WITH EYES WIDE OPEN
D. N. Bezboruah
There are people who bravely talk about putting the clock back. There is simply no one capable of doing this unless one is talking about picking up a clock or a watch and putting the time on it back by a couple of hours or so. One can thereby play a puerile game of a sort of mechanical achievement. But time, as we all understand it, that does not depend on your watch or mine to keep track of it, moves on inexorably forward in its relentless linear course. We only fool ourselves or play verbal games when we talk about setting the clock back. What really happens is that we have lost some time, but we make light of it because we can do nothing about it.
It might not be a great loss for an individual to talk about having lost some time or wasted some time that cannot be wished back. But for an entire society to lose a lot of time largely due to the failure of its rulers to plan for the future and for the needs and aspirations of a society for its future, is a great loss for that society or tion or country. Here we are concerned with that inexorable, eterlly forward-moving time that the entire world is obliged to abide by. It is time that is also often referred to in terms of fashions, in terms of different stages of technological development and in terms of changes in mores of acceptable human behaviour. It is in this flow of human progress that we assess a tion or a society—generally in comparison to the achievements of other societies. A tion that has ture’s gifts of resources but fails to do anything with them is generally looked down upon as being unproductive or lacking in resourcefulness despite having resources. By contrast, there are countries like Japan with practically no tural resources of their own that buy raw material from elsewhere to turn such material to objects of great beauty and utility. Such societies turally get looked up to as advanced societies.
In Assam, we have the tural resource of fossil fuels and the tural gases associated with crude oil. People will be turally inclined to ask what we have done with this great asset. Unfortutely, the Constitution of India does not vest the ownership of such tural resources below the ground to the State where they occur. The owner of such tural resources is the Government of India, and the States where such riches exist can only demand a certain royalty from the Centre for the use of such resources. However, there is nothing to prevent the rulers of such States from prevailing upon the Centre that there shall be no waste of such resources. And that is why it is important to assess what Assam has been able to do about the proper use of tural resources found in Assam as compared to the use of similar assets in other States of India. We are all aware of how tural gas from the oilfields of Assam was just flared away for a couple decades simply because the Centre failed to plan in advance for the proper use of such associated tural gas. Gujarat too had oil fields and associated tural gas. There was no flaring of gas in Gujarat. The Constitution of India has not operated differently in the case of Gujarat. There too, the crude oil and tural gas belongs to the Union government. Gujarat too gets a royalty from the Centre just as Assam does. But the rulers of Gujarat have not allowed the Centre to waste any of the associated tural gas in Gujarat as they have done in Assam. One can calculate the value of the total tural gas flared in Assam at the rate of Rs 38 lakh to Rs 42 lakh per day for about 20 years. Even without taking into account the adjoining fields rendered unfit for agricultural produce, the loss to the State and the country was colossal.
However, a far more serious loss to the country was the loss in terms of the end products of the tural gas so flared for about 20 years, as also the loss of time in acquiring the technology for the proper and productive use of the tural gas that was just flared away. The obvious move, of course, was to set up a gas cracker to use the tural gas. At the time the proposal was mooted in the 1980s, the estimated cost of setting up a gas cracker plant was just about Rs 800 crore. However, the proposed project kept getting delayed until the estimated cost rose to Rs 4,000 crore, Rs 5,000 crore and then went beyond Rs 10,000 crore when the present gas cracker plant at Lepetkata, the Brahmaputra Cracker and Polymers Limited, was filly commissioned. So Assam is now behind the rest of the country in polymer-based industries by about 30 years. This, in itself, is a set-back that the rulers of the State will not be able to undo. After all, the State government had not taken into account the quantum of polymers that the newly created gas cracker plant was going to produce in planning for the number of polymer-based industrial units that were to be set up in the State. As such, it would be irratiol to expect that the polymers produced as feedstock by the Brahmaputra Cracker and Polymers Limited (BCPL) at Lepetkata would be entirely used within the State or the region. Hence a great deal of the feedstock would have to be exported to other States. This is what I had expected long before the gas cracker plant was commissioned. I had accordingly submitted a memorandum to the Prime Minister stating that this would result in the feedstock being exported to other States of India instead of being used completely in Assam to bring about the kind of industrial development that we have all been hoping for. And once the feedstock gets committed to industrial units elsewhere in India, it would not be possible for the Brahmaputra Cracker and Polymers Limited (BCPL) to suspend such supplies and divert them to new downstream manufacturers of the State. The PMO had forwarded the memorandum to the appropriate agencies of the Union government. If the feedstock of the BCPL is exported to manufacturers elsewhere, the very purpose of setting up the BCPL in Assam to put the tural gas of Assam to best use in the State in order to bring about industrial development of the State would be defeated. The beneficiaries would be manufacturers using polymers in other States who would get the feedstock much cheaper than they are doing now.
It is unfortute that even the technology related to the use of the tural resources of Assam should be about three or four decades behind the technology already familiar to the rest of the country. That is why it is so important for our rulers to insist that the feedstock of BCPL should be utilized entirely within the State in order to set right a small part of the glaring imbalance in industrial development that is so marked in this region. If necessary, the facilities of storing the feedstock of the BCPL should be enhanced so that we may avoid the export of feedstock to industrial units elsewhere in the country. What should be abundantly clear by now is that any delay in acquiring the technology related to any industry brings about a corresponding delay in our ability to keep pace with development elsewhere in the country. And if any bureaucrat has the gumption to talk about putting the clock back (even in jest) he should be told that the only thing he is putting back is the development of the State or the region vis-à-vis the development in the rest of the country. He is thus creating losses in terms of time which amount also to losses in terms of money, since time is money. Let him have no illusions about having saved anything at all.