Guwahati: The Brahmaputra Valley Fertilizer Corporation Limited (BVFCL) at Namrup in Assam’s Dibrugarh district is in a “critical” state, with officials fearing that the factory may not survive for long. A blast in the ammonia-urea unit (Unit-II) on Monday led to an indefinite shutdown of Namrup II. Adding to the woes, the failure to meet annual production targets for the past two years with “obsolete” machinery is likely to trigger the closure of the oldest gas-based fertilizer plant.
“We haven’t been able to produce even 2 lakh metric tonne (LMT) for the current fiscal year yet. Last year, the production was about 2.70 LMT, but this year it will go down further, falling short of the target. It’s a worrying situation,” said BVFCL public relations officer Pranab Bhattacharjee.
“We are still assessing the loss due to the blast in the Unit-II, and it could be a long shutdown – the machinery and equipment damaged are not available easily,” he added. The Namrup Unit-II has completed 44 years of production, and Namrup Unit-III 33 years and it is the only operational unit now. However, the lifespan of such factories is reportedly not more than 15 years.
The Namrup Regional Students’ Union alleged a “political conspiracy” in the explosion, and demanded a thorough inquiry into the incident. Opposing the government’s move to privatise both the Nagaon Paper Mill (NPM), Jagiroad and the Cachar Paper Mill (CPM), the students’ body was apprehensive that BVFCL, also called the Namrup Fertilizer Complex would meet with a similar fate.
“The BVFCL is dying a slow death like the Nagaon Paper Mill. A number of mishaps have happened in this sector leading to losses running into crores of rupees. The blasts, the Centre’s pending approval for Namrup-IV Project, severe shortage of urea, production crisis – could these all be interrelated? The blasts have taken place at night when workers are not present.” said Dibrugarh District Students’ Union (DDSU) assistant general secretary Abani Kumar Gogoi.
In June 2006, the then Union Fertilizer Minister, Ram Vilas Paswan, had declared in Namrup that to meet market demands and to keep BVFCL strong, a new fertilizer unit would be established to replace the ageing Namrup II and III units, which he compared to the ‘Hindustan Ambassador’ of bygone times.
In a Cabinet meeting in May 2015, the Centre had decided to set up the Namrup-IV unit on the BVFCL premises. Initially, it was supposed to have a capacity of 8.646 LMT per annum, but later a proposal came up for installation of a standard size gas-based ammonia-urea plant with a capacity of 12.70 LMT per annum by forming a joint venture of central public sector enterprises (CPSEs) and the Assam government. Under this project, National Fertilizers Limited (NFL) holds 35 percent share, Rashtriya Chemicals & Fertilizers Ltd (RCF) 17 percent, BVFCL 11 percent, Oil India Ltd 26 percent and the state government has 11 percent stake in the plant.
In September 2019, the Union Minister of Chemicals and Fertilizers DV Sadananda Gowda had announced during his visit to BVFCL that the work for Unit-IV would commence soon, and the existing Namrup II and Namrup III would be revamped and refitted with new machinery. But even as the government claims there is no dearth of funds for development in Northeast, the new Unit-IV project is still in cold storage.
“They must have faced some technical problem for failing to set up the fourth unit. But Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal had assured that all technical problems would be sorted within three months. It would take 42-36 months to establish a new unit, and until that period, Namrup II and Namrup III should be revived. The government had earmarked a fund of Rs 100 crore for this, but no fund has been released yet,” said BVFCL PRO Bhattacharjee.
Assam Chief Minister Sonowal had visited Namrup on 26 September last year and held a meeting with BVFCL officials along with representatives from Assam Petro-chemicals Ltd.
“The chief minister is well aware of the bottleneck and the market position. Our monthly expenditure is around Rs 40 crore, we have to pay about Rs 25-27 crore for gas alone. Moreover, because of frequent breakdown due to obsolete machinery and old technology, the plants could not perform as expected. Namrup III is often plagued with compressor problems and technical snags. These units need extensive maintenance for sustained operations,” he explained, adding that BVFCL has tied up with NFL to produce a fixed amount of MUKTA or neem-coated urea — to meet orders from customers across Assam and Northeast, eastern India, Bangladesh and Nepal.
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Updated Date: Jan 08, 2020 13:34:03 IST