Well of trouble

The Neduvasal protests are driven by disinformation. It’s time the Government called the bluff of vested interests

The ongoing protests against extraction of hydrocarbons at Neduvasal village in Tamil Nadu are of a piece with the trend of opposition to industrial projects, specifically related to energy, seen in recent times in the State. The Neduvasal protests follow similar ones against extraction of coal-bed methane in Thanjavur district and the agitation against the construction of a pipeline to transport natural gas through the western districts of the State. Once known for progressive industrial policies that saw the State figure among the top three in the country for investment, Tamil Nadu has fallen from the pedestal in recent years due to a combination of factors ranging from power scarcity to public agitations and an unresponsive government. The last AIADMK government solved the power problem but its image suffered a setback over its stalling of projects, including Gail India’s natural gas pipeline, and its support to the agitators. A similar episode is now being played out at Neduvasal.

Over the last one month, residents of the village, supported by activists and a myriad politicians, have been demanding that the Centre stop exploration and production activity in Neduvasal and surrounding areas. The area is part of a block originally allotted to ONGC but now transferred to a private bidder under the Discovered Small Fields auction recently. Villagers contend that the exploration area is fertile land and it should not be taken away for production of hydrocarbons. The fact is that conventional oil drilling and production requires very limited land and the wells will not affect the soil or water table. The Neduvasal project involves conventional drilling and not fracking, which is environment-unfriendly, but these facts have been lost in the narrative that has been painted on the project.

A disinformation campaign of sorts has been launched by activists and politicians who have descended on the site. Dire and false predictions of contamination of soil, exploitation of the water table and worse, possible deformity in children are being peddled, even as the government machinery has been watching from the sidelines. The agitation appears well-organised on the lines of the jallikattu protests with food and water being supplied free to the protestors. Who’s financing these is a relevant question to ask. Absent in all this is the Government. There is a complete failure of governance as authorities have failed to explain the real facts to the villagers and farmers, and no effort has been made to educate them or reassure them that the project will cause no danger to their lives and livelihoods. The State government should at least now seize the initiative from the activists, educate the villagers and put in necessary safeguards to reassure them. Else the State might end up going the West Bengal or Kerala way. The Neduvasal project may be small in economic terms but allowing it to be hijacked will send a major negative message to investors and set back Tamil Nadu’s industrial development.

Published on March 07, 2017
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