Chemical Industries Association (CIA), a Chennai-based apex body of chemical industries, has appealed to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa on the issue of a natural gas pipeline to be laid by GAIL (India) Ltd in the state. Recently the issue had hit the headlines when Gail had approached the Chennai High Court for obtaining stay orders against the orders passed by the Tamil Nadu government for laying the Kochi-Koottanad-Banglore-Manglore pipeline along the national highways. CIA has sought the formation of an “independent expert committee” to fast track the issues of farmers in the area of the proposed pipeline, which would pass through several districts.

CIA feels that the formation of the committee would ensure progress in negotiations with the farmers and enable GAIL to proceed with the pipeline project. After addressing the farmers’ grievances, the committee could come out with a suitable compensation mechanism. Based on its recommendation, both GAIL and Tamil Nadu government could move forward in the long-term interests of the state’s industrial and economic growth.

On November 25, the Madras High Court cleared the implementation of the pipeline project which would reportedly affect the farmers. The court even cancelled the state government’s plea of asking GAIL to lay the pipeline along the highways thus sparing the farmers their land. GAIL would find it difficult to make progress if the farmers planned to protest.

Chemical Industries Association is of the view that natural gas availability for Tamil Nadu is of high important for the economic and industrial growth of the state. At the same time, the association also feels that steps should be taken to educate the farmers and the citizens on the importance of natural gas for the state. The apex body also feels that the court should have constituted an independent committee to look into all aspects of the project.

The apex body of chemical industries has acknowledged some of the grievances of the farmers, such as, the area of agricultural farms not having much irrigation potential both by way of river or underground water and most of the crops cultivated being deep rooted crops and not paddy or vegetables or other commercial crops. Thus, no cultivation of deep rooted crops would be possible in areas where the pipeline is to be laid, which would occupy a width of around 9 ft including the area on both sides of the pipeline.

Most of the farmers in the area have only small land holdings and in some cases less than one acre. Depriving them of their land would make the agricultural operations in the region unviable.

According to the farmers, once GAIL takes the possession of their land under Right to Use law, it has the authority to do whatever it wants to. Moreover, once the farmers become “part owners of the land,” pledging the land to financing institutions for raising loans would become difficult for the farmers.

Chemical Industries Association is of the view that an independent committee of experts including agricultural scientists, geologists, piping engineers, chemical engineers and representatives of the farming community should be constituted immediately to look into all aspects of the matter and submit its recommendations within 45 days.

The farmers are not against the natural gas pipeline project in Tamil Nadu and are insisting that it should not be laid on their agricultural farmland.

So far there is no information in the public domain that GAIL has conducted a detailed and in-depth study on the feasibility of laying the pipeline on national highways. If GAIL has done such a detailed survey, then it should explain the feasibility of a highway pipeline to the proposed committee of experts, says CIA.

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