The Tamil Nadu government appears to have learnt no lessons from the protests against the hydrocarbon project in Neduvasal and the demonstrations at Kathiramangalam following an oil leak.
Last week, Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami announced a 23,000 hectares Petroleum, Chemicals and Petrochemicals Investment Region (PCPIR) which is spread over 45 villages in Cuddalore and Nagapattinam districts.
While the Centre promises that PCPIR will bring in thousands of crores of investment and provide employment opportunities to hundreds of people, activists and political parties like the PMK have voiced their opposition to the project. But before understanding how the project could affect the people of Tamil Nadu, here’s a quick explainer on the petrochemicals hub.
What is Petroleum, Chemicals and Petrochemicals Investment Region (PCPIR)?
Petroleum, Chemicals and Petrochemicals Investment Region (PCPIR) is a hub that will encourage the manufacture of petroleum, chemicals and petrochemicals by creating a conducive and investor friendly environment for the firms.
A fact sheet created by Community Environmental Monitoring – an advocacy group- based on an RTI filed by its co-coordinator Shweta Narayan, notes that a PCPIR does not have the same tax and other concessions as an Special Economic Zone (SEZ) but can include one or more SEZs within its territory. The Centre, the fact sheet explains, pumps in money to provide infrastructure for companies to establish business besides facilitating and coordinating the process in collaboration with the state government.
PCPIR aims to not only to cater to domestic consumption of petroleum products but will also boost exports, reported Times of India. “Each PCPIR will have a refinery/petrochemical feedstock company as an anchor tenant, and then downstream industries engaged in plastics, chemicals and petrochemical allied activities,” reads the fact sheet.
Details on the PCPIR project in Cuddalore and Nagapattinam
While the proposal to set up PCPIR in Tamil Nadu received the Centre’s nod in July 2012, the Ministry of Chemicals and Petrochemicals has not made public many details about the project.
Based on the information received from the RTI, the region will be spread across a single contiguous zone of 256 sq km. The fact sheet states that 30 per cent of the land will be acquired by the Tamil Nadu government, while the rest of the land will be acquired through a process by which the government will only facilitate the purchase of land by the processing units/developers directly from the land owners under mutual agreement. The government has said that only dry agricultural land will be acquired by the government.
According to TOI, the Centre will be allocating Rs 1,146 crores for improving infrastructure in these regions.
Health and Environmental impacts of the project
Community Environmental Monitoring argues that the petrochemical hub will adversely impact groundwater levels in the villages, causing both its depletion and pollution due to industrial waste. This apart, thethe factsheet states the project will cause sea erosion, besides affecting marine life and mangroves due to chemical pollution and hot water discharge from refinery, thermal plants and the desalination.
Co-ordinator of Community Environmental Monitoring Shwetha Narayan told TNM, “There is going to be groundwater exploitation and groundwater contamination. We have already seen the health impacts in the SIPCOT Cuddalore. In a stretch of 10 kilometres and 30 industries, we have seen what environmental destruction and health impact is there. The SIPCOT region has suffocating odours, cancer-causing chemicals and deteriorating health and livelihood of the residents in that region. So, you can imagine what is going to happen with this project.”
With Cuddalore and Nagapattinam being a part of the Cauvery delta region, with extremely fertile lands, activist T Jayaraman, who is the chief coordinator of the Anti-Methane Project Federation states, “We are completely against this project. The PCPIR is placed in Cuddalore and Nagapattinam which are important parts of the Cauvery delta. This will make these villages uninhabitable for the people. Presently we cannot go through the area where SIPCOT is situated in Cuddalore and this project is much bigger than that. It can cause breathing problems and it can also damage the agricultural lands. Why are they trying to ruin the fertile Cauvery delta?”