By Eetika Kapoor
In the month of June, the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) was given the green light for 35 explanatory wells in Cauvery basin. The cost of the project was an estimated 700 crores and was spread across the districts of Ariyalur, Nagapattinam, Thanjavur, Cuddalore and Tiruvarur. The ambitious project assured no loss of wildlife sanctuary, national park or eco sensitive area. It promised zero effluent discharge and installation of blowout preventers to control fluid from spilling on the surface. Despite this, all hell broke loose when a pipeline in Kadiramangalam burst open on June 30 and resulted in spoiled agricultural fields due to oil-spill. The event triggered a protest amongst the furious villagers and the police personnel.
Villagers against ONGC’s operations
The villagers set fire to a garbage disposal area dangerously close to an oil well. Other protesters pelted stones against the police who came to restore order. The ONGC’s operations have resulted in the sinking of 11 wells since 2002. It has led to a drop in the level of groundwater. Oil fields have destroyed the agricultural fertility of the land and left it unfit for cultivation. Water pollution is at its peak. Three police personnel were reportedly injured and activists were booked for threatening officials.
Thanjavur’s collector A. Annadurai assured no harm to farm fields and ground water, though the official reports leading to the burst of the pipeline are deeply contradictory. Delta farmers are complaining of the meagre compensation offered to them after the constant drilling by the ONGC damaging the soil. The revenue officials dumped the area of the oil-spill with fresh soil, and the ONGC officials halted pumping until the spill was contained.
The Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) under the Ministry of Environment and Forest asked the ONGC to immediately send a detailed standard Terms of Reference (ToR) for drilling 110 oil and gas wells in the Cauvery basin. No construction would be initiated until the ONGC submits its report on environmental clearance. A 2.5% of the total project cost would be directed towards social commitment. The five-year plan needs to be submitted immediately. The EAC directed the ONGC to hold a public hearing in all the drilling districts.
This incident has affected some main farm fields. The farmers also complain that the ONGC operates without keeping them in the loop about the kind of activities they execute.
Dismissing claims as rumours
The Deputy Chairperson of ONGC, C.N.S Kumar, denied the claims as misinformation. He was convinced that the people are being misled. The ONGC’s officials clarify that no coal-bed methane or shale gas extraction projects are being planned. Only 1600 acres of acquired land in the Cauvery basin is under ONGC. There was no official record of the dates and figures for the safety drills and awareness initiatives conducted in the area. Delay in fixing the damaged pipeline invited more criticism. The ONGC officials claimed that a compensation of 53,000 has been allocated for the affected.
The President of the Hindu Makkal Katchi (HKL), Arun Sampath, submitted a petition with the Assistant collector of Kumbakonam against the agitation of the farmers in Thanjavur. Expressing that there was no problem for the past seventeen years in the ONGC’s operations, Arun Sampath claimed that there is a conspiracy behind the protest to prevent development projects in the state and the country. On the other hand, the farmers are feverishly against the exploitative activities of the ONGC which have been continuing for decades. They want the ONGC to go away from their villages. They claim that the police and the administration are harassing them. The ONGC debacle has brought out the lack of preparedness and impulsive attitude of the people, indifference on the part of the administration, and the police resorting to violence.
Featured Image Credits: Visual Hunt
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