For the last 12 days, people of Tamil Nadu have been protesting against a central government project to explore and extract hydrocarbon from a village in Pudukkotai. Farmers, students as well as scientists have been protesting against Prime Minister Narendra Modi's project to make India self-sufficient in the energy sector. While the government hopes to tap into small oil and gas fields, protesters allege that the move will cause irreparable damage to ecology and their livelihood.
What is the project at Neduvasal all about?
Neduvasal is one of the 31 Hydrocarbon fields identified by the government of India under its 'Discovered small fields' policy of 2015. In 2016, the government began allocating blocks for the same through a bidding process. In February 2017, the cabinet committee on economic affairs gave approval for all hydrocarbon projects.
Part of Discovered Small Fields policy
The project is part of flagship energy policies aimed at fulfilling the country's energy needs. India's crude oil imports stand currently at 80 percent and the 'Discovered Small Fields' policy was launched with the aim of reducing the country's dependence on oil imports, at least by 10 percent before 2022.
The contract for exploration and extraction project at Neduvasal was given to a private entity. The company would seek to extract both oil and natural gas from hydrocarbon sediments in an area of about 10.1 square km but there is no clarity on the exact location. Lack of proper information has only worsened the situation. Villagers and the government of Tamil Nadu alike allege that no intimation has come from the centre on the project.
Concerns in Neduvasal
The biggest fear for the locals in Neduvasal is the effect this project will have on their land, water, agriculture and livelihood. Placed on the Cauvery delta, the village is heavily dependent on agriculture. Since no farming activity can take place while the project is underway, farmers fear displacement and occupational shift. Another concern is contamination of ground water and saline water intrusion.
Prior experience also has a role to play. A well was sunk by the ONGC in Neduvasal in 2009 apparently, as part of its endeavour to discover the presence of the hydrocarbon in the Cauvery basin. While there has been no drilling activity in the village in recent years, protesting villagers allege that oil oozed out of the well time and again. The stench, as well as incidents of the oil catching fire, came as a worry to the villagers then.
Tamil Nadu govt supports protest
The central government believes that the hydrocarbon extraction will generate gross revenue of Rs 300 crore and state government is expected to get Rs 40 crore as royalty.