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Why similar development projects take off in Kerala, but are 'failure' in Tamil Nadu

By NS Venkataraman*

Prime Minister Narendra Modi would inaugurate the much-discussed natural gas pipeline between Kerala and Karnataka on January 5,2021. The story of this gas pipeline is a case study that can enable one to learn and unlearn about the government machinery deals with cause and effect of environmental activism.
The Kochi gas terminal in Kerala was set up with a capacity of five million tonne per annum and was inaugurated a few years back, for importing liquefied natural gas and distributing it across Kerala , Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.
The potential benefits of this gas pipeline can be immense by way of promoting rapid industrialization by using the imported natural gas as feedstock for fertilizer, petrochemical industries and as eco friendly fuel for power projects, as domestic fuel and as fuel for transportation etc.
The potential investment, financial and environmental benefits that could happen due to the use of imported natural gas could be well over Rs 20,000 crore in value in terms in the states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala.
The Government of India-owned Gas Authority of India (GAIL) was entrusted with the responsibility of implementing the gas pipeline project in the above three states. However, the fate of this gas pipeline project is different in Tamil Nadu from that of Kerala and Karnataka.
When GAIL started implementing the pipeline project from Kochi terminal to Tamil Nadu with the pipeline length of around 330 kilometres, there were resistance from farmers in Coimbatore and surrounding region in Tamil Nadu, claiming that the laying of the pipeline would affect the interest of the farmers, as the pipeline would pass through the agricultural field.
GAIL explained to the farmers that the pipeline would be laid around more than five feet under the soil and after laying of the pipeline, farming operations can continue and only the deep rooted plants can not be planted. Further, GAIL said that compensation would be paid to the farmers and the matter can be discussed and finalised.
However, the farmers refused to accept this explanation and said that the pipeline can be set up on the National Highways, without disturbing agricultural operations. Anyone with knowledge of gas pipeline laying technology and engineering practices would readily know that laying a gas pipeline on highways would be impossible, given the width of the highways and safety issues involved due to the vibration caused by the heavy traffic on the highways.
When this issue was raised in Tamil Nadu, almost all political parties and sections of activists supported the stand of the farmers and agitations were launched and hate campaign against GAIL was carried out vehemently.
In the process, proper cost benefit analysis was not carried out and the overall economic and industrial progress that can happen in Tamil Nadu were not given weightage by the farmers and the politicians and activists supporting them.
It appears that the Tamil Nadu government did not play a proactive role to the extent needed to resolve the issue. Apparently, without examining the issue in proper perspective and ignoring the fact that not implementing the project would result in loss of large investment opportunities in the state and loss of job potentials, it banned the implementation of the gas pipeline project. Thus , Tamil Nadu became the loser.

Kerala-Karnataka gas pipeline project

The Kochi-Mangalore pipeline project with a distance of 444 kilometre at the cost of Rs 2,915 crore was initiated in 2009 with the aim of completing it in 2014. There was some objection to the pipeline project in Kerala by the environmentalists.
However, the project has now been completed at the cost of Rs 5,750 crore, that would provide enormous benefits to Kerala and Karnataka, by way of industry promotion, job prospects and consequent economic growth. 
The Kerala government deserves to be complimented for enhancing the debate relating to land acquisition for national projects and in dealing with the environmental issues
What the Tamil Nadu government could not achieve was achieved by the Kerala government. The Kerala government played a proactive role by encouraging the protestors in Kerala to discuss with GAIL authorities and the government itself took an active role in facilitating the discussions and arriving at an amicable solution.
The Kerala government deserves to be complimented for enhancing the debate relating to land acquisition for national projects and in dealing with the environmental issues in a lofty and responsible manner. The Kerala government has shown that the environmental and land acquisition issues relating to projects can be sorted out by scientifically and honestly carrying out cost benefit analysis and satisfying the needs of every stake holder in the project scheme.

Environmental activism in Tamil Nadu

In the last several years, Tamil Nadu has lost several valuable project opportunities that would have done enormous good to the economic and industrial progress of the state. Titanium dioxide project of Tata group in Tuticorin had to be abandoned due to protest by activists and some political parties.
The Koodankulam nuclear power project was delayed by several years due to protests by activists. But the project is now successfully operating, proving that all the accusations against the project were baseless and now have been proved to be wrong.
The Nutrino project in the Theni region in Tamil Nadu now remains stranded due to protests by the activists. Enormous significance of the project from the point of view of science and technology development was repeatedly pointed out by no less a person than the former President Dr Abdul Kalam, who was also an eminent scientist. But activists would not permit the project.
The Sterlite Copper project in Tuticorin was forced to close down by the Tamil Nadu government following protests despite the Green Tribunal and Supreme court ruled in favour of the project.
Gas exploration project in Neduvasal has also been stopped, due to protest by the activists and section of politicians, though the several knowledgeable arguments were advanced in favour of the project by experienced technologists and professionals.
These examples suggest failure of the Tamil Nadu government to enter into reasonable dialogue with environmental activists. Indeed, environmental activism is a necessary in a progressive society, where any harm to the environment due to any activity should be pointed out.
However, those in power need to develop trust in environmental activists, who may not in possession of adequate technological knowledge or overall perspective with regard to the cost benefit scenario and long term national interest.
Surely, environmental activism should not be downgraded from its respectable status. In Tamil Nadu things could have been resolved by creating the necessary climate based on understanding of the country’s needs and technology developments, for with the government machinery should do be working.
---
*Chemical engineer; director, Nandini Consultancy Centre, Chennai

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