Kolkata: Power utility NTPC Ltd has put its 1,320 mw Katwa project on hold even after resolving issues with land acquisition, alleges the West Bengal government, which has demanded an explanation from the central public sector enterprise for transferring key officials to other units.
The project first ran into rough weather when Mamata Banerjee after taking office as chief minister in 2011 refused to acquire land for it. The state had by then already given the power utility around 556 acres to build a new thermal power generating station.
NTPC needed at least 294 acres more to set up two units of 660 mw each at Katwa, but the company was asked to purchase land on its own. In 2015, the state provided around 100 acres more to the project, while NTPC on its own acquired the rest.
Still, the project may not materialise in the foreseeable future, say key officials at NTPC and the state government.
West Bengal’s power minister Sovandeb Chatterjee said NTPC had recently transferred several key officials from the Katwa project including its general manager. “We have written to NTPC seeking an explanation—how many officers have been transferred and why,” said the minister.
On Wednesday, he will brief the chief minister on this matter, Chatterjee added.
Though the key problem of land has been resolved, NTPC appears to have no immediate plans of starting construction of the power plant at Katwa, said a key power department official in Kolkata, who asked not to be named. The state will not take kindly to further delays in executing the project, he added.
“These are routine transfers,” said a spokesperson for NTPC, adding that the Katwa project will “move at its own pace”. While admitting that the company had still not started the process to place orders for machines, he said the project was delayed for want of coal linkages.
The state government has also been slow in sorting this out, said a former NTPC official who was closely involved with the Katwa project.
The state government had earlier committed to supply coal from its own power generation units run by the West Bengal Power Development Corp. Ltd, but that arrangement requires clearance from the Centre, according to this person, who asked not to be identified.
“In all these years, the state didn’t ever pressure the Centre to clear this proposal,” said this person. “It is natural that NTPC is now diverting its resources and management bandwidth to rescue distressed projects in other parts of the country such as in Rajasthan.”
It was envisaged that in the long run coal for the Katwa project will come from the Deocha-Pachami coal block which has been allocated to multiple states led by West Bengal. A company has been formed and clearance given by the Centre to start exploring the 9.7 sq. km block in West Bengal’s Birbhum district.
Though the block with an estimated reserve of two billion tonnes could theoretically be turned into the biggest coal mine in the country, extracting coal from it is not going to be easy because of the local geology and settlements, said a former Coal India Ltd official, who too asked not to be named.
West Bengal has enough power for now and NTPC is of the view that it doesn’t need to invest in the state immediately, said the former NTPC official cited above. What is more, the political relations between West Bengal and Delhi have soured so much that central public sector enterprises such as NTPC will not be encouraged to invest in the state until things improved, he added.