The Chief Minister, Jayalalithaa, on Monday, asked the Gas Authority of India Limited (GAIL) to realign its Kochi-Bangalore liquid natural gas pipeline along the highway, instead of through farm lands, in seven districts in the State.

Announcing the decision of the government in reply to a special call attention motion tabled to highlight the plight of farmers of Coimbatore, Tirupur, Erode, Namakkal, Salem, Dharmapuri and Krishnagiri districts by members of the Opposition in the Assembly, the Chief Minister said the GAIL should forthwith give up its plan to take the pipeline along farm lands. It should initiate steps to lay it along highways, without affecting farmers’ lands. The pits dug up for the purpose should be filled up and the lands handed over to the owners in their original state. The GAIL should remove all the pipes already laid in farm lands and provide due compensation to farmers and land owners for the losses suffered by them.

Describing how the government acted swiftly on coming to know of the farmers’ concerns, Ms. Jayalalithaa said schemes should be for the people and not vice versa.

The Chief Secretary conducted a three-day public hearing in Chennai from March 6, in which 2, 428 farmers and land owners from 134 villages attended. Participants were of the unanimous view that the pipeline, in the present alignment, would adversely affect the livelihood of small and marginal farmers.

The right to use enjoyed by GAIL under the Petroleum and Minerals Pipeline Act, 1962, over 1,491 acres of land would mean inability to undertake cultivation in a major portion of their land and render future development impossible.

Land value would come down and banks would not come forward to advance loans to these lands. The Chief Minister said that GAIL could undertake realignment of the pipeline along highways and also take steps to provide liquid gas to Tamil Nadu. The government, she said, would initiate action to withdraw the cases filed against farmers in connection with the GAIL project.

The farmers also pointed out at the hearing that the GAIL had attempted to take the pipeline on its proposed route even in places where there was scope for an alternative, casting aside their views. It had chosen to go ahead with the project without getting their wholehearted consent or giving proper intimation to land owners. The pipeline would cause damage to their homes, poultry farms and water sources. GAIL’s order that trees with deep roots should not be raised in the area would affect their livelihood.

There was also a possibility of gas leak or major accidents around residential areas and educational institutions which were on the path of the pipeline.

The Chief Minister recalled how the GAIL had planned to lay gas pipeline to a distance of 310 km across seven districts in the State. But the compensation for farmers was only 10 per cent of the market rate of the acquired land. In its letter of March 8, 2013, GAIL had contended that traffic along the national highway would be affected if the pipeline were to take an alternative alignment. The National Highways Authority of India did not normally grant permission for laying of pipeline along highways. The pipeline could not be taken along the highway, taking into account future expansion. This would also involve installation of additional valves and stoppage of traffic for a distance of two kilometres whenever rocks were blasted.

However, the submissions of farmers and GAIL revealed that the public sector undertaking did not put forth any strong technical reasons for not laying the pipeline along highways, the Chief Minister said.

On the contrary, farmers had clearly stated how their livelihood would be affected by the present alignment.

Speaking for the motion, the CPI (M) MLA, P. Dillibabu, said neighbouring States like Karnataka and Kerala allowed only minimum damage to farm lands and the pipeline was planned along highways. He also thanked the Chief Minister for protecting the interests of farmers.

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