Tamil Nadu

Protected Special Agricultural Zone in Tamil Nadu’s Cauvery delta: Experts seek powers to implementing authority

Farmers have always been against hydrocarbon projects, their unwillingness to the scheme came to a head during the 2017 Neduvasal and Kadiramangalam protests.

Farmers have always been against hydrocarbon projects, their unwillingness to the scheme came to a head during the 2017 Neduvasal and Kadiramangalam protests.  

The Protected Special Agricultural Zone that the government created recently is meant to offer farmers of the delta region relief from further hydrocarbon exploration. While the decision itself may be labelled political, experts stress the importance of arming the implementing authority with adequate powers.

It was the 1977 Assembly election. Kuthalam, a sleepy rural constituency in undivided Thanjavur district, was witnessing a heightened poll campaign, as were many other parts of the State. But, there was a difference here. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s (DMK) candidate, R. Rajamanickam, who eventually got elected, ran his campaign on the pivot of the complaint that the Centre was “discriminating” against Tamil Nadu by paying “much less royalty for crude oil” taken from Narimanam, also located in the district.

Even though it would take several more years for the authorities to declare officially that an oil field had been discovered in Narimanam, the point made by the DMK nominee had highlighted how important the subject of hydrocarbon projects was in public discourse in the Cauvery delta even then. There is little change in this situation, even to this day. The 2017 Neduvasal and Kadiramangalam protests, which took place immediately after a massive stir in the State for jallikattu, only confirmed that hydrocarbon projects, regardless of size, would not be welcome in the area.

Also read | Centre proposes terms of reference for ONGC wells in Cauvery basin

Prior to these events, the delta had seen an intense struggle over a proposal to implement a coal bed methane project in Thanjavur and Tiruvarur districts. Despite the project proponent getting an environmental clearance, the State government, based on experts’ advice, had got the project cancelled. After a lull of about two years, the delta, in mid-January this year, saw signs of another round of unrest in the wake of the Central government doing away with the need for holding public consultations for all projects — offshore and onshore oil and gas exploration.

A special zone

It was around this time and against this backdrop that Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami, apart from conveying his disapproval of the Central action, asked senior officials of the government to examine the idea of turning the Cauvery delta into a protected zone. In early February, he announced his government’s decision to create the Protected Special Agricultural Zone and followed it up by adopting a Bill for the same, on the floor of the House 10 days later.

image/svg+xml