In Photos: Villagers protest a hydrocarbon project in an agricultural village in Tamil Nadu

The road leading to Neduvasal, is flanked by tall and lush jack fruit, neem, tamarind, teak, banana and coconut trees, besides some wild ones. In the fields, water melon, paddy, ground nut, sesame and maize can be seen in various stages of growth. The villagers fear that this paradise of theirs will not remain so if the hydrocarbon extraction project takes off.

On Feb 15, the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs announced that Neduvasal in Pudukottai district of Tamil Nadu is one of the 31 Discovered Small Fields designated for hydrocarbon extraction. Since then villagers in and around Neduvasal have been protesting that the central government withdraws the proposal. Villagers reveal that they learnt about the possible ill effects of extraction from their youth working in the exploratory industries in the gulf. They take pride in the variety of crops that grow in their land and hence are in no mood to give up their lands either for money or for jobs. While the state government has told the villagers that the project will not take off without their consent, the central government has not given any such assurance.

The exploratory drillings were done way back in 1989-90. ONGC took five to eight acres of land on lease from villagers in Nallandar Kollai, Kottai Kadu, Vada Kadu, Pullan Viduthi and Vanakkan Kadu, saying they would drill to check for availability of kerosene. No exploration was done then in Neduvasal.

As per the government’s statement of Feb 15, the discoveries could not be monetised because of isolated locations, small size of reserve, high development cost and technological constraints. And yet it has been decided now to be monetised.

While all the wells were sealed after the trial exploration, the one in Vanakkan Kadu was left open, with thick black oil still bubbling at the surface. This, believe the villagers, led to the death of the farmer who owns the land by cancer, besides the high incidence of cancer in their village.

The Neduvasal protests have temporarily been called off as the protest site is adjacent to school and the board exams have begun. But the protests in other villages continue and the protestors vow to do so till the government relents.

A man cycles past a banner that shows ‘Neduvasal yesterday, today and tomorrow’ in Vada Kadu, about 10 km from Neduvasal. With villagers at the protest, the village wears a deserted look

A man cycles past a banner that shows ‘Neduvasal yesterday, today and tomorrow’ in Vada Kadu, about 10 km from Neduvasal. With villagers at the protest, the village wears a deserted look

In Avanam, a village on the way to Neduvasal, a tea shop owner, shows his solidarity through posters pasted on his shop front and walls.

In Avanam, a village on the way to Neduvasal, a tea shop owner, shows his solidarity through posters pasted on his shop front and walls.

A girl protesting in Neduvasal, holds a placard that says ‘We Don’t Want Methane; We Want Water and Oxygen’

A girl protesting in Neduvasal, holds a placard that says ‘We Don’t Want Methane; We Want Water and Oxygen’

and supporters from other villages kept gathering at Neduvasal even at dusk,

and supporters from other villages kept gathering at Neduvasal even at dusk,

Women farmers formed a majority of the protestors and they stayed on even after sunset

Women farmers formed a majority of the protestors and they stayed on even after sunset

The temple tank adjacent to the protest site at Neduvasal, brimming with water.

The temple tank adjacent to the protest site at Neduvasal, brimming with water.

As men and women sat in protest through the day, some took turns to help in the preparation of meals to be distributed to the protestors.

As men and women sat in protest through the day, some took turns to help in the preparation of meals to be distributed to the protestors.

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A group of youth from Chennai at a capped exploratory drill near the protest venue in Nallandar Kollai.

The protestors in Nallandar Kollai strung together some of their agri produce to showcase the fertility of the soil.

The protestors in Nallandar Kollai strung together some of their agri produce to showcase the fertility of the soil.

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A shut exploratory well in Kottai Kadu, in a land that is part of a grove of coconut, lime and jack fruit trees.

The lush green paddy field adjacent to the capped exploratory well in Kottai Kadu.

The lush green paddy field adjacent to the capped exploratory well in Kottai Kadu.

The exploratory well that was left open, where oil still bubbles up at the surface; and sesame growing in the adjacent field

The exploratory well that was left open, where oil still bubbles up at the surface; and sesame growing in the adjacent field.

Kaikatti, a busy town on the way to Neduvasal wears a deserted a look when Pudukottai observed a bandh in support of Neduvasal protest

Kaikatti, a busy town on the way to Neduvasal wears a deserted a look when Pudukottai observed a bandh in support of Neduvasal protest.

All photos courtesy R Samuel.


Published Date: Mar 12, 2017 10:50 am | Updated Date: Mar 13, 2017 10:26 am


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