CHENNAI: The submission by the Karnataka-based private company before the National Green Tribunal that it had the permission to conduct exploration of all hydrocarbons, including shale gas, coal bed methane and tight gas at Neduvasal, has brought the spotlight back on the protest in Cauvery delta that had gone to the backburner in the recent past.
In his reply before the southern bench of the tribunal in Chennai, the managing director of Gem Laboratories Pvt Ltd, G M Lingaraju, said that they have been granted the permission and awarded the contract by the under secretary of Ministry of Petroleum and National Gas to undertake hydrocarbon exploration at Neduvasal.
“As per the policy of the Union government, uniform licence were issued to contractors to explore conventional and unconventional oil and gas resources including CBM, shale gas/oil, tight gas, gas hydrates under a single licence, and as per this the government issued e-bids under discovered small fields bid round-16 and as per this the government as awarded 31 contracts. It is Government of India which has identified Neduvasal village as a potential place of carrying out hydrocarbon activities,” Lingaraju said.
In the three-page reply, a copy of which is available with Express, there are no details about the technology being employed or any clarity on which is the 10 sqkm area where the exploration will be held. It only says all the stipulated norms were followed and “started proceedings with the work”.
“So far, the government and the ONGC officials have been claiming that there was no plan for shale gas or methane exploration in Neduvasal. This is probably the first time the company has come on record and accepted the fact,” said G Sundarrajan of environmental organisation ‘Poovulagin Nanbargal’. ONGC had repeatedly said that there was no methane or quality shale gas available at Neduvasal. “If this is true, ONGC should submit this before the NGT. On the ground, we don’t know anything about Gem Laboratories plans to explore,” said Ramkumar, representative of Neduvasal Protesters’ Group. Though the district administration had promised that it will not allow exploration and extraction of shale gas and methane, Ramkumar pointed out that the uniform licence gives the company full freedom to explore whatever they stumble upon.
MDMK general secretary Vaiko, who appeared before NGT for the petitioner, M Selvaraj of Pudukottai Vadakadu Neduvasal Pakuthi Pasana and Vivasaigal Nala Sangam, said it was a question of livelihood for thousands of farmers. He requested NGT to give top priority for the case considering the prevailing situation.
Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board sources said that for starting any petroleum activity, Gem Laboratories has to obtain transfer of requisite lease from ONGC through the State. “Even after the grant of lease, to start any operations – exploration, production, drilling etc – the contractor requires environmental clearance from the Union environment ministry. As on date, no application has been received for the project.”
In another affidavit, V Singh, executive engineer (reservoir), Directorate-General of Hydrocarbons, said before initiating exploration, drilling and development activities, the company has to prepare a detailed environment impact assessment report addressing all the issues, including contamination of soil, impact on agriculture, availability of water, minimisation of water requirement, impact on ecological parameters etc.
“Public hearing is also a part of EIA process, where the local people can express their grievances.”
Bench express inability to deliver justice
Left without an expert member to join him in the panel, judicial member M S Nambiar expressed his inability to accord due priority for the case. “What can I do without an expert member,” Nambiar wondered aloud in the open court. Even if the case is transferred to the other bench comprising Justice Jyothimani and expert member P S Rao, it would be difficult to pass any order as both members are due for retirement in the next 45 days.
Vaiko lashed out at the Centre for trying to shut down institutions like NGT, which were providing faster relief in cases dealing with environment
Even Justice Ranjan Gogai, during the inauguration of the new premises of the tribunal at Kalas Mahal, had rued the situation that has left the tribunal crippled due to staff shortage