The GAIL (Gas Authority of India) pipeline project in Kerala consists of laying pipeline for supply of natural gas from the LNG terminal of Kochi to Bengaluru and Mangaluru with a supply line running for 505 kilometers through the northern districts of Kerala.
The project is executed by Petronet, jointly owned by ONGC, BPCL, IOC and GAIL. Since the laying of pipeline is entrusted to GAIL, the project is known by its name and is executed as per the contract signed in 2007 between Kerala Industrial Development Corporation and the central Ministry of Petroleum. However, news emerging in recent days regarding the project are causing concern, since the people living in areas through which the pipeline runs have been collectively resisting it, and the government has been handling this resistance in a highhanded manner raising controversy.
The pipeline is laid through a densely populated area. The activity has to be in line with the provisions of Petroleum and Minerals Pipelines (Acquisition of Right of User in Land) Act, 1962. But in the areas within Kozhikode, Malappuram and Kannur districts where the laying is being done vigorously, the provisions of the act are not complied with. For as per the act, the owner of the land where the pipeline is proposed to be laid, has to be served notice of the land being acquired (Notice 3-1). If the individual has any complaint, he is entitled to raise it before the agency or official appointed for the purpose by the government, and the government is bound to arrange a hearing for the purpose.
If, following the hearing the decision is to acquire the land, Notice 4(1) has to be served. As per this, the acquisition process has to be done in such a manner that the ownership of the land will be vested with the individual, and right of user ensured for the organization or agency concerned. The government has the binding to pay compensation to the owner of ten per cent of the market value of the land and of the items enjoyed by the owner to the extent he is affected. Only after this compensation amount has been determined, and the individual concerned has been servied notice 6(1) together with a sketch of the land acquired, does the acquisition process become complete. But in the case of the GAIL pipeline, the government of Kerala has not complied with any of these provisions. Instead, it resorted to a method of gatecrashing into residential compounds and agricultural farms, armed with earth-moving equipment and accompanied by armed police, and conducting excavation for laying the pipes. In other words, it was a case of governmental land grabbing, not land acquisition. It is nothing but natural for this modus operandi has invited popular ire.
The government has been suppressing the public agitation using police force. The approach of the police towards the GAIL victims protesting in Marakkara in Malappuram, Eranjimavu in Kozhikode and Puravur in Kannur, is highly condemnable. The people live with the agony of losing the land they have been residing in for generations. The government is acquiring land with a width of 20-30 metres. Not only are construction activities not allowed to take place on the land in which the pipe has been laid, but even large trees should not be planted there. An NOC from GAIL should be obtained in order to carry out any construction activity in the adjacent area. It is still stranger that as per the Petroleum and Minerals Pipelines Act, the owner of the land through which the pipeline passes is responsible for the safety of the pipe in that specific area. All these are realities that frighten the people who spend their lives in homes built on a few cents. Instead of allaying the apprehensions, even the Chief Minister himself is out to implement the project by using threats like a street politician. Every statement of his related to the GAIL project has a tone of intimidation and arrogance.
With the protest of the victims intensified, the ruling party CPI (M) has come up with the usual tactic. They claim that all the agitators are extremists. Even though the mainstream political parties at the state level have not declared their support for the GAIL protest officially, in reality, all the political parties at the regional level back the protestors. The CPI (M) itself has led anti-GAIL protests in many areas during the tenure of the erstwhile government. The approach of the CPI (M) that brands all the popular protests erupting during their party's ruling term as terrorism, is deplorable. There is no gainsaying the fact that the project which makes natural gas easily available for the industries is a common requirement of the country. But the country includes the residents as well who are engaged in strikes. In Tamil Nadu which is a less densely populated state than Kerala, it was the state government itself that took a stance to not permit the GAIL pipeline through residential areas. The people have been witnesses to all of these. They are apprehensive and have dissent. The thrust to eliminate all this using police force is nothing short of being anti-democratic.