On Monday, the state government decided that the Punjab Urban Development Authority (PUDA) would take over 1,320 acres of the Guru Nanak Dev Bathinda thermal plant amid protests from the Opposition. RAAKHI JAGGA takes a look at the history of the thermal plant and the challenges that lie ahead:
When was the Bathinda thermal plant constructed?
The foundation stone of the thermal plant was laid in November 1969 by then Chief Minister Justice Gurnam Singh. He was the first SAD chief minister. As the foundation stone was laid in the month of Guru Nanak’s birth, the plant was named Guru Nanak Dev Thermal Plant (GNDTP).
Its construction started in 1970 and was completed in 1982 with a project cost of Rs 100 crore at the time. It has four thermal units, each having a capacity of 110 MW power generation and each unit started generation in 1974, 1975, 1978 and 1982. Many workers had even died while constructing the tall chimneys.
What problems were posed by the thermal plant?
Disposal of fly ash was a big issue for many years and it was a source of air and water pollution. The thermal plant’s first unit completed 25 years of running in 1999. Gradually, other units also completed 25 years in the next 7-8 years, due to which pollution levels increased.
Fed up, in 2011, Bathinda residents said they wanted the thermal plant to be closed. This issue was raised after radioactive uranium and thorium were found in fly ash matter at a thermal plant site in Maharashtra. After that, a joint action committee (JAC) had also been formed by Bathinda residents.
In addition to this, research had been conducted by the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre that uranium concentration was found in Bathinda near GNDTP and its peripheral area near Lehra Mohabbat thermal plant of the Punjab Power Corporation Limited (PSPCL). GNDTP had been generating 440 MW power from its 4 thermal units.
What steps were taken to reduce the pollution?
A project to reduce pollution levels due to fly ash started in 2007 after JAC started raising demands, and it was completed in 2014. Under it, all four thermal units with capacity of 110 MW were renovated with a total project cost of Rs 750 crore.
The turbine capacity of units 3 and 4 had also been increased from 100MW to 120 MW each. Hence the plant started generating 460 MW of power against 440 MW of power. After this renovation, the age of unit 1 was increased to 2020-21, unit 2 to 2022-23 and units 3 and 4 could run till 2028-29 and 2030-31 respectively, said Gursewak Singh, convenor of the joint action committee of Bathinda Thermal Plant Employees’ Union.
What happened after spending Rs 750 crore on renovation?
Renovation projects were carried out during the SAD-BJP regime, but from mid-2016 onwards, it was not being utilised to full capacity. PSPCL had temporarily shut its own thermals in October 2016, reasoning that power from private players was cheaper.
Nearly 50 contract employees of GNDTP had also been sacked at that time. It was the fag-end of the SAD-BJP government and Manpreet Badal had joined a dharna of GNDTP employees union during his election campaign with a promise to get it restarted.
After the Congress came to power, thermals were run during paddy season. But later, agenda was passed to close GNDTP permanently and on January 1, 2018, it was done.
What happened after the closure of GNDTP?
In July 2018, engineers of GNDTP made a project report on operating the 4th unit of the thermal plant on paddy stubble and if it succeeded, it would be solution for getting rid of paddy stubble. Board of directors of PSPCL had also passed this project, but it was never brought as an agenda in Cabinet meetings.
After that, the paddy stubble project was turned down, due to which in January 2020, PSPCL employees approached the National Green Tribunal. A petition is still pending before the tribunal, said Gursewak Singh.
What is the employees’ next move?
Employees plan to move to high court against this decision as a petition in the tribunal is pending with a plea that a plant with paddy stubble could be run at this place. The PSEB Engineers’ Association has also criticised this decision. Jasvir Singh Dhiman, president, and Ajaypal Singh Atwal, general secretary of the association, said, “Engineers from PSPCL should be made part of committees along with PUDA officials for assessing the value and redevelopment of land.
Revenue generated should be reinvested in the power sector.” They however rued that suggestions of engineers to run the thermal plant were turned down so as to encourage reliance on the private sector for power purchase.
What is the government’s stand?
Punjab Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal, who also happens to be Bathinda urban MLA, stated that the thermal colony built on 280 acres will remain as it is, and that employees of civil administration will also be shifted here.
The lakes of the thermal plant will be used as a drinking water supply channel and the 1320 acres of land will be used for developing an industrial park. “The thermal plant was unviable in the present conditions from environment, commercial and administrative angles. Its plant load factor was 7.23 per cent against 100 per cent, while cost of producing power had gone upto 7.70 per unit. But we did not retrench a single employee. There were 1,057 regular employees, 131 outsourced and 665 contract employees, all were retained. By and large, residents of Bathinda are happy with this decision,” he said.
How many other thermal plants does Punjab have?
PSPCL runs two more plants in Punjab — one on the outskirts of Bathinda in Lehra Mohabbat village, another in Ropar district.
Apart from this, another private thermal plant is in Banawali village in Talwandi Sabo area of Bathinda. Hence, the district had three thermal plants, of which one has been closed. There are private plants in Rajpura and Goindwal Sahib areas.
What is the stand of the Opposition?
Opposition parties Shiromani Akali Dal and AAP have stated that they will oppose this move by tooth and nail. Union Minister and Bathinda MP Harsimrat Badal said, “After promising revival of Bathinda’s GNDTP plant in 2017 elections, the Capt Amarinder Singh govt has closed it down and has now in Guru Sahib’s 550th Parkash Purab year decided to auction its land.
SAD will oppose the move and force the government to reverse its direction.” AAP has already staged a protest on this issue outside Manpreet Badal’s residence in Chandigarh.
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