The controversy surrounding the oil leak from an ONGC pipeline in Kathiramangalam of Thanjavur district was dismissed callously by the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister as unwarranted, on the floor of the Assembly.
But, latest images taken by environmentalists touring the Cauvery delta show oil residue in soil and water.
These images have come after villagers in these areas complained that their water was turning into brown colour as soon as they tried boiling it. In some cases, people have got coloured water from their borewells and wells.
The pictures from Kathiramangalam were taken by Nityanand Jayaraman, member of Vettiver Collective, during a visit to the village and he says, “The situation in many places demand immediate action. The condition is the same from the time the oil has leaked. But since then, the rains have mixed with the oil and water much more. We visited a land that has been barren for the last 15 years, and because of multiple leakages, the land is completely devoid of life, around it, it is also gone. The ONGC has offered some compensation to the land owners, but surrounding areas too have been affected. The pictures are just the circumstantial evidence that groundwater is contaminated with the oil. We would like the government to confirm that."
Image: Kathiramangalam/ Nityanand Jayaraman
ONGC has been extracting crude oil from these lands in Kathiramangalam since 2001. Recently, when a leak was reported from one of the wells, the village erupted in protest.
Salem based environment Piyush Manush had earlier told The News Minute that there are around seven wells dug by ONGC in the area, of which, many are unused. He had pointed out that ONGC should have used high grade material to encase the oil and gas so that it does not leak, and affect the water table.
Piyush, who has also been travelling to various areas in Cauvery delta, says, "There are two supply chains of water in these areas, first are the handpumps and second are the wells that have been dug up to supply water to the overhead tanks. The borewells bring water from deeper down, while, the handpumps get water from the surface. Water from both these sources seem contaminated but one from borewells have been contaminated less.”
"There are people claiming that during drought, water taken through the handpump can change colour, but that is not true. Wherever ONGC operates, there are similar problems. There are too many oil wells in Kathiramangalam and they are too close and that is making the problem acute,” he continued.
Image: Water in Kathiramangalam
Environmentalists and activists are claiming that the Tamil Nadu government has to address the issue of contamination and water crisis instead of turning a blind eye to it.
Nityanand Jayaraman says that there is a clampdown on information and the state is trying to project that there is nothing untoward happening in Kathiramangalam and other regions of the Cauvery delta.
“We are going through the Cauvery delta, but leakages do not make it to the news. Thanks to police action on villagers, this has made it to the news and was not buried. I’m talking about three districts: Thiruvarur, Nagapattinam and Thanjavur. We are seeing this all over, there are leakages, there are pipelines going through peoples’ houses, streets, going through fertile land, sometimes no one knows where it is going. The district administration acts like an agent of the ONGC. They are extremely one sided, they speak on behalf of ONGC and pressurize farmers to accept whatever ONGC provides as compensation," Nityanand said.
Though the opposition went for a showdown in the Tamil Nadu assembly repeatedly, the government has been sticking to its stand that the leakage was not a big matter of concern.
But can the government ignore all the evidence of the contamination of the water system?