In his anxiety to milk the much-delayed Assam gas cracker project for political benefit, Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi has let loose another round of an unseemly war of words. While announcing government schemes recently at a public function in Dibrugarh, Gogoi claimed that the gas cracker project along with the Bogibeel rail bridge are gifts bestowed by the erstwhile Manmohan Singh government to the people of Assam. The Chief Minister may have got carried away with his compulsion to seek votes for the Congress with the assembly elections knocking at the door. But this is yet another instance of his propensity to bend the truth as well as selective and convenient forgetfulness. The need for a gas cracker project was articulated in the 1985 Assam Accord, signed three decades back by the Rajiv Gandhi-led Congress government. There had long been much anguish in the State over the flaring off of huge quantities of tural gas issuing from ONGC oil wells, a shameful wastage the accord sought to redress as part of its promises for socio-economic uplift of Assam. That successive governments at the Centre sat over the promise for 22 years is another matter. Tarun Gogoi is claiming credit for the Manmohan Singh government because its Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs got around to give the green sigl in April 2006, followed up nearly a year later by Prime Minister Dr Singh laying the foundation stone at Lepetkata. The Prime Minister had then laid a five year time frame to complete the project by 2012. But the deadline was pushed back thrice, first to December 2013, then to January 2014 and again to June 2015. The cost of the project meanwhile ballooned from an initially estimated Rs 5,460 crore to a revised Rs 9,285 crore; there were changes in design while the prices of steel, cement and other construction material went up manifold.
At long last in November end last year, Stage I of the project was commissioned. If the works proceed as scheduled, Prime Minister rendra Modi is likely to iugurate the project in the first half of February when its Stage II is expected to begin production. So in his anxiety to pre-empt any BJP attempt to steal the thunder, Chief Minister Gogoi is now reminding the people that it was the Manmohan Singh government which got the project rolling. What he has conveniently glossed over is that the Rajiv Gandhi and rasimha Rao governments got nowhere around to kick-start this promised project. The BJP has now taken Gogoi to task for ‘playing politics with the gas cracker project’; the Chief Minister has also drawn flak from AGP leaders, the coorditing body of families of Assam Agitation martyrs and the All Assam Students Union (AASU). An integrated petro-chemical complex so important for Assam’s development, which could have begun cracking tural gas and ptha to produce ethylene and propylene all those years back, which in turn could have serviced about 500 planned downstream plastic processing units — has now become a project huffing and puffing to barely start producing. Instead of competing for political credit to with an eye to electoral mileage, political parties in the State need to introspect upon the massive hidden costs of missed opportunities all these years. The Brahmaputra Crackers and Polymers Ltd (BCPL) building the project, the GAIL as majority shareholder, and the Oil India Ltd, Numaligarh Refineries Ltd and Assam government as minority shareholders — all have to square up to the challenge for marketing its petrochemical products, as well as to export such products to neighbouring countries if they can. It is high time the State got a project on full steam, giving good returns for all the time and money spent on it.