The Gas Authority of India (GAIL) is constructing a 505 km pipeline through Kerala to carry natural gas from the LNG Terminal in Puthuvypeen in Kochi to Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.
The project, since its announcement, has been drawn into controversy with the public resistance mounting over the land acquisition issue related to the laying of the pipeline. The strong opposition of the people has delayed the project with only 17 out of the 505 km of the work completed so far. Even amidst the local protests, the authorities are trying hard to complete the construction with the State Chief secretary warning the residents who object towards laying the pipeline for LNG distribution. The Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation and the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas initiated the project in 2007. The LNG Terminal in Kochi, Petronet LNG Ltd, is a joint venture by the Gas Authority of India Limited (GAIL), Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Limited (ONGC), Indian Oil Corporation Limited (IOC) and the Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited (BPCL). Built at a cost of Rs 4, 200 crore, the LNG terminal was commissioned in 2013. GAIL has invested around Rs 3, 500 crore in the project that is meant to carry natural gas easily to the specified regions. The laying of the pipelines is essential for further accomplishing the project.
In Kerala the people, residing in the areas through which the pipeline passes have been protesting against the project, irrespective of the religious and political differences, citing danger to their lives along with the land acquisition issues. Laying the 30-inch gas pipes through the densely populated regions of the state is impractical. According to the protestors, any danger to the pipeline could pose a threat to them. Despite the government’s attempt to get the consent of the land owners through negotiations including providing 10 percent of the fair value of the land, they were not willing even at high compensation. Land acquisition issues have been a sensitive matter in the state and highly rampant which makes the project difficult to implement. As per the rules, not only the buildings but also trees should be present on the path through which the pipeline passes. Recently the officials who visited Ponmala in Malappuram district to conduct a survey for the project were stopped by the angry locals.
The government therefore is set to take stringent action against those opposing the project. State Chief Secretary Jiji Thomson has warned that the project would be accomplished at any cost and those who try to cause hindrance would be jailed. The Chief Secretary’s statement is an instance of the insensibility of the government in resolving the matter. In Tamil Nadu, the project was considered anti-farmer and the company was stopped from laying the pipelines through the sparsely populated areas and the farm land in the state. When the state’s notification was quashed by the High Court, the government challenged the order in the Supreme Court. GAIL India was then asked to maintain status quo. The protestors as well the rights activists in Kerala have suggested several ways like the national highway, railway and Canoli canal as alternatives. Laying the pipeline along the railway tracks is as ridiculous as passing it through the residential areas. Making the natural gas available for commercial purposes and achieving the goals of the LNG Terminal is justifiable. But the government should not view the protestors as criminals and should initiate steps that would guarantee their safety and provide justice to the common man whose homestead is at stake.