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Saswat Singhdeo

Jajpur: It was on April 12, 2014 when Union Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan announced an underground oil reservoir project (rock cavern) at Dankari near Chandikhol in Odisha's Jajpur district.

However as per an investigation carried out by OTV, the whole project seems to be in jeopardy as the state government has failed to provide the land assured for the same, while stone mafia continues to plunder the area with relentless illegal quarrying.

According to sources, daily hundreds of trucks are illegally transporting stones from the area, raising questions as to whose interests the State government is serving by not stopping the illegal stone quarrying activities and not providing the land for the project.

The Odisha government had assured to provide 400 acre land while the Centre had allocated a budget of Rs 3,800 crore for the project. Surprisingly, even after four years there is no sign of any work on the project. But, illegal stone quarrying in the area is rampant despite orders from the district administration  to stop such activities.

On the other hand, the local Tehsildar has informed the district collector that the stone quarrying activities in the area will generate around Rs 1500 crore revenue for the state exchequer.

"There will be revenue loss of around Rs 1500 crore in a year if stone quarrying is stopped. We have already informed this to the State government through a report," said Dharmasala Tehsildar, Abhay Behura.

However, questions are being raised on such dissuasive approach of the State government after Centre's decision.

"Funds have been allocated in the Union Budget but no roadmap has been prepared for the project. We feel that the stone mafia is exerting pressure," said social activist, Sarbeshwar Behuria.

Citing that the stone blasting in the area poses a threat to the local inhabitants, the centre has written to the State government twice urging the latter to stop such activities. In its letter, the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas cited, '...a need is being felt to preserve and protect the identified location at Chandikhol from being tampered or damaged which may render the construction of underground cavern technically difficult or unviable.'

With no response from the state government, the Union Petroleum Secretary had visited the place and again reminded the Chief Secretary through a letter.

However, the state government has taken no measures to stop stone blasting.

"The Tehsildar has been asked to investigate the matter. After getting the probe report as well as details from the Petroleum Ministry regarding the project roadmap and the exact date of commencement of work on the project, we will take a decision," said Jajpur Collector, Manoj Kumar Das.

"Stone blasting is contaminating the water sources and our houses are also cracking under its impact," complained a local.

While the State government is crowing Central government neglect, such attempts to discourage a project by the Centre seems ironical.

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