DIBRUGARH, Feb 16 – Yet another “national project” has become a victim of severe time and cost over-runs. This time, it is the much touted Assam Gas Cracker Project, being promoted by Brahmaputra Cracker & Polymer Limited (BCPL), a joint venture of GAIL (India) Limited, Oil India Limited, Numaligarh Refinery Limited and the Assam Government. As per very optimistic estimates, the project should go on-stream by 2014, which is two years behind the 2012 deadline. Worse, the cost of the project might shoot to Rs 10,000 crore, almost double the earlier estimate of Rs 5,460 crore.
Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh laid the foundation of the project at Lepetkata near here in April 2007, and he then had stated that the project would become operational by 2012. Prior to that, the then Prime Minister, P V Narasimha Rao had performed a similar function for the project in 1994, at Wilton, near Tengakhat in the Dibrugarh district. That site was abandoned following objections by the Indian Air Force, and the project went into cold storage. After the project was revived thirteen years later in 2007, it appears the project has gone into a spin, with chaotic management of affairs by BCPL and the unit’s project management consultant, Engineers India Limited (EIL).
In December 2009, the Public Enterprises Selection Board recommended the appointment of J K Singh Teotia as the managing director of BCPL. Prior to that, he served BCPL as its chief operating officer for a brief period. Upon assuming charge, he told this newspaper that he would work for the timely commissioning of the project. However, it later turned out that he messed up the project, as he failed to build up a cohesive management, and was often found to be at loggerheads with his colleagues and superiors. Ultimately, he resigned from BCPL on January 24 this year, and his resignation came into effect today. During his thirteen months as managing director of BCPL, the gas cracker works suffered immensely, and today, affairs are such that several prime contractors have stopped work as their bills remain unpaid.
A major reason of the ire of the contractors is that their bills have been accumulating for months on end. It was earlier agreed that the bills would be settled in ten days’ time, but this has never happened. Moreover, the contractors are complaining that upto 45 per cent of their bills are kept pending on whimsical grounds by BCPL. To add to the confusion, the direct BCPL recruits and the GAIL deputees to BCPL are yet to get together as a single team.
With just about 25 per cent of the works completed till today, the gas cracker project has been a victim of insensitive GAIL deputees to the project and totally mistaken financial projections. For example, the estimates stated that casual workers at the project would be paid daily wages of Rs 80, as per 2004 schedules. With inflation growing unstoppably, workers’ wages have become a serious issue, as they refuse to work for this sum. The Central Labour Commissioner here too has taken BCPL to task on this score, asking the latter to pay current wages. The issue remains unsettled.
Then, with the BCPL-GAIL-EIL mismatch reaching newer heights every day at the gas cracker project, the contractors have decided to stop their work from today, at least until field working conditions are hammered out. With the prime contractors like Simplex, EPIL, Pratibha, and RVR temporarily suspending work, and sub contractors demanding better wages and working conditions, the chaos at the gas cracker project is complete.
Following the acceptance of the resignation of Teotia, the BCPL Board has appointed Prabhu Nath Prasad as the chief executive officer of the project. He has taken charge today. To take stock of the pandemonium, Union Chemical and Petrochemical Secretary M Raman and BCPL chairman Bhuban Chandra Tripathi are visiting the project site on Thursday.
For a project that is directly monitored by the Prime Minister’s Office and the DoNER Minister, B K Handique, the developments at Lepetkata gives out only frustrating signals.