Tuesday, 28 February 2017

If its pan Tamilnadu, why only Neduvasal?

Ever since 2017 unfolded, a number of issues have been rocking the State. Now, it is the turn of the anti-hyrdocarbon extraction protest. Despite the process being carried out across various hamlets and towns in the Cauvery delta region and the rest of Tamil Nadu, it all commenced at small village, Neduvasal in Pudukottai district in the form of protests started by the villagers joining hands with college students from the locality.

According to sources, the process of Hydrocarbon extraction is carried out by the ONGC through various private petro chemical industries in the country. Especially in Cauvery delta region that includes, Trichy, Thanjavur, Tiruvarur, Nagapattinam and Pudukottai districts, the hydrocarbon extraction process is likely being carried out in 16 different villages. Similarly, as many as 20 villages in Ramanathapuram district the process is being carried out.

With so many rural lands that are already being subjected to the hydrocarbon extraction process, it is the people of Neduvasal only have come to fight against the Central and the State governments to revoke the project.

When I could analyse the protesting grounds, several inferences were harvested out of it. Sources from ground zero say that it commenced as an awareness programme carried out by students of a private college in the neighbourhood. The provocation for this was an oil spill near the bore well. The students knew about the effects of fracking - a process of extracting hydrocarbon, informed the people of Neduvasal. Following this, it is said that the students joined hands with the people of Neduvasal and commenced a protest.

In the midst of this, sources from Karaikal and Nagapattinam revealed that the Central government's public sector entity, GAIL, has been embedding gas pipelines across both the districts to transport the extracted petrochemical products beneath the agricultural lands spread over 6,000 hectares.

A small section of protesters at Neduvasal. Source: The News Minute

Voice of the protesters:

When I interacted with Raj Kumar, one of the protesters from Neduvasal, he said, 'We see this as another Methane extraction project of the Central government just in the disguise of the name 'Hydrocarbon' and that is why, we have started this protest. We will not stop until the project is barred and revoked by the Union government'. He said that, there are a lot of countries across the globe including the USA and Australia have banned this method of extraction of Hydrocarbon in their territory. 'In this juncture, we have no other go than to put an end to this all by ourselves through protest. It is our duty to save our environment'.

Villagers second the protesters:

'We never knew that the project of hydrocarbon extraction would be this hazardous until the college students from the neighbourhood came up and gave an awareness. So, we have joined hands with them to fight for saving our landscape and water resources', said a villager on the conditions of anonymity. He also said that, Neduvasal is a completely agriculture based village and that could be spoiled through the extraction of hydro carbon.

What do technical experts say?

According to technical experts, the contract that was signed between GEM laboratories Private Limited, (a company based out of Davangere in Karnataka, started by late BJP Member of Parliament, G Mallikarjunappa) and the land owners of Neduvasal, it does not mention any particular type of hydrocarbon. So, it could be any kind of hydrocarbon, like Petroleum products, Methane, Coal gas, Shale gas and others. In that case, if shale gas is to be extracted using the fracking process the damage could be considerably more. Likewise with methane which if it leaks has a much higher carbon emission than coal. However, due to this process, the Water table would be affected only to a certain extent to a limited area from the extraction point.

The political fallout:

With the protests being carried out by the locals and the youth of Neduvasal and other parts of the State, already several pro Tamil outfits have landed in the agriculture hamlet to show their support to the protesters. Convener of Naam Tamilar Katchi, Seeman has been carrying out visits in the village and is interacting with the people of Neduvasal. He has been stressing the people to not to stop fighting until the entire project itself is revoked by the Central government. Similarly, leader of Tamil Desiya Periyakkam, P Maniarasan has quoted this Hydrocarbon extraction process as a disguised Methane extraction project by the Central government through Great Eastern Energy Corporation Limited (GEECL).

How does the ruling party reply?

The Central government has been defending its side from the allegations of the protesters. Union Minister of State for Shipping, Pon Radhakrishnan recently in a press conference has said that the people have been induced without a proper scientific knowledge. The project right now carried out in Neduvasal is to extract only petroleum crude oil from the underground and it is not a shale gas or a methane extraction project.

Neutralists demands:

From all these inferences, neutralists and political analysts have been demanding a proper explanation from the Central and State governments to the people of Neduvasal. 'First the Petroleum Ministry has to give an assurance that Methane and Shale gas extraction will not be done and only Oil or Natural gas in the conventional method will be extracted at Neduvasal', says Sumanth Raman, a political analyst. Further Sumanth has asked the State Government to form a committee to supervise and ensure that safety and environment standards are being adhered to, not just at Neduvasal but also at all the other much bigger sites where exploration is going on.

'Perhaps there can be a citizens committee that can be formed as well. The Petroleum Ministry or Oil Companies have to explain to the farmers of Neduvasal clearly what is going to be done and what measures are to be taken to minimize the damage to their lands and the environment', he said. Farmers must also be given a revenue share in the overall extraction made from the field, Sumanth added.

- Santhosh Mathevan,
Chennai, February 28, 2017.

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