Why Tamil Nadu is protesting against Neduvasal Hydrocarbon project

Last Updated: Mon, Mar 06, 2017 10:52 hrs
Why Tamil Nadu is protesting against Neduvasal Hydrocarbon project

(Image tweeted by @BalaguruSivam)

Opposing a proposed hydrocarbon extraction project, farmers in Neduvasal village in Pudukottai district have been staging a protest for more than a fortnight now. Likening it to the Jallikattu protests that happened at the Marina beach in January, many youngsters in the state have supported this resistance as the small agricultural village has become a site for congregation and protest.

As of yesterday talks between the struggle committee and the ONGC officials and Minister of State for Road Transport, Highways and Shipping, Government of India and MP from Kanniyakumari, Pon Radhakrishnan, failed.

Radhakrishnan was reported as saying that Tamil Nadu was the only state opposed to the project –

The villagers raised a lot of questions. They spoke with clarity. The ONGC officials clarified. It was a cordial meeting but we could not come to an understanding

What is the Neduvasal Project?

According to S.Ganesan’s article in The Hindu, Oil and Natural Gas Corporation has been engaged in exploration of 31 sites throughout the state for hydrocarbon. The well in Neduvasal was sunk in 2009 but no drilling has taken place.

The project at Neduvasal, recommended for award to a private company, would seek to extract both oil and natural gas from hydrocarbon sediments in an area of about 10.1 sq km.

This announcement was made public by the Press Information Bureau on 15th February. According to the notification, many of these wells were discovered several years ago but were not monetised due to several constraints. They were therefore put on offer through an online bid as recommended by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs.

These contract areas have been awarded under the new regime of Revenue Sharing Model. Award of contract is expected to provide faster development of fields and facilitate production of oil and gas thereby increasing energy security of the country. It is expected that in-place locked hydrocarbons volume of 40 MMT oil and 22.0 BCM of gas will be monetised over a period of 15 years. The production from these contract areas will supplement the domestic production

The Wire reports that the well erected in Neduvasal is in reality closer to a neighbouring village Karukkakurichi on land belonging to two brothers who were forced to give it up in 2008. Govindaa Velalar who is a potter said –

They said they were running some tests to see if there was petrol beneath our lands, and that it was only a short-term operation. We did not want to part with the land. But they were persistent and brought in the VAO and the tahsildar, who insisted that this was a government project. They took my signature on a piece of paper. I do not even have a copy of that letter.

The brother Kulandai Vellalar also said that the government told them that they were looking for kerosene. He told The Hindu -

I didn’t ask any questions then. They started work in 2007. They are still paying me ₹60,000 annually. I used to earn more growing paddy, sugarcane and banana using a borewell.

Why are residents protesting?

Nityanand Jayaraman’s article in The Wire provides details of the possible damage to the environment. These include groundwater contamination, air pollution and possibility of accidents.

Failed well sites have to be restored and returned to the land-use that prevailed prior to drilling – that is, agricultural use in the delta region. According to Dhanapalan, this is seldom done. Of the 600 or so wells that are part of the Cauvery assets, only 200 are producing wells. The remainder, barring a few that are used as injection wells, is abandoned.

Residents are sure that the project will affect their livelihood. The Hindu’s S.Ganesan writes -

The villagers are consumed by apprehensions about the exploration plans of the government – from the depletion of water table depriving them of their livelihood, to the contamination of fields and incursion of sea water in the water table. Some claim that the execution of the project would cause earthquakes and even make the local population more vulnerable to certain diseases. The village’s youth believe that the project also involves extraction of methane and shale gas

Puthiya Thalaimurai carried visuals of the large number of people from almost 70 villages who gathered at the Neduvasal protest site a few days ago in solidarity with the protestors.

One of the residents spoke to the reporter and explained that the hydrocarbon project would affect the livelihoods of their village as well as the villages in a 100km radius of Neduvasal. He said that agriculture is the only source of income for all the families who grow a variety of crops and flowers. They appealed to the state government to explain their plight to the centre. The protest committee was also keen that they not be given any political colour although they welcomed leaders from various parties who supported them.

Support from political parties and celebrities

Like the jallikattu protests, some celebrities have been vocal in their support for the struggle at Neduvasal. Among them are music director and actor G.V Prakash Kumar...

Most political parties have also been quick to show their support to Neduvasal. M.K Stalin lauded the protestors as setting an example of peaceful agitation. He also called on the state government to immediately call for a special assembly session to pass a resolution against the hydrocarbon project. MDMK’s Vaiko gave a heated press conference explaining that a similar project in Nigeria has wreaked havoc on the lands there. He also said that it was DMK government which first gave clearance of the project and the AIADMK also did not oppose it at that time.

VCK’s Thol Thirumavalavan also said that almost 5000 families would be affected by the project and that the central government has routinely enforced harmful and destructive projects in the state.

It remains to be seen if this peaceful agitation led by farmers will prevail or if the government will succeed in the bringing it to a violent end like the jallikattu protest.


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