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The Crooked E

Monday, April 16, 2018
By Prashant Hamine

That was the title of a Docudrama that was aired on CBS channel in America way back in 2003. The Crooked E: The Un-shredded Truth About Enron was based on former Enron employee, Brian Cruvers account of the scandal that brought about his company's downfall. It was the same company that built what was then in 1992 known as Enron’s Dabhol Power Project which now is known as the Ratnagiri Gas and Power Private Limited (RGPPL). Back then before the 1995 assembly elections, the then Shiv Sena, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led opposition had based its poll campaign then to terminate the power project, brought then by the Congress led government of then chief minister Sharad Pawar.

Why are we raising the long forgotten Enron saga all over again? Well the Sena-BJPs Shiv-shahi Sarkar had then announced the scrapping of the power project only to face arbitration proceedings. The Sena-BJP government then renegotiated the entire deal and the project was finally revived, as the state faced acute power shortages then. But by 2001, Enron the parent company in the US had collapsed. Is Ratnagiri district turning out to be the burial ground for mega infrastructure projects? The upcoming controversial mega Jaitapur  nuclear power project at Madban again falls in the same Ratnagiri district. Now, again this proposed mega green field oil refinery project at Nanar in Ratnagiri is facing opposition from the local people.

The ghost of “The Crooked E” seems to have come back to haunt the Sena-BJP. Back in 1992, it was opposing a power infrastructure project. Today, the BJP is left defending an oil processing refinery, while the Shiv Sena is belatedly opposing it after it performed poorly in recent municipal council elections in the region. Every other political party is jumping on to the political bandwagon with elections fast approaching. Aware of the past history of Enron, the nuclear deal and Jaitapur power project, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar has cautiously opined that he felt the project should not go out of Maharashtra and that he would listen to the views of the locals opposing the project.

How the approaching 2019 Lok Sabha and Assembly elections are prompting politicians and political parties to change colours is aptly exemplified by BJP Rajya Sabha MP and Maharashtra Swabhimani Paksha (MSP) leader Narayan Rane. Not so long ago, he was an advocate for not dragging politics into developmental projects like the Bullet Train. Today, he is a staunch critic of the proposed oil refinery at Nanar and wants the project out of Konkan region.

Be it the Enron, Jaitapur, Mumbai Metro, Bullet Train, Nanar or the Bandra-Worli Sea Link project (2000-10), the same environmental concerns of pollution threats, threat to local ecology have been raised from time to time. The RGPPL’s Dabhol plant and the Bandra-Worli Sea Link eventually saw the light of the day after a decade long protracted legal battle and public agitation. The Mumbai Trans Harbour Link (MTHL) sea link was first conceptualised in 1962 and came alive on the drawing board in 2004. Now after another 14 years, the project is seeing the light of the day.

The jury is still out on whether we are capable of playing politics of development, but we often end up politicising developmental issues. Successive governments have shown Ostrich like behaviour burying their heads into sands of denial in the face of public agitation. It would augur well for the government to be proactive in allying concerns of the local population than ramrod infrastructure projects without taking the people into confidence.

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