TN villagers refuse to back down

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With support from students and celebrities pouring in, villagers of Neduvasal in Pudukottai district, decided on Monday to continue their peaceful protest until the Centre scraps the hydrocarbon extraction project in the village.

The village has become a hotbed of citizen activism since the locals launched their protest on February 17 against the proposed project, which they fear will destroy their fertile lands, deplete the groundwater table, and cause seawater ingress.

As the protest entered its 11th day on Monday, over 3,000 people from 80 adjoining villages of Neduvasal took the call to continue their demonstration until the government scraps the project.

“We have decided not to accept any assurance given by the state or the central government other than an order to scrap the plan. Until then the protest will continue,” said Parthiban of Save Neduvasal Movement.

No political parties or its leaders were allowed to participate, as the villagers want the protest to remain apolitical, unlike the Jallikattu protest that rocked Tamil Nadu last month. A social media campaign has also been launched to gather more support.

Neduvasal village is inhabited by over 3,000 people who are dependant on agriculture for their livelihood. “The project will deplete groundwater and cause seawater ingress, directly impacting our farms and those in surrounding villages,” Parthiban told DNA.

Villagers launched their protest on February 17 after the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs gave its nod to 31 contract areas across India including Neduvasal in Tamil Nadu and Karaikal in Puducherry on February 15, following the discovery of small fields of oil and gas. The two contract areas have an in-place volume of 4,30,000 metric tonnes of oil and oil equivalent gases, and are expected to generate gross revenue of Rs 300 crore, royalty to state government of Rs 40 crore, and additional employment for about 500 people.

Prof S Janakarajan of the Madras Institute of Developmental Studies said, “To extract methane or shell gas or hydrocarbon, they will have to pump in a lot of chemicals, following which water and the gases pumped in it have to be brought out. It poses danger to the local population as these are poisonous gases, besides a threat to groundwater,” he said. The project could destroy the Cauvery delta and food security would be under serious threat, he claimed.

Meanwhile, the ministry of petroleum and natural gas, in a statement, said, “Oil and gas extraction is carried out from deeper earth area (generally > 1000m), and thus doesn’t affect groundwater aquifers which are located at shallower levels. Hydrocarbon extraction method is used worldwide, and has not reported any direct impact to water resources in the mining area.”

Calling the concerns misplaced, it said that all petroleum operations require prior environmental clearances from the environment ministry, wherein public hearing is an integral part of obtaining these clearances.