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Balbir Singh (50) of village Rampura Phool near Bhatinda is a happy man these days. He is getting queries from buyers for his patch of land, on which he has been growing cotton for over 30 years. He found it less remunerative for the past few years and wanted to relocate to some fertile belt of Punjab from the semi-arid belt of Malwa in the state.
There are many farmers like Balbir Singh in this belt who are waiting for the Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited-Mittal Energy Limited (HMEL) oil refinery to be commissioned (mechanical commissioning likely in early 2011).
The refinery project worth Rs 19,000 crore is the largest investment Punjab ever got in a single project. All the farmers guarding their cotton fields on the way to refinery (in village Phullo Kheri, 18 km from Bhatinda) guide the way to the upcoming refinery to the visitors with gleaming eyes as the project has the potential to create a large number of jobs for the locals.
Nacchattar Singh of Kankwal village said that in the absence of job opportunities, many young boys took to narcotics and that was evident if one traveled in the hinterland. "Our boys would definitely get openings for self employment as the project would need local people to support the daily needs of skilled manpower employed in the refinery," he said
HMEL (HPCL-Mittal Energy Ltd) in association with Construction Industry Development Council (CIDC) an autonomous body under the Planning Commission of the Government of India has sponsored the Construction Skills Training Centre at village Phullokhari. This centre is providing training to the youth of adjoining villages of the project site in technical skills required for refinery construction like masonry, bar bender and shuttering carpentry. The youth are being selected by the help of district administratio. Furthermore, to generate employment opportunities for youths, on successful completion of the training the trainees are being deployed for various civil jobs with different contractors working at the Project site.
According to sources, over 500 villagers in the age-group of 18-30 years having a qualification of 8th to 10th standard have already been trained under this programme and absorbed in the refinery project.
"HMEL spends about Rs 25,000 per person for the three month training course being provided here", told an official of HMEL .
Acknowledged as the cotton belt of Punjab, the region around Bhatinda is bereft of the kind of development registered by the periphery of Ludhiana, Jallandhar, Amritsar, Patiala and other towns.
One finds idyllic houses, camel and bullock-carts plying on the metalled roads interconnecting towns and villages. The locally assembled open auto-rickshaws having a generator fitted over a raft with no safety measures to transport villagers speaks volumes of the extent of poverty.
The village heads of most of the villages around Bhatinda (Ramsara, Rama Mandi, Kanakwal and Phullo Kheri) feel that the migration of skilled labour to run the refinery would help in creation of job opportunities for the locals engaged in farming, that is at best a seasonal occupation.
The refinery intended to cater to the 2,500-odd petrol and diesel filling stations in Punjab and some more in the surrounding states, told an official of HMEL. This would create business opportunities for locals. The distribution of other by-products of crude oil like polyproplyne, sulphur and hexan (used in food processing) would also help in growth of related clusters in the vicinity.
Bhatinda was zeroed in by the HMEL for its largest investment on the basis of satellite survey that reflected a brown patch in the green-belt of Punjab, said the official.