Bihar, for long, has been a graveyard of industry. Those searching for a glimmer of hope, though, needn’t look beyond Barauni town in Begusarai district. Billed as Bihar’s “industrial capital” – voting for the state assembly polls here is on November 3 – it is actually witnessing a resurgence of sorts.
There’s no better symbol of that than the Hindustan Fertilizer Corporation Ltd’s (HFCL) ammonia-urea complex at Barauni, shut down in January 1999. It is now being revived – through the setting up of a brand new plant on the same 480 acres land that housed the earlier project. At Rs 7,043.26 crore capital cost, it would be Bihar’s biggest industrial investment.
“Construction is more than 70 per cent complete. Machinery orders are already placed, and we will begin pre-commissioning and commissioning activity from February,” said Sunil Kumar Sinha, general manager of Hindustan Urvarak & Rasayan Ltd (HURL) in charge of the project site that currently has 5,000-plus workers alongside Sarens, Sanghvi and Escorts Hydra cranes, JCB excavators and Putzmeister boom placers.
The new plant – which can produce 2,200 metric tonnes per day (mtpd) of ammonia and 3,850 mtpd urea, as against the 600 mtpd and 1,000 mtpd capacity of the defunct unit – was supposed to be ready by May 2021, 36 months from the date of investment approval. That schedule has been somewhat upset, thanks to the disruptions from Covid-19 and lockdown. Follow Bihar Election 2020 Voting Live Updates
“Till March 21, we had about 4,000 workers. Once lockdown was imposed, all work stopped. The district administration gave us permission to restart on April 26, but most workers (75% from Bihar and the rest from West Bengal, Jharkhand and other states) had already left. We could resume only on May 4 with the 600-700 who had stayed back in the labour camps here. As the lockdown eased, the worker strength rose to 1,900 in early-June, 3,500 in July, 4,000 in August and 5,000 from September,” added Sinha.
Arun Kumar Gupta, managing director of HURL, was hopeful of the project being commissioned by December 2021. The company – a joint venture of Coal India Ltd, NTPC, Indian Oil Corporation (IOC), HFCL and Fertilizer Corporation of India – is also putting up two other similar-sized ammonia-urea complexes at Gorakhpur (Uttar Pradesh) and Sindri (Jharkhand). These, like Barauni, are greenfield natural gas-based plants in locations that previously had units running on naphtha and fuel oil, respectively, and lying closed for two decades or more.
“The commercial operation date for Gorakhpur was originally February 2021. But due to Covid, that will now be August, while November-December for Barauni and Sindri,” Gupta told The Indian Express. Urea from these plants would, thus, be available to farmers from next year’s rabi cropping season. HURL has even started marketing its ‘Apna’ urea brand in Bihar since February, by sourcing material from the public sector Rashtriya Chemicals and Fertilizers.
For Bihar, the Barauni project’s revival is no small thing. Its annual production capacity, at 12.7 lakh tonnes (lt), can meet a major part of the state’s consumption/sales of 22.64 lt in 2019-20. Neither Bihar nor Jharkhand have any urea plants; the closest one at Phulpur in UP is 490 km from Barauni and 550 km from Sindri. Both projects will get gas from GAIL (India) Ltd’s Jagdishpur-Phulpur-Haldia pipeline. A spur line, from Dobhi in Gaya, has already been laid till Barauni.
But Begusarai’s revival story – whose fruits would accrue to whichever government comes next – isn’t confined to urea.
IOC’s oil refinery at Barauni was India’s second after Assam’s Digboi. It came on stream in July 1964 with a one million tonnes (mt) annual crude processing capacity, augmented to 3 mt in 1969 and 6 mt by 2002. On January 30, after nearly 18 years, the IOC board approved a further expansion to 9 mt at an estimated cost of Rs 13,779 crore. This project – entailing the setting up of a new 9 mt atmospheric and vacuum distillation unit, the contract for which was awarded to L&T Hydrocarbon Engineering in April – is to be commissioned by April 2023.
Equally significant is the Barauni Thermal Power Station (BTPS). This coal-fired project, too, came up in the early-sixties, with five units of 145 megawatt (MW) aggregate generation capacity being made operational between January 1963 and December 1971. All of them were retired by 1995-96. Units 6 and 7, of 110 MW each established in 1984-85, were taken up for renovation and modernisation.
On December 15, 2018, NTPC acquired BTPS from the Bihar State Power Generation Company. Today, not only are units 6 & 7 running, a new 250 MW plant was declared operational from March 1, this year. Another 250 MW unit is expected to be added by 2021, taking the total to 720 MW.
Last but not least is the Barauni Dairy. With a turnover of Rs 755.36 crore, it is not just Bihar’s, but also eastern India’s, largest cooperative dairy union. In 2019-20, the Deshratna Dr Rajendra Prasad Dugdh Utpadak Sahkari Sangh, as it is called, made Rs 499.03 crore of payments to 1.32 lakh farmers and procured 4.55 lakh kg per day of milk on an average.
Barauni Dairy is planning to invest Rs 95.5 crore in what will be the country’s biggest plant for making indigenous milk products. The proposed plant will consume 2 lakh litres per day of milk to exclusively produce rasagulla, gulab jamun, peda, cham cham, kalakand, misti dahi, raskadam, milk cake, khoa, paneer, lassi and plain dahi. The dairy union is already using 70,000-80,000 litres daily now for producing indigenous milk sweets under the ‘Sudha’ brand.
“We are in discussions with the National Dairy Development Board for a Rs 70 crore loan at 6.5% concessional interest rate for 10 years under the Centre’s Dairy Processing & Infrastructure Fund. Since the land for the project is available here, we can expect the plant to be ready in 2-3 years time,” stated a Barauni Union official.