CHENNAI: In what could be inferred as another pro-farmer move by the DMK government, within days of presenting the State’s first agriculture Budget, a seven-member high level Expert Technical Committee has been constituted to study the adverse impacts of hydrocarbon exploration and mining on groundwater and environment.
The panel, headed by distinguished soil biologist and ecologist Sultan Ahmed Ismail, has been mandated to submit its report within four months, according to orders from Industries secretary N Muruganandam.The government has issued five specific terms of reference (ToR) for the committee, which is to assess the impact of drilling technologies like hydro fracturing used in exploration and extraction of hydrocarbons on groundwater and the environment.
“Assess the impact on the quality of surface water, flowing water, groundwater, soil and fertility of the land, irrigation sources, cultivation of crops, air quality, sea water intrusion, and flora and fauna due to the usage of chemicals on the on-shore areas away from the Protected Agricultural Zone,” reads the order, a copy of which is with Express.
The panel will also assess if the drilling for exploration of coal bed methane, shale gas, petroleum and natural gas will lead to any subsidence of land and de-stabilise tectonic plates below the exploration area.
The previous AIADMK government had promulgated the Tamil Nadu Protected Agricultural Zone Development Act, 2020, that prohibited setting-up of new hydrocarbon projects in the Cauvery Delta region with the objective to conserve fertile lands for agricultural purposes. Going a step ahead, the DMK government has decided to study impact of such projects even in non-protected zones.
A study titled Combating Climate Change: Vulnerability of Cauvery Delta, Food Security and Livelihood Resilience, by Prof S Janakarajan, an expert in water management and disaster risk reduction, found that the irrigated area in the Delta reduced from 24 lakh acres to 18 lakh acres in last two decades. The report attributed this fall to an increase in industrial and domestic pollution. As per the data available, there are around 700 wells drilled while 200 wells are yielding output in the Delta. The production is estimated at 600 tonnes of crude oil and 30 lakh cubic metres of gas daily.
Besides Ismail, who is also a part-time member of the State Development Policy Council, the committee will include Indumathi M Nambi, professor at IIT Madras, Environmental and Water Resources Division; M Maheswari, HoD of Environmental Science at the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University; V Selvam, former senior director (Coastal System Research) of MSSRF, and senior officials from the Public Works Department and the TN Industrial Development Corporation Ltd.