Police disturb peaceful protests
Neduvasal, a small village in Pudukottai district of Tamilnadu has become the epicenter of protests against petrochemical extraction. The protests that began in middle of February, has been galvanizing many sections of Tamilnadu, including workers in Chennai. The issue has been attracting a significant audience in social media, with many young workers, even from IT sector, eager to show solidarity with the farmers. While intense sit-in protest continues at Neduvasal even after State Government’s assurances to cancel project license , Chennai City Police continue tounilaterally suppress any assembly by workers in solidarity.
ONGC has conducted seismic studies and has found that there are reserves of hydro carbons (crude oil) in Neduvasal and adjoining villages in Pudukottai district . They have obtained licences from central and state governments to dig exploration wells to study the quantum and dispersion of the precious liquid in order to commence commercial extraction. They have also been acquiring land from the local farmers for this purpose. While some farmers have given up their lands, others have withheld consent and are resisting this process.
The region is largely dependent on agriculture which is principally rain-fed. Thousands of irrigation tanks collect, conserve and replenish ground water. Wells and bore wells are also employed for irrigation. The farmers contend that extraction of hydro carbons through deep bore wells would deplete ground water and make agriculture, already under stress, un-viable. They have also raised serious concerns over Oil Pollution and other environmental degradation. It was only in Nov 2016, that the Central Government had withdrawn methane extraction project in Nagapattinam district after intense and prolonged struggle by farmers. Neduvasal protest has been attracting solidarity from villagers from the neighbouring areas as well as workers and environmental activists all over the state.
Protests by Workers in Chennai
Workers in Chennai have joined the protests and staged solidarity demonstrations near their worksites.
On Feb 28th, three former IT employees, who are part of Ilan Tamizhagam, (Young Tamils Movement) wanted to leaflet about this issue and interact with IT employees at Tidel Park, Taramani. The police harassed them and demanded that they should have permission to even distribute leaflets. When the activists pointed out that there was no such rule and they were not there to protest but merely to interact, the police began threaten the activists and even forced a tea shop nearby to temporarily shut down. When the activists remained steadfast, the police picked them up, confiscated their mobiles and detained them till 6pm. Later they were charged with unlawful assembly at taramani police station.
On March 1st, IT workers from MEPZ, Tamabaramand part of New Democratic Labour Front staged a rally about 1 km from the entrance. They were holding placards and raising demands seeking immediate withdrawal of the project to save agriculture in TN. Even though they were not obstructing the traffic, police began to harass them by demanding that they seek police permission for such demonstrations. After continued harassment by the police, the workers had to disperse.
On March 2nd, workers from Hyundai, Tenemac, and other factories around Sriperumbudur assembled at Sriperumbudur Bus stand to protest against the project and demands it’s immediate withdrawal. The workers were addressed by S.Kumarasamy, State Secretary of CPIML (L).
Speakers pointed out the repeated attempts by Central Government to force environmentally disastrous projects on Tamilnadu, including Koodankulam Atomic power plants and methane project. They criticized BJP leaders who were willing to sacrifice the people of neduvasal, their land, jobs and livesfor the supposedly ‘good of the nation’, . One of the apprentice worker, who participated in the protest was from Tiruchi and had visited the region earlier. He was emphatic in his claim that the project would destroy agriculture as such projects have done elsewhere. The workers belonged to Revolutionary Youth Association.
The recurrent theme in all the protests, is the incessant assault on agriculture and the plight of the farmers. The workers, many of whom have connections to the rural farming community, seem to have a well grounded fear that such projects would destroy agriculture due to its pollutionThe farmers would be disposed of their lands as agriculture becomes unviable, while large corporations, private or public, would gain huge dividends from extracting natural resources. They also seem to be acutely distrustful of the present government in Tamilnadu and have been demanding that the Central Government issue clear orders withdrawing the project and wthdraw the funding.