CHENNAI: Facing his first public protest after becoming the Chief Minister less than a fortnight ago, ‘Edappadi’ K Palaniswami appealed to the protesting farmers of Neduvasal in Pudukottai district to withdraw their agitation, assuring them that the State government will not clear the hydrocarbon project.
The agitation against the project began the same day Palaniswami took charge as Chief Minister. As he won a tough and contentious trust vote in the Assembly and settled to begin administering the State, the protests at the non-descript village in the fertile Cauvery delta gained momentum among the public, especially youth inspired by the pro-jallikattu protest.
At a meeting with a team of farmers’ representatives from Neduvasal on Wednesday, Palaniswami assured them that the project would not proceed. During the talks, the Chief Minister pointed out that the State government has not given license for commercial production of hydrocarbon as well as mining lease.
“Since the people have complained that their livelihood will be affected, the government will not give clearances for various works relating to this project. The people and farmers of Neduvasal need not have apprehensions,” an official release said.
The Chief Minister also recalled that he had already brought this issue to the notice of Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he met the latter in Delhi on February 27.
The farmers said that since Neduvasal was located in the tail-end area of Cauvery delta region, the ONGC’s proposal to implement hydrocarbon extraction project in the village would affect agriculture as it is already dependent on groundwater.
Quoting the Chief Minister, C Velu, coordinator of the joint action committee at Neduvasal, said the project was still in the initial stages, with drilling yet to commence. The government, Palaniswami assured the 11-member team, would not give environmental clearance for further works. The meeting gave hope that the 13-day old agitation would end soon once the team which held talks with the Chief Minister reached Neduvasal.
“We will convey the outcome of the talks to the thousands of people at Neduvasal. We hope a good decision will be taken soon,” Velu said.
During the meeting, Palaniswami pointed out that he too was a farmer to stress that his government would not allow any project that would affect the livelihood of farmers.
Velu said the continuous leak of oil from one of the oil wells of the ONGC in a village neighbouring Neduvasal is causing fear among people. This was because the overflowing thick oil was entering agricultural lands.
“Though stopping the hydrocarbon project at Neduvasal is the main demand in our memorandum given to the CM, we have also mentioned about the oil wells already functioning in the neighbourhood — Karukkakurichi panchayat, Vanakkankadu, Kottaikadu. In Vanakkankadu, the authorities had closed the oil well at the ground level saying that it was not commercially feasible. For quite some time, there was no problem with that oil well. A few months ago, there was an oil leakage from that well and now it is overflowing into agricultural lands,” Velu said.
He said two persons who had given their lands on lease for oil extraction had died of cancer and one more person was in death bed due to cancer. Asked whether the joint action committee would meet the Union Petroleum Minister in this regard, Velu said, “The BJP leaders in Tamil Nadu took steps to take our representatives to Delhi to meet the Union Minister.”
Responding to a question, Velu said, “Normally, there used to be a public hearing in the places concerned ahead of implementing such projects. But no such thing happened at Neduvasal.”