A farmers’ stir over a natural gas exploration project in Tamil Nadu is rapidly growing into another Jallikattu-type movement, as hundreds of students and professionals are steadily thronging the village where the Centre plans to dig for the fuel.
The gas fields in Neduvasal village of Pudukottai district, some 400km from Chennai, and another in nearby Karaikkal in Puducherry are part of the NDA government’s push to tap into smaller oilfields across the country.
Puducherry chief minister V Narayansamy had rejected the proposal when it was cleared by the Centre on February 15. Tamil Nadu didn’t issue any statement as the southern state was going through a political turmoil in the ruling AIADMK over the revolt of former chief minister O Panneerselvam.
But farmers at Neduvasal had raised their voice against the hydrocarbon project, though their protests got drowned in Chennai churning.
They feared that the gas fields would pollute the area’s groundwater and damage farmlands, their source of livelihood.
The Centre has assured the protesters that the project can generate 500 jobs and maximum care will be taken to prevent environmental pollution.
But the farmers and protesting groups are not convinced. Students and people from different walks of life are reaching the village to join the protests.
The way support is swelling, it has tell-tale signs of the Jallikattu stir in January, which had morphed from a protest against a court ban on a popular bull sport to an uprising for Tamil pride and culture.
Chief minister K Palaniswami, who succeeded Panneersalvan after an acrimonious struggle for power, had apparently requested Prime Minister Narendra Modi to stop the hydrocarbon project in Neduvasal.
He assured representatives of the farmers on Wednesday that the state will not permit the project, and appealed to the protesters to withdraw their stir.
“The state government has not issued any licence to commercially extract natural gas in Neduvasal,” he said.
The protesters rejected Palaniswami’s assurance, demanding in writing a pledge from the Centre to shelve the project.
The Union government is exploring options to tap smaller oil and gas fields to meet the country’s growing demand for fuel, which is mostly imported at a premium.