Kolkata: At least six projects in West Bengal aimed at expanding the power distribution network have been stalled because farmers, fearful that their land would be seized, haven’t let a state-owned utility company erect transmission towers on the plots they own.
At stake is the development of Rajarhat town—an extension of Kolkata—where a large number of real estate firms are building high-end condominiums and information-technology parks and the Tata Group is constructing a cancer hospital, and that of the Dankuni-Shaktigarh industrial belt which straddles the districts of Hooghly and Burdwan.
Unless transmission cables are installed within a few months, the construction of properties at Rajarhat would have to stop, real estate developers say.
“We don’t need to acquire land to erect towers. There is, in fact, no provision for land acquisition under the Electricity Act,” said Moloy De, chairman of the West Bengal State Electricity Board, which controls the state’s power generation and distribution companies. “We have never faced this problem before. It’s always been so easy.”
Typically, the West Bengal State Electricity Transmission Company Ltd—a government-owned firm that distributes power to seven million consumers across the state except in Kolkata—issues notices to the public indicating the plots on which it plans to erect towers. Owners of those plots are entitled to crop compensation if the crop is damaged during erection of the tower.
Development at stake: A residential apartment complex in Rajarhat, an extension of Kolkata. Developers say that unless transmission cables are installed soon, construction activity at Rajarhat would have to stop. Madhu Kapparath / Mint
“Typically, people would haggle for compensation, even if crop wasn’t damaged, but now they wouldn’t even let us go near their fields. So even ground surveys have become impossible,” said an official of the state electricity board. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he isn’t authorized to speak to the media. “The police are reluctant to help, and political parties, which earlier wouldn’t oppose erection of towers, are now up in arms wherever we go,” he added.
Not having anticipated the problem, the state electricity board has already spent at least Rs300 crore to build six substations—which reduce the voltage and transmit electricity for domestic and industrial consumption—but cannot connect them to the main grid. One such is the 132KV Rajarhat substation, which was built to distribute up to 250MW of power to hundreds of thousands of households and offices.
The Ambuja Realty Group, which is building a number of properties in Rajarhat, has been hit hard. Its Ujwala Apartments project, with capacity to house around 450 families, is ready for possession, but doesn’t have power supply. So far, only 40 families have moved in, and the real estate developer is running diesel generators to supply power to these flats.
The Tata cancer hospital in Rajarhat is expected to be launched in the next five to six months. Around the same time, Ambuja Realty’s 450,000 sq. ft mall and a 150-room five-star hotel are expected to be ready. But the government might not be able to start supplying power to Rajarhat before these projects are ready.
“We had expected the infrastructure to be ready (by now)…we had to find a solution for the people who have moved in, but it’s an additional burden,” said Harsh Vardhan Neotia, chairman of the Ambuja Realty Group.
Almost all real estate projects in Rajarhat are behind schedule by at least six months. Demand for housing has slowed, but more importantly, real estate developers don’t want their properties to be ready before the power lines have been installed. “We are doing our best to build a consensus among locals across the state,” said De of the state electricity board, but he isn’t sure when the stalled projects could be restarted.