On 15th February, the central government announced the award of contract for development and extraction of oil and gas from 44 contract areas all over the country.
As soon as this was announced, protests broke out in Neduvasal village in Pudukottai district in southern Tamil Nadu, which is one of the contract areas, An area of 10 sq. km has been leased out to a private contractor to extract oil and gas. The contract for Neduvasal has been awarded to Karnataka based Gem Laboratories. The recent award is part of the Indian government’s October 2015 Marginal Field Policy, aimed at inviting private sector participation in exploitation of marginal and small oil fields.
Over the past few weeks, thousands of women and men from 30 surrounding villages have joined the villagers of Neduvasal in the protest. Environmental activists, students, engineering graduates and many others have also joined the protests.
Neduvasal is located in an area rich in groundwater. With fertile soil of the delta, it has a healthy multi-crop agricultural conomy. Within 100 km from Neduvasal, ONGC operates about 200 oil wells and dozens of other installations. The people of Neduvasal and surrounding villages have learnt from the negative fallout of ongoing oil exploration in the districts of Nagapattinam, Tiruvarur and Thanjavur. They are aware that it is fraught with serious danger to lives and livelihood of people.
People are concerned with increasing air and water pollution, groundwater depletion, increased incidence of respiratory diseases, farmland contamination and lapses in restoring damaged lands. Farmers who have filed for compensation are still waiting.
Particular instances are fresh in the memory of the people. Gases from an exploratory well constructed by ONGC near Neduvasal in 2008-09 kept burning for 3 months after it was dug. Pits filled with oil wastes were lying open for seven years. During heavy rains, the wastes flowed out of the pond into the neighbouring lands. Crude oil leaked from underground pipelines running through people’s fields and damaged standing crops. They contaminated irrigation canals and groundwater. Fields damaged by oil leaks were never restored. Failed well sites were left unattended resulting in close to 2000 acres of fertile land being overrun by thorny weeds.
The people of Neduvasal and surrounding villages are not believing the false promises of the authorities that they will look after the wellbeing of the people affected by the oil exploration program.