“The present alignment will affect livelihood of about 5500 small farmers”

The Tamil Nadu government on Friday moved the Supreme Court against a Madras High Court judgment, giving its nod for GAIL India’s pipeline project in the State.

The counsel for the State, B. Balaji, filed a special leave petition against the November-25 verdict. The High Court had stated that there was overwhelming public interest in favour of the project because it would benefit the State to a very large extent. The pipeline, to be laid from Kochi terminal to Bangalore, would ultimately be connected with the natural gas grid. It would pass through Coimbatore, Tirupur, Salem, Erode, Namakkal, Dharmapuri and Krishnagiri districts.

The Chief Secretary said “the government is not opposed to the project.

The State is alive to the fact that this project is in national interest. However, it does not mean that it should be at the cost of the lives and livelihood of large number of poor farmers.

The High Court ought to have appreciated that national interest will not be compromised if the alignment is shifted along national highways.”

The SLP said the present alignment would affect the lives and livelihood of about 5500 small farmers.

The width of the area covered under the “Right of use” is about 66 feet which would be a substantial portion of the farm land. This would make the agricultural operation commercially unviable making the land virtually worthless. The farmer will not be able to get good price for the land, if he/she wants to sell the same or mortgage it to the banks.”

The SLP raised important questions of law, viz. “is the State not justified in suggesting an alternative route along the available national highways for laying the gas pipelines as has been done in Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, etc; is the State not justified in suggesting an alternative route especially when the same was suggested after hearing a large number of farmers in 134 villages for three days in March 2013 and also ascertaining the views of the GAIL and after giving enough opportunity to it to make its suggestions; would not the State be failing in its duty if it does not make constructive suggestions for implementation of the project which will have the least adverse effect on its farmers; should not the High Court have called for a report from independent experts rather than only relying on the ipse dixit of GAIL produced for the first time during the hearing of the writ appeal especially when the State did not get sufficient opportunity and thereby denying an opportunity to the State to verify the correctness of the view expressed by such experts; Can the State be a mute spectator to the miseries and loss of livelihood faced by poor farmers for completion of the project undertaken by essentially a commercial, profit making organisation?

The SLP sought quashing of the impugned judgment and an interim stay of its operation.

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