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Tamil Nadu hydrocarbon project sees protests from farmers, environmentalists

LiveMint logoLiveMint 27-02-2017 Dharani Thangavelu

Chennai: Neduvasal in Pudukottai district, over 400 kilometres south of Chennai, is threatening to become the next hotbed of protests in Tamil Nadu. Farmers, villagers and environmentalists are protesting against a soon-to-start hydrocarbon extraction project, claiming that it will affect their farmlands and pollute underground water.

The centre is planning to explore and extract hydrocarbon in Pudukottai in Tamil Nadu and Karaikal in Puducherry.

The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA), chaired by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on 15 February gave its approval to award contract in 31 areas to 44 fields, including 28 on-land and 16 offshore fields discovered by Oil and Natural Gas Corp. (ONGC) and Oil India Ltd (OIL). The government has awarded contracts for the project to private firms.

According to the villagers, ONGC had dug borewells a few years ago in a nearby village to test the presence of hydrocarbons. “Villagers found oil oozing out of a borewell in Vanakkankadu village which is over 12 km from Neduvasal. This was polluting agricultural lands and we were worried,” said Parthiban Vairavan, a resident of Neduvasal.

This incident along with the CCEA’s nod for extracting hydrocarbon, has led to protests and hunger strikes since 16 February.

A release from the ministry of petroleum and natural gas on 15 February said: “It is expected that in-place locked hydrocarbons volume of 40 MMT oil and 22.0 BCM of gas will be monetized over a period of 15 years. The production from these contract areas will supplement domestic production.”

ALSO READ: ONGC to pump in Rs7,327 crore to increase output

According to the ministry, these areas were discovered long ago but these discoveries could not be monetized due to a variety of reasons.

Mobilizing protests

Out of over 1,500 people in Neduvasal, around 500 work outside in urban centres. “Of these 500, nearly 100 work in oil companies in Gulf countries and know exactly how harmful and complicated this hydrocarbon extraction can be for agricultural fields,” said Parthiban, who works in Chennai, and is now at his native place Neduvasal to take forward the protests.

“We have been able to reach out to students, youth and people in cities and in other countries through social media and have had huge crowds thronging our village and nearby areas. And agitations have been held at different places in the state to support our voices,” he added.

Students and youth of the villages in Pudukottai district have been driving across the streets in bicycles and two wheelers, distributing pamphlets on the hazards of the hydrocarbon project.

Nearly 2,000 people from surrounding villages, led by panchayat heads are planning to gather at Neduvasal to discuss how to take the initiative forward and urge the centre to drop off the project.

Political support

With the chorus growing louder, political parties in Tamil Nadu have also raised their voice against the Centre’s move.

DMK working president M.K. Stalin on Friday submitted a memorandum to petroleum and natural gas minister Dharmendra Pradhan against the proposed hydrocarbon exploration and extraction project in and around Neduvasal village and requested the minister to refrain from sanctioning the project as it is against the wishes of the people of the state.

While the Communist Party of India, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi have announced an agitation in Neduvasal village on Tuesday, the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) will stage a protest against the project in Neduvasal and Karaikal on 3 March.

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders, meanwhile, have differing view. While senior BJP leader and MP L. Ganesan on Saturday said there should be some sacrifice that people should do for the benefit of the nation or state, BJP national secretary H. Raja said that the Centre will not consider any projects that are against the wishes of the people.

Earlier, the state opposed a methane extraction project and passed a resolution against the fracking of extraction of shale gas. A resolution was passed by the Tamil Nadu assembly in 2015 which was accepted by the Centre in 2016.

With agitations gaining momentum on ground and on the social media, Parthiban said, “#SaveNeduvasal is not Neduvasal’s problem. It is the farmer’s issue.”

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