The Madras High Court on Thursday directed the Chief Secretary to convene a meeting for each of the seven districts through which a natural gas pipeline is being laid by GAIL India Ltd, so that a workable solution is arrived at to complete the project.

Disposing of an appeal challenging a single Judge’s order dismissing the company’s petition seeking police protection for executing the project, the First Bench comprising the Chief Justice M.Y. Eqbal and Justice T.S. Sivagnanam, in its judgment said that for the meeting the District Collector, GAIL officials and the land owners could be invited. The procedure normally adopted in a public hearing could be adopted. The grievances of the land owners and the company could be placed without any reservations.

Thereafter, the State Government should take a decision to facilitate the laying of the gas pipeline.

The more than 600-km pipeline is from Kochi in Kerala to Bangalore in Karnataka. It would pass through Coimbatore, Tirupur, Erode, Namakkal, Krishnagiri, Dharmapuri and Salem districts in Tamil Nadu.

The company commenced preliminary work for executing the project. While doing so, certain land owners and farmers’ associations prevented the employees from doing their duty and also attempted to damage the machinery and equipment. As the project was a time bound one, loss of time would increase the cost involved. GAIL preferred a complaint before the Rayakottai police station in June this year followed by a representation to the authorities requesting adequate protection. Alleging that the complaint and the representation were not considered, the company filed a writ petition seeking police protection.

A single Judge dismissed the petition. Hence, the present appeal by GAIL.The Bench observed that in the light of the State Government’s stand and after going through the facts of the case, it was of the view that the single Judge was right in declining to grant the relief sought by the company. Therefore, the order in the writ petition called for no interference. However, a workable solution should be arrived at to complete the project.

The Judges said the land owners should also bear in mind that the project was of national importance and in public interest.Therefore, they should endeavour to make it successful so that it would be completed within the scheduled time.