While residents cry of land acquisition of about 160 acres, GAIL officials claim that they only have ROU over 10 meters surrounding where the pipeline is laid.

People vs GAIL Why a gas project has this Kerala village at the verge of violence
news Protest Sunday, November 05, 2017 - 07:46

On Wednesday the anti-GAIL campaign and protest took a violent turn on the streets of Mukkom near Kozhikode. Trouble started as local police forcefully removed a temporary tent erected by protestors campaigning against the ambitious GAIL pipeline project of Kerala government.

What began as a peaceful campaign soon deteriorated into a violent clash between the local police and the protesters. The agitated mob of protestors blocked roads, set tyres on fire and pelted stones at vehicles.

The police in retaliation resorted to lathicharge and fired tear gas shells in a vain attempt to disperse the mob. Following the violence, around 32 protestors were taken into custody for attacking police officers.

Mukkom police station was attacked by another set of protestors led by Congress MP MI Shanawaz. Following the violence, the protesters called for a hartal on Thursday.

On Friday Kerala government, after a violent and dramatic protests against GAIL pipeline project in Mukkom near Kozhikode caught state-wide attention, decided to call an all-party meet on Monday to table the issue. 

This is the second such instance since the LDF came to power when a people’s protest has turned violent in Kerala. In the month of June this year, a similar such protest against the upcoming LPG import terminal at Puthuvype escalated into a clash between local residents and the police. More than 1000 families protested against the LPG import terminal fearing an environmental hazard.

What is GAIL project?

The Kochi-Kootanad-Bengaluru-Mangalore pipeline is an ambitious project initiated in 2007 by Gas Authority of India Limited (GAIL). The project aims at connecting the southern states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka to the national gas network.

The gas pipeline project was approved by the Kerala government and commissioned in 2013. GAIL authorities had informed that the ambitious 438-km Gas Authority of India Ltd (GAIL) pipeline project from Kochi to Mangaluru is expected to be completed by December 2018. The project is estimated to cost Rs 3263 crore.

Phase one of the project, around 41 kms, was completed in 2013 to transport natural gas from Kochi LNG Terminal to consumers. According to a GAIL statement in August, around 2.6 MMSCMD of gas is being supplied to various consumers in and around Kochi city, reported Hindu Business Line.

Why are people protesting against the GAIL project?

Protesters of Mukkom claim that the 80-kilometer gas pipeline would displace 600 families in Kozhikode. Those who will be affected by the GAIL project live in Karassery and Kodiyathur panchayats and Mukkom municipality of Kozhikode.

The residents also claim that the proposed pipeline will be going through densely populated areas and have expressed their concerns over land acquisition and demolition of houses. The project requires 160 acres of land in Kozhikode for completion.

Speaking to TNM on Saturday, PP Cheriya Mohammed, a member of the action committee formed by residents called People’s Council, said, “These proposed pipelines are 24 inches in width and the authorities say they will only have right over 10 meters surrounding the pipelines. Now there are areas marked for the laying of pipelines that goes between houses which are not even 5 meters apart. Isn’t this common sense? How can the authorities lay pipelines without demolishing these houses?”

Cheriya Mohammed added, “GAIL violates the Minerals Pipelines (Acquisition of Right of User in Land) Act 1962. The Act clearly says that the pipeline should not pass through residential areas. They say due compensation will be given. What amount of money can replace one’s own house and land? There are families who have settled here for decades now. They have their farms adjoining their houses. They livelihood is at stake. These pipelines are proposed to go through paddy fields, ponds, wells, rubber farms, banana plantations, residential areas with houses built one next to the other.”

Reacting to the alleged communal angle to the protests Cheriya Mohammed says, “What is the target here? We don’t understand. Police have so far arrested 35 protesters. They had dragged a boy out of his house and punched him in his face. He had just undergone a face surgery. He is now hospitalized with 5 stiches in his face. The police had asked him which terrorist group he belongs to.”

Cheriya Mohammed also added that, “We are not against the project. When the authorities claim that pipelines have been laid in Kochi and Ernakulam why aren’t they emphasizing that those pipleines have been laid in barren lands where there is no human occupation? We are only protesting for our land and our lives.”

What is GAIL authorities take on the protest?

The GAIL authorities however have a different story to tell. Most of them claim that GAIL pipeline project if implemented will not affect the residents. The authorities say that people with vested interests are spurring the protests in the pretext of land acquisition.

A GAIL official spoke to TNM saying that, “Real estate agents with vested interests are behind this protest. GAIL pipeline will not affect the livelihood of Mukkom residents. When a pipeline is laid the GAIL authorities have ROU (Right of Use) over the land. We don’t own the land but we are allowed to restrict the construction of houses, any buildings or wells. This can result in a dip in the real estate value of the land.”

The GAIL official also pointed out there is no question of land acquisition and not even a single case of eviction is reported so far. The official said, “70% of the pipeline is proposed to be laid through the paddy fields. Paddy is a surface cultivation and the laying of pipelines in no way will affect the farmers. They can presume their cultivation in the next season.”

He further explains that, “The rest of the proposed pipelines that would amount to 30% of the project will be laid through residential areas. It is a wrong claim made by the residents that 160 acres is required to implement the project. As I said earlier, GAIL authorities will not own the land. We only receive ROU over 10 meters around the pipelines. We have the right to prohibit future dwelling or any construction in these areas for safety related issues.”

The GAIL official told TNM that, “The Phase I of the project in Kochi which is a 43 km pipeline gets the government a daily income of 80 to 90 lakhs a day. As much as 12 industries including FACT and BPCL have started their operations in the state. GAIL pipeline project if implemented can boost the revenue of the state.”

The official also added that, “GAIL pipeline will also be helpful for PNG to tender agencies to supply natural gas to the residents of Malappuram, Kozhikode and Kannur.”

Similar such protests against GAIL

A similar such protest was seen in Tamil Nadu against the very same Kochi-Kootanad-Bengaluru-Mangalore pipeline. The farmers in TN had protested citing that the present proposed alignment would cause irreparable damage to their agricultural property. The farmers also cited that more than 1,20,000 fruit bearing trees will also have to be uprooted for laying the pipes, reported ET.

The report said that according to a report in Economic times, GAIL and the Tamil Nadu state government had signed a formal Gas Cooperation Agreement in 2008. By June 2012, the protest against the proposal flared up and the project was stopped. Protests intensified in June and July 2012 with farmers demanding that work on the gas pipeline be stopped immediately and an alternate alignment be fixed. 

GAIL then approached the Madras High Court in July 2012, asking for police protection.  A single judge order dismissed GAIL's plea, asking them to go back to the state government. The GAIL then filed a review before a Divisional Bench of the Madras High Court, which directs the Tamil Nadu government to ensure that the project is completed and to hold public meetings with agitating farmers.

In February 2013, GAIL was provided with police protection to resume work, but the contractors soon faced the problem of labor and days passed with no progress in the project. In April 2013, the state government directed GAIL to halt the project and pay compensation to affected farmers. The Tamil Nadu government also asked GAIL to change the alignment of the pipeline to national highway rather than through agricultural fields, reports ET.

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