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15 Mar

LESSONS FROM NEDUVASAL, TAMIL NADU

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LESSONS FROM NEDUVASAL, TAMIL NADU

 

 

It appears that Tamil Nadu Government as well as Government of India have agreed to the demand of state politicians, environmentalists and local people in Neduvasal and have decided not to pursue the Neduvasal hydrocarbon project.

 

One is not sure as to whether the decision of the government to give up the project due to local opposition is appropriate, considering the long term national interest.

 

In a noisy democracy like India,  views of the public have to be necessarily taken into consideration whether they are right or wrong or motivated by some  vested interests. In the coming years, giving up important development oriented projects due to protest from local  people  or political pressure are likely to become more frequent, as it  now seem to be  the trend of the day not only in Tamil Nadu but in other parts of the country. Perhaps, it is more evident in Tamil Nadu. Obviously, the government has to seriously introspect about this problem and take some  policy decisions on approach to such issues.

 

Projects getting stranded

 

There are very important projects in Tamil Nadu like Kudankulam nuclear power  project, which was delayed for very long time due to protest from local people .

 

The project  for installing  natural gas  pipeline from Kochi LNG terminal (with investment of around Rs.4500 crore) from Kerala to Tamil Nadu for transporting the gas are now remaining  virtually stranded, due to the refusal of agriculture land owners in Tamil Nadu to give up the land for laying  the pipeline.

 

A new LNG terminal  is now being set up in Ennore near Chennai with the capacity of 5 million tonne  per annum with the investment of around Rs.6000 crores, which would be completed in 2018. However, for evacuating the gas, the proposed  1175 Km gas pipeline from Ennore to Tuticorin  across Tamil Nadu has not yet been implemented .  In all probability, considerable   protest  are likely to take place from the land owners across Tamil Nadu about giving up their land for  installing  the gas pipeline. It remains to be seen as to how the Tamil Nadu government, government of India and the project managers of Ennore LNG terminal would tackle the likely adverse scenario.

 

So many other instances can be  pointed out in Tamil Nadu itself about the projects that were given up due to objection from local people and politicians for variety of reasons, causing investment loss of several thousand crores of rupees and consequent loss of economic development and employment generation opportunities.

 

Lessons to learn

 

In any case, there are certain lessons  that have to be learnt by the government as well as the investors  and industry houses in public and private sector, on the strategies to be adopted for dealing with public perceptions and related  sensitive political, economic  cultural issues, with regard to the proposed locations of infrastructure facilities and industrial projects.

 

The recent episode with regard to Neduvasal hydrocarbon project is an immediate instance that could provide valuable lessons and guidelines.


Misconception regarding Neduvasal project that was not countered

 

For whatever  reasons,  several misconceptions were spread amongst local people in Neduvasal and surrounding areas about the proposed hydrocarbon project, which made them  panicky and  agitated.

 

There was a propaganda that coal bed methane project that was proposed earlier  in delta region and  which was officially given up later on, is the same project as presently  proposed  in Neduvasal , with  the alternate name of hydrocarbon project being given to it, instead of stating as coal bed methane project.

 

Another misconception that spread  was  that the entire region would become a desert due to huge depletion of  ground water due to drilling and operation of the gas wells.

 

One more false news  that was aired was that this would be extremely hazardous project and the local people were reminded  of the  Bhopal tragedy when thousands of lives were lost due to chemical leak.

 

Local people were also told that  terminal disease like cancer would spread due to hydrocarbon project.

 

All the above allegations are totally false but were not effectively countered  at the appropriate time by government of Tamil Nadu or Government of India or by  ONGC or the organization that was  awarded tender for the drilling project in Neduvasal,

 

What the government  failed to say?

 

Government has not informed the local  people as how many wells would be drilled in the region.

 

Government  has not also said that how much  land area would be acquired for the project.

 

There was also no word from the government as to how much quantity of water would be required during the drilling operation and during the operation stage. It was also not explained as to from where the water would be sourced.

 

Further, there is no communication from the government as to what would be the compensation  that would be paid to the local  people for acquisition of land and how the long term interest of the agriculturists, who give up the lands for hydrocarbon project ,would be protected?

 

These are crucial questions that have been asked by the local people and they are justified in raising such questions , particularly since most of them belong to lower middle and lower income group and they do not have any other skill to occupy themselves other than working in the agricultural field. There is real concern about the future of the families.

 

There has been  deafening silence on the part of the government agencies in providing the above details, which caused even more anxiety amongst people living in the area. In such conditions, even those not connected with the Neduvasal village started sympathizing with the local people and thought that they should be provided support to protect their interests.  If the government  is in possession of  appropriate explanation for the misgivings of the local  people, the government has kept it all to itself.

 

The government atleast could have offered to take the local people to other regions in the  country where gas wells are being operated without causing adverse conditions, which may have provided some confidence.  Even this has not been done.

 

Later on,  some feeble efforts were made to convince the agitators, which appears to be half   hearted efforts. Some knowledgeable people tried  to argue the case for  hydrocarbon project in Tamil TV media  but were not heard much.

 

What lessons for the future?

 

Government , industry houses and project promoters  should realize  that  the communication with local people is extremely important part of the strategy  that should be adopted to promote such projects.

 

It is high time to realize that local people’s view can not be ignored, thinking they are  not adequately informed about such technologically advanced projects.  Not being adequately informed is all the more reason why they should be taken into confidence, appropriate explanation  should  be provided with due regard for their anxiety , fear and misgivings. .

 

It is also very important that  much before launching of such projects, soft campaign has to  be launched  to convince  the local people to get their support, without which the projects cannot be put up.

 

Unfortunately, in several projects including Neduvasal, the project announcements  have been made  in public  all of a sudden , catching local people  who are the stake holders by surprise. Inevitably, such approach create huge animosity against  such projects.

 

Such conditions are ideal ground for vested interests , who have a field day to whip up hate feelings against the project as well as the project promoters.

 

 It is hoped that the leadership of the central and state governments will derive right lesson from Neduvasal episode, instead of placing the blame on innocent  local people.

        

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