Issues around Kochi-Kootanad-Bengaluru-Mangalore Pipeline Project

In the first week of February, 2016, India’s Chief Justice TS Thakur while passing orders on Kochi-Kootanad-Bengaluru- Mangalore project rebuked the state government of Tamil Nadu and said that: “Such interference in projects of national importance for ‘votes’ is tantamount to a breakdown of constitutional machinery”. The three judge bench ruled that the project must resume with additional compensation to the affected peasants.

Background

In 2007, the Union ministry of petroleum and natural gas had granted authorisation to GAIL to lay the Kochi-Kootanad-Bengaluru-Mangalore pipeline. The objectives of this pipeline were:

  • To bring 16 million metric standard cubic metres per day of natural gas from Petronet LNG terminal in Kochi to southern states and connecting the southern states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka to the national gas grid
  • To make available cheap fuel for industries, especially power plants and fertilisers
  • To provide clean and green fuel for vehicular transport
  • To provide Piped gas for homes

The deadline to complete this project was March 2013. To implement the project, the Tamil Nadu government and GAIL had signed a Gas Cooperation Agreement {such agreement is necessary for project implementation} in June 2008. Total length of the pipeline was envisaged to be 884 km and total estimated cost was Rs. 2915 Crore.

The state government went ahead for Gazette publication for land rights declaration. Laying of pipeline began in April 2012. However, within a few months, the farmers started protests and started attacking the machinery and contractors. The project was stopped and GAIL approached Madras High Court asking for police protection in July 2012. But a single judge order dismissed the plea. GAIL pleaded for relief from Division Bench of Madras High Court. In October 2012, the HC bench directed the state chief secretary to convene a meeting of the stakeholders and asked the state government to facilitate the laying of the gas pipeline. The court also directed the land owners to cooperate.

Since then, this project is mired in litigation. Since farmers and their land are involved in the project, it has become politically sensitive and politicos of the state sided with the farmers. In the recent judgement, the Supreme Court has allowed the project to continue however, the state government has filed a review petition in SC.

Arguments

The key argument of the state government is that – it is the duty of the state to protect the interests and livelihoods of the agitating farmers and it cannot turn a blind eye to the difficulties of farmers. The further issues are as follows:

Uprooting of fruit bearing trees

The Tamil Nadu state government says that this project would result in uprooting of more than 1.2 Lakh fruit bearing trees. The counter argument of the GAIL is that the state government itself had documented some 4300 fruit bearing trees and over 5500 non-fruit bearing trees in all. We note here that around 310 kilometre of this pipeline would pass through Tamil Nadu. Of the 16 MMSCMD of gas, around 9 MMSCMD has been allocated for state’s consumption.

Affecting farmers’ livelihoods

The state government argues that the current alignment of the pipeline would result in irreparable damage to the farm property of the thousands of farmers in the state. However, GAIL argues that 90% of the land is dry and only 10% comes under agriculture. Regarding alignment, the Tamil Nadu also argues that GAIL has laid the pipelines in Kerala along the highways but in Tamil Nadu it is doing so on private lands. The state government had directed GAIL to pay compensation to affected farmers and change the alignment so that it travels along the national highway instead of farmlands. GAIL says that there is only small area of private land is coming under the pipeline and that is technically unavoidable. As per international standards, the Gas pipelines should not pass through densely populated areas or highways. It further said that only some part of the pipeline had been laid along the highways in Kerala and this was not avoidable.

The Land Acquisition Issue

In its arguments, the state government says that it is not against the project but it should not be at the cost of lives and livelihoods of large number of poor farmers. This argument was also countered by GAIL on the basis of Petroleum and Mineral Pipeline (Acquisition of Right of User in Land) Act 1962. This law says that there is NO need of land acquisition for laying gas pipeline projects. For pipeline projects, the act had provided for “Right of User” in which the state government would obtain a license from the land owners for GAIL to lay the pipeline at depth of one meter. In such license agreement, the land is given back to the land owner and they can cultivate the crops. Only some constructions are forbid in the vicinity of the pipeline.

Supreme Court Stand

While giving the ruling, Supreme Court has drawn attention to the manner in which Tamil Nadu government handled the protests against Kudunkulum Power Plant and said that state government can effectively handle the law and order problem in current case also.

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