The delta region has witnessed protests by farmers and opposition parties over various projects, including hydrocarbon extraction and oil exploration, since 2015. The Protected Agricultural Zone tag would require state government permission to undertake projects.
Laying the foundation stone for an integrated livestock research park in Salem, Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami said, “Considering farmers’ welfare as well as to consolidate food security in Tamil Nadu, I announce that Cauvery delta region across Thanjavur, Thiruvarur, Nagapattinam, Pudukkottai, Ariyalur, Karur and Trichy districts will be changed to Protected Agricultural Zone. This announcement is to completely eradicate the woes of farmers there.”
He added, “I resolutely state that we will consult with legal experts, research the ways and means to do this and take appropriate action to bring a special law for this. I would also like to state that this government will never allow the introduction of new projects such as hydrocarbon in this region.”
Stating that he himself was a farmer, Palaniswami said, “Henceforth, no project that affects the welfare of farmers will be allowed in the state. We will not grant permission for it.”
In recent years, the state has witnessed several massive protests in the delta region, including opposition to the Coal Bed Methane exploration project in 2013, the Neduvasal hydrocarbon extraction programme in 2015, the ONGC’s oil exploration at Kathiramangalam in 2017, and permit granted to Vedanta in 2018 for hydrocarbon extraction in Nagapattinam.
What this means
In January this year, Palaniswami opposed the Centre’s decision to amend the Environment Impact Assessment Notification, 2006 which exempts hydrocarbon projects from public consultations. In a firmly-worded letter to the Prime Minister, the ally of the national ruling party demanded that status quo be maintained; he called for the decision to be revoked.
The Chief Minister pointed out that due procedure was not followed by the Centre prior to the decision being taken.
“I would also like to inform that before the issue of Notification dated 16.1.2020, no draft notification was circulated, as mandated, and no opportunity was given to the stakeholders and to the state government to offer our views,” (sic) said the letter.
The letter from the state government also highlighted the ‘strong resistance from farmers/activists and other stakeholders’ to projects involving exploration and extraction of hydrocarbons.
“Since most of these projects are situated in the Cauvery delta districts, which is ecologically a fragile zone, but a very fertile region and rice bowl of the state, the opposition to these projects has been emotive and intense,” the Chief Minister stated.
With no reply forthcoming from the Centre, the latest announcement seeks to protect the delta region from the EIA amendment notification which exempts public hearings for the hydrocarbon projects.