After Nandigram, Mamata holds up Nayachar

Union environment minister Jairam Ramesh dampened the West Bengal government's plans to set up a chemical hub on the ecologically sensitive island of Nayachar in the River Hoogly, saying any such project requires the most stringent environmental examination.

Speaking on the sidelines of a Zoological Survey of India programme in Kolkata, Ramesh said the centre expected the state government to adhere to ''strictest environmental standards while building the PCPIR (petroleum, chemical, petrochemical investment region)'' off Haldia.

This comes as another blow to the West Bengal government, which hoped that Nayachar would replace Nandigram, where the Tatas' Nano car project was supposed to come up before it met opposition led by Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, who is now the railways minister in the union government.

Banerjee is also spearheading the movement against the Nayachar project; and with the Trinamool Congress now the second largest party in the UPA coalition her word carries even more weight than before.

The Bengal government and its private partner for the project, New Kolkata International Development, are yet to make a formal application to the centre for environmental clearance. ''We will look into the matter cautiously given that the project will come up on an island,'' Ramesh said.

''Any chemical hub requires the most stringent and strict environmental norms. It has to stand and abide by those standards. If it keeps within them then there is usually no point of rejecting the project. But even if a project is through, such a hub needs to continually meet environmental norms. I hope the state government will take adequate steps on the issue,'' Ramesh added.