Tension continued to simmer in Kozhikode a day after protests against a proposed gas pipeline turned violent.
Agitating against the proposed Gas Authority of India Limited (GAIL) pipeline project in Kozhikode, the protest turned violent on Wednesday after the Mukkom police forcefully removed a temporary tent that had been erected by protesters.
This is the second such instance since the LDF came to power when a people’s protest has turned violent in Kerala.
Protesters laid siege to the road, setting fire to tyres and pelting stones at vehicles. Police in turn resorted to lathicharge and fired tear gas shells to disperse the mob.
Thirty-two protesters were arrested by the police following the violence. Demanding they be released, another set of demonstrators led by Congress MP MI Shanawaz laid siege to the the Mukkom police station.
On Thursday, however, work to relay the gas pipeline commenced under police supervision. This despite a hartal being called by protesters.
Demanding that the project not pass through residential areas, protesters say the 80-kilometre gas pipeline would displace 600 families in Kozhikode. Those affected live in Karassery and Kodiyathur panchayats and Mukkom municipality of Kozhikode.
Speaking to TNM, PP Cheriya Mohammed, a member of the action committee formed by residents called People’s Council, said, “There was a discussion with residents for acquiring land before commencing work for the project. But a consensus was not reached. The project requires 160 acres of land in Kozhikode for completion. Some people were given a cheque of the compensation amount, but majority of the people rejected it as the terms were not acceptable. Recently some people received notices to appear in the GAIL office in connection with the land acquisition. What is the message? The notice is not to appear at a Collectorate or any other government office.”
Moreover, protesters accuse GAIL of violating the Minerals Pipelines (Acquisition of Right of User in Land) Act 1962. “The Act stipulates that there should be no houses in the area through which the pipeline is passing through. In Kozhikode, there are houses even at a distance of five meters. The pipeline is passing through the courtyard of some houses. There is a temple, there is a madrasa, there are ponds which all could be destroyed as the construction to lay the pipeline is progressing close to them. The alignment for the pipeline is such that there is not even a five-meter gap with some of the houses,” Cheriya Mohammed alleged.
Anwar, another patron of the People’s Council emphasises that they are not against the project and are not demanding that their concerns be addressed. “The major concern we raise is that it shouldn’t pass through or very close to dwelling areas. We are not against the project. But nobody listens. The most disturbing factor is that none from the government has approached us for talks, even after all the tensions happening here,” he said.
Meanwhile former Chief Minister and veteran CPI(M) leader VS Achuthanandan issued a statement against “suppressing people’s protest” using police force. “The government should make a swift intervention to settle the protests launched by people at Vizhinjam and other places. It is not befitting for a Left government to suppress popular protests by using police,” he said.
However, CPI (M) state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan said that people with vested interests were behind the protest.
People of Vizhinjam, the coastal region in Thiruvananthapuram, have been protesting over the failure to implement the rehabilitation package announced as part of the Vizhinjam International Deepwater Multipurpose seaport.
In June this year, several people were injured at Puthyvype in Kochi when the police resorted to lathicharge to disperse those protesting against the construction of the LPG terminal at Indian Oil Corporation plant.
What is the GAIL pipeline project?
The Kochi-Koottanad -Bengaluru-Mangaluru pipeline, that traverses through Kerala and Karnataka is a 438-kilometre project. The project, estimated to cost Rs 3263 crore.
In 2016, the oil and natural gas regulator - Petroleum and Natural Gas Regulatory Board had revised the deadline for laying the natural gas pipeline network to February 2019. The contract for laying the pipeline was bagged by the IL&FS.
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.
Besides Kozhikode, the pipeline will also pass through Malappuram, Kannur and Kasargode districts.