|• Total||64 km2 (25 sq mi)|
|• Density||39/km2 (100/sq mi)|
|• Official||Bengali, English|
|Time zone||IST (UTC+5:30)|
Nayachar is an island in the Hooghly River, off Haldia in Purba Medinipur in the Indian state of West Bengal. The island inhabited by few fishermen, has shot into the larger public view as the proposed site of the major chemical hub initiated by the erstwhile Left Front alliance led West Bengal Government. The hub was earlier proposed at Nandigram. Following the West Bengal State Assembly Election in 2011, the All India Trinamool Congress and Indian National Congress coalition under Mamata Banerjee led new West Bengal Government announced on 19th August 2011 that this project will be scrapped.
The Bengali word char means a strip of sandy land rising out of the bed of a river or the sea above water-level. Naya means new.
In December 1987, then land and land reforms minister Benoy Chowdhury had ordered the island handed over to the fisheries department. The order was carried out in March 1988. Benfish, the official agency of the fisheries department, undertook its development. The island was renamed Meendwip, meaning fish island, but nothing much seems to have happened.
In government files, the island is “uninhabited” although there are around 2,500 people living on the island, mostly as “encroachers”. Seven years ago 13 fishery cooperatives were set up, 315 ponds were dug and many of the 400 families on the island work in these. The rest catch fish on their own, either in the river or in small ditches that fill up with small fish during high tide. The government or fisheries department never gave them any right to the land or ponds. They were only allowed to fish around. Some 200 fishermen arrive every morning on the ferry service, work in the co-operatives and leave in the evening. In 2007, the fisheries department has even ended the contracts with the cooperatives.
The state Fisheries Department has demanded Rs 220 million from the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation (WBIDC) for winding up its project at Nayachar, as it has to repay a loan it had taken from Government of India for the purpose.
The Government of India introduced the concept of chemical hubs, calling them Mega-Chemical Industrial Estates (MCIES) in 2005, but a year later enlarged it and introduced the concept of Petroleum, Chemicals ad Petrochemicals Investment region (PCPIRs). A PCPIR was defined as a specifically delineated investment region with an area of around 250 km² planned for the establishment of manufacturing facilities for domestic and export led production in petroleum, chemicals. Out of this around 40 percent of the total region was expected to have the hub. It is expected Haldia-Nayachar would attract total investment of Rs. 440 billion.
Indian Oil Corporation, Haldia Petrochemicals and Mitsubishi Chemicals, all petrochemical companies, are operating in Haldia. However, for setting up a chemical hub there under the ambit of the Petroleum, Chemical, Petrochemical Investment Region policy of the Government of India, the West Bengal State Government would need to acquire an additional 10,000 acres (40 km2) of land, in addition to the existing 15,000 acres (61 km2) in Haldia,
Nayachar has emerged as the most logical option for a major chemical hub as the land belongs to the state government and the area being largely uninhabited. It will neither entail land acquisition nor require population displacement.
The chemical hub would be set up as a joint venture project of West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation Ltd and New Kolkata International Development. Indian Oil Corporation would be the anchor investor there. The NKID comprises three companies including the Salim Group of Indonesia.
However, Nayachar comes under the coastal regulation zone where industries are not permitted under the existing environment rules. Once the proposal clears three environmental stages, a bridge will have to be built to link the island to Haldia.
The state fisheries department had sought the opinion of the Geological Survey of India tegarding the island. GSI had said that the soft land, apart from being vulnerable to earthquake, cyclone and tsunami, is also “young”, not more than 60 years.
The State Industries Minister Nirupom Sen has said that there was no geological data after 1985 and studies would have to be carried out. He added, “The technology to consolidate the soil on such islands is available. They have done it on an island in Singapore.” The chemical hub at Nayachar has been proposed on the basis of experience and expertise in Jurong Island of Singapore.
GSI will take at least six months to complete the detailed geological study in Nayachar after the Government of West Bengal gives a ‘go-ahead’ for a geo-technical survey and the two sides sign a memorandum of understanding. No site-specific study was ever carried out there, except for a routine one in 1985. Nayachar is located in a dynamic zone and it is difficult to predict what may happen to the island in future. However, Ghoramara island, close to Nayachar island has gradually reduced in size over the past few years.
However, the comparison of Nayachar with Jurong is inappropriate, to say the least. Original seven islets of Jurong, off Singapore, is underlain by hard sandstones of Late Triassic Jurong Formation. It is situated in a micro-tidal sea and is not a riverine island as the Nayachar. Geologic, geomorphic and hydrodynamic setting of the two are not comparable. In spite of the different setting, the extensive geotechnical survey undertaken for Jurong is not comparable with absolute lack of similar surveys so far in Nayachar. Without an appropriate understanding of its setting it appears unwise to try to float a large project on this small riverine island.
On February 15, West Bengal Government handed over 54 km² of land at Nayachar to PCR Chemicals Pvt Ltd for conducting a feasibility study in order to set up chemicals hub in the region. PCR Chemicals is a 90:10 joint venture between New Kolkata International Development Pvt Ltd (NKID) and the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation Ltd (WBIDC). NKID is a special purpose vehicle, which has the Salim Group of Indonesia, the Universal Success Group and Unitech, as its partners. The chemicals hub is proposed to be set up under the ambit of the Petroleum, Chemicals & Petrochemicals Investment Region (PCPIR) scheme of the Central Government.
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