Function to start work for Barmer refinery triggers NDA-Congress slugfest

New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday set a 2022 deadline for the completion of a Rs43,000 crore refinery project in Rajasthan, at an event which had political overtones ahead of assembly polls later this year.

The event marking the commencement of work for Hindustan Petroleum Corp. Ltd’s (HPCL’s) nine million tonne refinery triggered a political face-off between the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the main opposition party the Congress, with the PM accusing the latter of announcing projects which existed only on paper. The same sentiment was echoed by oil minister Dharmendra Pradhan and chief minister Vasundhara Raje.

The foundation stone for the project was laid in 2013 during the United Progressive Alliance’s (UPA) regime at the centre.

“Please have a look at the working style of Congress. Talking big and leading people astray is not just limited to Barmer refinery. It is part of their working style,” said Modi in his speech rendered in Hindi.

The public meeting of Modi in Barmer is interesting as Rajasthan will witness a direct electoral contest between ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress in the state later this year. A similar contest between the two rival parties is also expected in Karnataka, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. The challenge for the BJP is that Congress is in power in Karnataka, whereas BJP will face anti-incumbency related issues in the other three states where it is in power.

Congress was quick to respond to Modi’s comments. “Both Rajasthan and centre has BJP in power. Forty-four months had passed but what were they doing? Why was it not started and rolled out? This is not their project. Sonia Gandhi had already laid the foundation stone for it and that same scheme you have restarted four years later,” senior Congress leader Pramod Tewari told reporters in New Delhi.

The refinery project has been in the eye of the political storm as former Rajasthan chief minister and senior Congress leader Ashok Gehlot had also earlier attacked the BJP over the issue.

The Prime Minister also reiterated on the occasion his commitment to change the energy landscape of the country.

Addressing the public gathering, Modi said the refinery-cum-petrochemical project at Pachpadra in Barmer will start producing energy for the nation by the time India celebrates its 75th Independence day anniversary. “This refinery will empower the poor, will change the landscape and fortunes of the desert state,” he said, adding that energy security and empowering the poor were the key pillars of the government’s energy policy. The refinery—HPCL Rajasthan Refinery Ltd (HRRL)—is a joint venture between state-owned HPCL and the Rajasthan government. While HPCL holds 74% in the project, the state government owns 26%.

Modi said his administration was committed to walk the talk on announcements made and added that when he took office, as many as 1,500 schemes announced in previous railway budgets still remained only on paper.

Chief minister Raje, who was present on the occasion, said courses on petrochemicals technology will be introduced in state polytechnics to help local people get jobs in the petrochemical complex. The project is expected to create 1,000 direct and 40,000 indirect jobs during the construction period.

The Modi administration has set a target to give liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) connections without upfront charges to 50 million poor women by 2019 under the Ujjwala Yojana launched in May 2016 and to complete the electrification of all remaining villages by May 2018. Of the 18,452 villages chosen for electrification, 87% have been completed. The government also has a scheme to supply electricity to all households by December.livemint