India

Cauvery delta protected zone, no hydrocarbon project: Tamil Nadu

Cauvery delta protected zone, no hydrocarbon project: Tamil Nadu
Edappadi K Palaniswami. (File)

Under pressure from protesting farmers and after the AIADMK’s poor performance in the December 2019 local body elections, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami on Sunday declared the Cauvery delta region as a protected agricultural zone and stated that his government would not give consent for hydrocarbon projects in the area.

The declaration of the ‘protected agricultural zone’ will, in effect, prevent non-agrarian projects in the region.

Farmers in the Cauvery delta region have been protesting for the past two years against a proposed hydrocarbon project of the Centre, which was to be executed by Vedanta Limited and Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) Limited.

In his speech at a function to inaugurate work on an integrated livestock research park in Salem, Palaniswami said, “People in the delta region have been expressing their concerns for some time. Taking note of these concerns, let me inform you that an order declaring the Cauvery delta region a protected agricultural zone has been announced already. I may be CM, but I am a farmer too. This decision is to put an end to the ordeal and pain faced by farmers,” he said, adding that the government would soon come up with an act on the protected zone.

Calling the Cauvery delta “Tamil Nadu’s rice bowl” and declaring the districts of Thanjavur, Tiruvaur, Nagapattinam, Pudukottai, Cuddalore, Ariyalur, Karur and Trichy as part of the protected zone, CM Palaniswami also said, “Let me state that my government will never give consent for projects like hydrocarbon in these areas. I am a farmer, I will not let any project that hurts the livelihood of farmers.”

With the government’s announcement, the Centre’s ambitious hydrocarbon project — conceived during the UPA government and projected as a solution to the increasing reliance on petroleum products — now faces an uncertain future.

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As part of the project, Vedanta was to drill about 116 wells in Puducherry and Villupuram, and 158 wells in Nagapattinam and Karaikkal at a cost of about Rs 13,000 crore. ONGC was to drill 40 wells in Cuddalore and Nagapattinam, and 27 in Cuddalore and Tiruvarur, at a cost of about Rs 5,000 crore.

The creation of a protected zone has been the demand of protesting farmers in the Cauvery delta region for over a decade. DMK chief and Opposition leader M K Stalin too had raised the demand last month and organised massive agitations in all Cauvery delta districts on January 28. Protests against the hydrocarbon projects started early 2017, with Neduvasal in Pudukottai district emerging as one of the epicentres.

In the recent local body polls, the AIADMK suffered defeats in Thanjavur and Nagapattinam districts in the Cauvery delta region, with the DMK winning over 50 per cent votes in these parts.

What revived the controversy surrounding the hydrocarbon project was a recent amendment to the Environment Impact Assessment Notification, 2006, which stated that obtaining environmental clearance and holding public consultations are not mandatory for “drilling in respect to off-shore and on-shore oil and gas exploration, development & production project”.

While the DMK condemned the amendment and called for protests, CM Palaniswami too had taken a strong stand on the issue by writing to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar, urging them to restore status quo.