Tamil Nadu’s Hydrocarbon Project: An Old Monster under a New Disguise
Tamil Nadu farmers are one of the harshly persecuted bunches in contemporary India – both by nature and state, central governments. While they have confronted numerous debacles in the past, the last few years have become worse. From facing the worst drought of the century (resulted in hundreds of suicides) to Kerala’s threat with Megathathu dam to Karnataka’s stern stand on Cauvery water sharing, the conflicts for TN farmers are getting bigger day by day. The state government wrote some ‘letters to Centre and officials paid visit to some drought-hit measures. True relief farmers still seem to be a mirage. Moreover, in the past month or so, media and people were well distracted by the stupid antics of power-hungry state politicians. The unsolved farmer issues were nearly blacked-out in the public forum until Centre gave the green signal to Hydrocarbon extraction project in Pudukottai district.
Neduvassal village in Pudukottai district, situated near the border of Thanjavur district (known as ‘rice bowl of TN) has rich soil source, suitable for various productive farming practices. In 2009, ONGC bought the lands of couple of farmers in the area and conducted few tests (they have found hydrocarbons in the form of natural gas). The farmers of the village protested when ONGC drilled a 4,000 feet well. The tests were temporarily stalled, although the efforts to buy more farmlands continued. Most of the farmers of the region firmly stood against the extraction project. Only few years back, after people’s protests, Centre and State (signed under DMK period) shelved Methane extraction project in the Cauvery Delta. Now the same project is shifted few kms away under a slightly different name. Centre has approved for hydrocarbon exploration in 31 locations including Neduvassal village.
The Union government (Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs) didn’t initiate any talks with farmers or divulged details about the project before taking a decision. Already ONGC wells in the Cauvery region have created adverse impacts on farming. Now with hydrocarbon extraction, the Centre has indifferently approved to annihilate livelihood of more than five thousand families (families whom can’t survive without agriculture or cattle farming). In the past decade, it has been pretty evident how both the Union governments (led by Congress and then BJP) have targeted Tamil Nadu as the testing ground for projects harmful to environment and people. This is the same Union government that tells how there aren’t ample space for building AIIMS hospital in TN.
Each of the TN districts is cursed with at least one hazardous drilling, mining or extraction project; it’s in different stage of development. The corrupt state government (which doesn’t even approve plans for basic infrastructure or transportation developments) indifferently watches these intrusions and only wakes up after people’s protests. Since various party leaders from MK Stalin to Vaiko have jumped into the protests against hydrocarbon extraction, the current ADMK government is taking efforts to shelve the project. Moreover, the state government is keenly interested to curb the issue before it becomes another massive students’ protest. And, as always state and central governments use silly party politics as the perfect tactic to divert people. They never seem to ask the people of the land before letting in the so-called development projects.
There have been well-documented cases (in Pensylvania, Ohio) of groundwater as well as surface water contamination due to the leaked spills of the fluids. Water scarcity is one of the biggest problems in TN even without the presence of methane or hydrocarbon projects. Despite state-of-the-art technological deployment used in these projects inside US, there have been cases of underground gases sometimes leaking into drinking water supplies (especially from improperly sealed wells). Comparatively, our state & central government will only remain as silent by-standers even after the occurrence of a worst-case scenario (the recent oil spill fiasco in Chennai is the perfect example).
[cover pic from ‘Vikatan’ cartoon depicting the numerous conflicts lining up for TN farmers]