Vinoth Kumar is a software engineer working in Chennai. But he considers himself an agriculturist primarily and is proud of the land he and his father cultivate back in his village in the Pudukottai district of Tamil Nadu.
Vinoth was one among many people who rushed to Neduvasal in Pudukkottai after news came out that the site had been chosen for hydrocarbon exploration.
Over the last few days, Neduvasal has seen angry protests with farmers and many others telling the Centre to abandon the exploration plan.
“We don’t want our agricultural land to be destroyed. The project has been proposed at a place where our main agricultural activity is based out of. That land is filled with coconut trees, sugarcane and plantains. The Cauvery river also flows nearby. We will not allow the project,” says the Chennai-based software engineer.
Much of the anger against the project has been because of rumours that Gem Laboratories Private Limited, the company that has received the contract for the exploration will use fracking technology.
Hydro-fracking or hydraulic fracturing is a process in which huge amounts of water, chemicals and sand are drilled into the earth at high pressure to release the gas. The government, however, is not confirming the same.
Read our story here.
“The government will never say what the technology is. Around 200 people from our village work in petrochemical and gas industry in Gulf countries. They know the damage that such projects will do both to the fertility of the land and water,” argues Vinoth.
More than 1000 people protested against the Hydrocarbon project at Thilagar Thidal Ground in Neduvasal on Sunday which included youngsters, farmers and even celebrities like director R Pandiarajan, Thangar Bachan, and Ameer taking part. Actor Kamal Haasan even voiced his support for the protesters, tweeting, “Students of TN. Way to go. Maintain peace. You speak 4 farmers & people of TN. See how elders are with you treating you as equals. Bravo.”
The protest in Neduvasal intensified following the use of social media to spread awareness about the hydrocarbon project.
Image Courtesy: Nityanand Jayaraman
While exploratory wells were dug in Neduvasal, Vannakkanadu, Kottaikaadu, and Nalandarkollai in Pudukkottai district, farmers’ fears were heightened following reports of oil leaking from the wells at Neduvasal and Vannakkanadu.
42-year-old Vijayakumaran, a groundnut farmer has been googling about the project for many days, but has been unable to find much. “I gave two cents of land on lease in the Neduvasal village itself in 2014 to ONGC. They told me it is for research purpose. But now I read that our groundwater will be depleted and we may even get cancer if there is a leakage. I have been reading a lot on this, but there is no information even on where the project is coming up except for the government saying ONDSF/Neduvasal. There are three wells in the village. Is the exploration going to happen there or has a new site been chosen?” he asked.
Ramasamy, a farmer who leased his land to ONGC in 2007 told The News Minute, “We knew that they were going to extract oil from the land but we were never told that it will harm our agricultural land. ONGC has not begun the work on our land till now,” he said.
As per the lease, Ramasamy receives Rs 30,000 per acre for a year from ONGC. “I gave about three acres of land. In total, they have taken six acres of land in Neduvasal. We heard that they will acquire about 80 km of land for this project,” he said.
Alleging that the state government has not been helpful, Ramasamy said, “As soon as the village came to know through media reports that the project will begin, the people began protesting. Now, everyone is blaming us for giving the land to ONGC.”
Having leased out their land, Ramsamy and his brothers are working as daily wage labourers to earn a living.
Nityanand Jayaraman, an environmentalist who visited Pudukkottai district recently, said, “The main reason for the protest is because there is fear over what oil extraction will do to their lands because, it is fully agricultural area. Their fear is over air pollution, water pollution, soil pollution and ground water depletion.”
There is very little information available about the project, Nityanand explains, noting, “The concerns are justified given what we know about oil extraction and ONGC’s poor track record of controlling pollution in oil facilities in Thanjavur, Nagapattinam and Thiruvarur.”
“ONGC has been extracting oil for nearly 30 years and there have been various problems that the local people have been facing. Every time they want to expand land for oil wells, there have been several protests by farmers whose lands have been degraded because of oil leaks,” he said.
ONGC must put all the documents on the publicly available website, he observed. “Does it have environment clearance for exploratory stage and consent to operate from the pollution control board? They need to tell where these wells would be located. People are protesting because they have seen what is happening in Thanjavur and Nagapattinam,” argues Nityanand.
(With inputs from Dhanya Rajendran)