TN hydrocarbon row: In Neduvasal, the narrative is far from balanced

R Balaji Chennai | Updated on January 27, 2018

PMK leader Anbumani Ramadoss addressing villagers at Neduvasal on Friday - Photo: B Velankanni Raj

While the Centre remains silent on the hydrocarbon project, protest gathers pace

Visitors to Neduvasal village in Pudukottai district of Tamil Nadu — the site of protests by farmers and activists against a proposed hydrocarbon project — cannot help but notice the lopsided narrative, with the official side not represented.

Also apparent is the confidence among the demonstrators, fuelled by the success of the recent protest to get the ban on Jallikattu lifted and the recurrent theme of ‘Tamil pride’ and not letting the Centre run roughshod over it.

As opposition parties including the Congress, MDMK and VCK came out against the project, it was obvious that the ruling party at the Centre, the BJP, was ineffective in conveying its message in favour of the project.

At this remote village about 45 km from Pudukottai town, the district headquarters, a few hundred villagers sit patiently in a clearing in a grove listening to speaker after speaker — politicians, activists, enthusiasts and youngsters — exhorting them about the evils of hydrocarbon.

Opposition party politicians stridently express their support to the protest and attack the Centre. Activists scare farmers with stories of ground water running out, soil getting poisoned and air getting polluted. Posters and banners show pictures of emaciated children, flowing volcanic lava, cracked earth with captions warning people of what awaits them if the project goes through.

A television journalist, armed with reams of printed material about oil field disasters elsewhere, prepares the farmers with these materials before recording on camera their objections to the project. Youngsters, supposedly college students and activists, encourage the villagers there of the assured success of the agitation. Remember the Jallikattu agitation which resulted in the ban on the traditional sport being lifted, we can repeat that success with hydrocarbon agitation now, assures a speaker, “Just stay firm against the project,” he says. At another location near Neduvasal, a village named Nallandar Kollai, a group of boys and girls who claim they are from colleges nearby, urge farmers to be strong. They address each other as ‘comrade’. “This is our land, we will not give it up,” says a speaker.

“I know the government will try to convince us there is no harm in the project, but we have already informed the farmers about the danger” – this comment from one of the organisers of the protest against the hydrocarbon project at Neduvasal sums up the one-sided story. It is also interesting to see the planning behind the whole event, visitors are assured food and water, directed to specific locations they should see and are briefed on the reasons for the protest.

No govt presence

If the government plans to enhance public awareness here, it is yet to get on to the job. The only government presence in the area was groups of policemen at road intersections checking the vehicles. They were there to ensure large groups of protesters do not join the crowds that had already gathered.

Except for an official statement from the Petroleum Ministry a couple of days back assuring people there is no harm in the project, there seems to be no apparent effort to tell the villagers about the benefits of the project.

Surely, the truth lies somewhere in between. But who is telling the people?

Published on March 03, 2017

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