nearby villages but looking at the demand of technical staff a lot of new institutes will also set their base in here.

Once the refinery starts functioning, the requirement of skilled workers will grow and the district will be ready with skilled man power,” said Sampat Mali of Maa Bhagwati ITI Pvt Consultancy and G2 Technical Institute Balotra.

Water borne diseases

Water in Barmer area has 5,000 to 8,000 TDS (total dissolved solids) which, over the years, has resulted into severe water borne diseases among the people causing early ageing, hunchback, joint pains, weakening of bones and dental cavities.

After treatment at RO plants, the quality of water becomes potable with 50 to 100 TDS.

Cairn India has installed these RO plants at Bhakharpure, Kawas, Gida, Jogasar, Aakdada, Baytu, Gudamalani and other villages.

“Such initiatives must have been taken long back by the state government. But the initiative taken by Cairn energy to provide fluoride free water to people will save our life and will ensure bright future to our kids, ” said Ladu Ram, a villager.

A 15 member committee has been formed to operate the plant at each centre. The committee is headed by the sarpanch.

Cairn India spokesperson Dr Sunil Bharati said that availability of pure drinking water is a key issue in Thar Desert.

The real state sector and hotel industry are yet another sectors booming in the area.

Investors are making a beeline even for the barren lands, which no one liked to purchase a year before the announcement of refinery was made by state government.

As per experts the land rates even in far flung areas have shot up by over 300 per cent in last one year. Construction of dozens of private housing projects is in full swing on Barmer -Jodhpur road near the refinery site.

A unprecedented boon is witnessed in hospitality sector with dozens of players coming up to set their bases in Barmer and Jodhpur.

The local youth in villagers are not only getting jobs at construction site but are also being engaged in back office operations in the hotels.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi laid the foundation stone for the 9 million tonnes capacity oil refinery and petrochemical complex at Barmer on Sept 22, 2013. 

After nearly five decades of search the huge reserves of oil and gas was discovered by Crain Energy in Barmer district.

The availability of crude oil is estimated at 900 million tonnes. At present, 1.75 million barrels per day of oil is being produced by Cairn India Ltd in Barmer.

Thus, after Maharashtra (2.25 million bpd), Rajasthan is the country’s second largest oil producing state.

And the day is not far of when Rajasthan will become India’s top oil producing state. British company Cairn India plans to invest around Rs 330 billion to develop the oil rich Thar. 

Currently, Rajasthan is raking in Rs 5,000 crore in royalty from oil exploitation; after the refinery becomes fully operational the state’s annual expected revenues of royalty would be in the region of Rs 13, 000 to 15,000 crore. 

Presently HPCL holds 74 per cent stake, while the balance 26 per cent is held by the Rajasthan government.

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