Kadiramangalam, the Tamil Nadu village where there is distress over search for oil

Updated - July 22, 2017 07:53 pm IST

Published - July 22, 2017 07:35 pm IST

School children protest against ONGC project at Kadiramangalam in Tamil Nadu.

School children protest against ONGC project at Kadiramangalam in Tamil Nadu.

Over the past few months, farmers of Kadiramangalam in Thanjavur district have left their fields to protest against the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation’s exploration activities in the village.

Why the worry?

The present strife revolves around the nagging doubts among villagers that the oil exploration by ONGC has depleted the groundwater table and, worse, has polluted the available quantum too.

On their part, ONGC representatives, who did not respond to questions on specific issues, countered that there was a campaign of misinformation in the village and the protesters were not aware of the truth.

The ONGC sunk three oil wells in the village, and has been pumping out hydrocarbon resources since 2004. The pumped-out crude oil and natural gas are transported to Kuttalam, 5 km away, through underground pipelines laid at a depth of six feet.

What happened to the water?

While there was no hindrance to ONGC activities all these years, around three months ago potable water in the village turned brownish yellow with a high content of visible particulate matter polluting it, alleged residents of Karupatti Street in the village. Even as the villagers were discussing the issue, the ONGC moved in heavy equipment and machinery near the oil well in the village bazaar area on May 15.

Villagers were told that the ONGC was about to deepen the wells by over 400 feet. The apprehension was that the ONGC was going to explore further for coal-bed methane and shale gas. On May 17, Anti-Methane Project Movement coordinator T. Jayaraman joined the villagers and wanted to know what the ONGC was up to. Two days later, all of Kadiramangalam united and, supported by Prof. Jayaraman, launched an open revolt against the ONGC operations.


What do they want?

While revenue and police officials tried to pacify the restive villagers, the ONGC claimed that there was no plan for shale gas and coal-bed methane exploration, but it was about to undertake routine maintenance activities at the oil well. But that did not cut any ice with the villagers.

The calm midnight of June 1 was disturbed by the sudden mobilisation of a disproportionately huge posse of police in the village, and officials thwarted the residents’ bid to come out to the streets. Those who dared to were rounded up. Women and students were not spared either. The next day, the villagers organised protests and a shutdown to mark the police action, following which Prof. Jayaraman and nine others were arrested.

Till June 5, the village remained off limits for the public as the police set up 21 outposts in the periphery of the village. In the meantime, the ONGC is reported to have completed the maintenance activities in just three days.

What about the oil spill?

When it seemed that there was a semblance of normality, a pipeline burst on June 30 near one of the oil wells resulting in a spill in the fields of farmer R. Sriram. As officials prevented the villagers from going near the spill, a fire under suspicious circumstances aggravated the situation. The police lathi-charged the crowd and again arrested Prof. Jayaraman and nine other protesters. This infuriated the residents who are resolute that those arrested for supporting their cause must be released unconditionally, cases against them dropped and the ONGC must leave the village. Together with the agitation against the hydrocarbon project at Neduvasal in Pudukkottai, which has been going on for more than 100 days, the struggle in Kadiramangalam continues, with the end unpredictable.

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