A single transmission tower and one man at a single location had threatened to jeopardise Indias pathbreaking power transmission link with Bangladesh. The hump was finally crossed through a mix of strategy and negotiation after taking care that nothing reached a political level,the quagmire in which two other Indo-Bangla strategic initiatives,the Teesta waters treaty and the land boundary pact,are already stuck.
The 71-km Baharampur-Bheramara power link was held hostage for well over a month by a right-of-way problem at a location in West Bengal,where a transmission tower was to be erected. An aggrieved private land-owner refused to play ball,pushing the commissioning of the link between the Indian and Bangladeshi grids past its mid-August deadline.
The Centre took up the matter with the West Bengal government,which said it would act only after end-July,when the local body elections were over. But the polls were delayed,and the Centre waited and watched nervously the efforts made by state-owned transmission utility PowerGrid Corp. to work around the problem.
While the nominal compensation for the land had already been paid,the owner reportedly insisted on an additional Rs 1 crore as compensation. Negotiations with the land-owner did not make much headway.
PGCIL had the option of invoking Section 164 of the Electricity Act,which allows acquisition of land overriding concerns of private persons. But the state governments support is critical,and with Bengal adamant on not moving before the polls,the power ministry advised PGCIL to hold on.
This was the best option. If political parties were to get involved,the issue would have been escalated and there could have been more delays, a central government officer involved in the exercise told The Indian Express.
The Centre was particularly concerned that Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee did not get personally involved. The orders were to ensure that the matter does not escalate to the chief ministers office. Because of competitive politics,there was a real danger of the whole issue getting mired in controversy. Any semblance of an excess (by PGCIL or the Centre) could have provoked the Trinamool leadership, a ministry official said.
Things finally moved two days after the elections were over. PGCIL ultimately invoked the Electricity Act,but the presence of policemen in the area was deliberately toned down,primarily to ensure that the issue did not gain mass support.
The link is slated to become operational in the first week of October,facilitating cross-border electricity transfer of 500 MW to power-starved Bangladesh. India had aimed to have the interconnection up and running before December,when Bangladesh goes for general elections.