Barmer refinery still a mirage in the desert

Narendra Modi and Vasundhara Raje in Barmer. DH/FILE

BARMER: Ten years after it was first conceived, the Barmer Refinery and Petrochemicals Complex is still a mirage for the people of this desert region of Rajasthan.
As a result, this is not even an issue in the upcoming Assembly polls.

The proposed project had been a saga of delays and political slugfest ever since it was put on the drawing board in 2008 as a commercial initiative for this backward area.

It was on March 12, 2012 that the Centre announced that the project, now estimated at Rs 43,100 crore, would come up at Leelala village in Barmer district. It soon sparked protests from farmers over land acquisition.

Ashok Gehlot as chief minister announced shifting of the project on June 24, 2013 to Pachpadra in the district and the foundation stone was laid on September 22, 2013 by then Congress president Sonia Gandhi.

However, the political colour that the project took ensured that the BJP government under Vasundhara Raje went for a review of the 9-million-tonne refinery-cum-petrochemical project as she alleged that the previous MoU had dealt a loss to the government.

The Rajasthan government then entered into an MoU with the Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited on April 14, 2017 and Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave a green signal to begin the project on January 16, 2018.

Land prices in Pachpadra shot up after the announcement and many were happy. However, it is now back to square one for them. “My land price went up from Rs 2 lakh a bhiga to Rs 20 lakh but now it is not even worth Rs 2 lakh,” said Ramlal Kherwal, a farmer.

Both the BJP and Congress have accused each other of playing politics with the refinery and the people, who expected the project to open up both job opportunities to thousands of locals and business possibilities.

They are so frustrated they have stopped expecting anything anymore.

“The politicians have betrayed us. Maybe they don’t want the project to come up at all. The locals have been fooled,” says Pawan Tomar, a student. “The only difference between then and now is a boundary wall.”

“Raje has blocked development in this region. The BJP is playing politics with the refinery and other issues,” said Kanaiah Lal Jain, an advocate and brother of Barmer’s Congress MLA Mewaram Jain.

Barmer now produces 30% of the country’s domestic crude oil. Cairn India, an oil and gas company had found that India’s biggest inshore oil is in this district.

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