“As long as the government is not able to properly regulate the policies related to oil exploration projects,and monitor energy companies, people won’t allow the oil companies to drill their land ” said Sarah Palin, former governor of Alaska. Sarah was not a vehement critique of the energy policies and she was also focussing on America’s growth , but she understood the unethical practices of the oil companies. For the common people who often ask “why Tamil Nadu people are opposing oil & gas exploration in Kathiramangalam, Neduvasal and in Mannargudi?” Sarah Palins statement and understanding is the answer.
Oil extraction has been going on in the Cauvery basin for the last 30 years. But it is a question mark- whether these are monitored, regulated and atleast have they been loyal to the people of the area.
“Take oil from our land”
On a sarcastic note, we should only thank the police who resort to lathi charge and the CM Edappadi Palanisamy who says that it has become a fashion to protest nowadays. If the government had listened to the people of Kathiramangalm and interacted with them, we wouldn’t have traveled thousand kilometers through the Cauvery delta region and met the affected who are fighting for justice.
During the latter part of the eighties, when ONGC came to Cauvery Delta, people came on their own to forego their livelihood lands and they also asked them to lay pipes through their land. The reason is not only money but since they beleived that it is for the prosperity of the nation, and more so their contribution would also make their region a heaven.
Listen to what Singaravelu, from Kamalapuram who had given his land for pipe laying to ONGC in the early days has to say, “During those days we didn’t sell our land for money. We believed oil extraction will bring growth. But so far it has only brought us misfortune. Three years back there was an oil spill in my land and yes ONGC did give me compensation, but now even grass won’t grow in my land. So what am I going to do with the money, without my land?” he asks very sadly.
These tpes of sad stories doesn’t end with Singaravelu and many families have been affected in these area and their miseries are endless. The foremost painful story is that of Padmanabhan from Kathiramangalam.
“Pipes exploded and the crops were in flames”
Padmanabhan’s son Ganesh spoke to us. “I don’t exactly remember the year but it happened before ten years. The pipes which were going underneath our land cracked and there was oil spill all over our land. It happened in the evening, so it took us a while to realize what has happened and we actually didn’t understand what had happened. Later after a few days when in the nearby land they were burning waste, fire balls landed on our land and our land was in flames. Later ONGC came and they gave us some money , but we asked them to make our land cultivable again, which they refused to do so. They said they will give us compensation till the land is set right but they refused to help us make our land cultivable. Even the compensation was given to us only after we went to the court.
Yes the need for money is there, but if we have our land then we wouldn’t be standing here for relief, we would have made the money our self, with our land.” He said sadly.
It has been more than ten years since the accident had happened and still the land is unfit for cultivation and it looks like a barren land. The oil spill has affected the nearby land also and its owner Sivasamy says, “Oil spills happens very often and during rain the oil spill spread to other areas also and the area surrounding the affected land also become barren. We gave our land hoping it will bring prosperity. But now we have lost our land” he said.
“Low underground water and the crumbling houses”
In and around Kamalapuram, there are around seven oil extraction pipes installed by ONGC and as a result, people there claim that the ground water level has also gone down drastically. Ekambaram who is now fighting against ONGC says, “Apart from the depletion of ground water level, we also suspect that they are dumping the oil wastes back into our land, because we often come across lorries carrying theses wastes in our place”.
While people with land are facing these problems, on the other hand landless poor class people here have a different fear.
They say, “Our houses have been damaged many times by the ONGC lorries. While they pass through our narrow streets we are often very scared and so far we haven’t received any money from them as compensation. When we tell the drivers to drive slowly, they would say ‘this is ONGC road and we will only drive this way. If you want you can find some other place to live’. Here we don’t have land and also have no life to live. We don’t have the necessary means to leave this place also” he said and as he finished, an ONGO vehicle went past us in high speed .
“Employment Denied…Poisoned Water!”
Like Kamalapuram, Narimanam at the end of Cauvery delata is also facing the same problem. These people believed that the oil companies would provide employment and dreamed that their living standards will improve and as usual ONGC has very carefully destroyed their hopes. Somu, a resident of the village says “We are the one to be blamed for our ignorance first. We believed the oil company would turn our village into a city like Dubai. Yes they have made our land into s desert and when it rains in the nearby village, we don’t see a single drop of rain here. We believe the reason is because of the environmental damage caused by ONGC.
They promised us jobs, but never did they provide it. They told us that they would improve infrastructure, which they didn’t. ONGC is all about lies and the government has taken us for a ride and fooled us” he said angrily.
He continued, “We are not even worried about the lies on employment and growth but much worried about our ground water getting poisoned. It’s not just us who are drinking this water; even cows are drinking the same water” he says and shows the water from his tap. The water is yellowish in color and the entire area is only full of yellow water. For cooking purpouse also the people there use the same yellow water.
“Have you ever approached ONGC with all these issues ” we asked and he said “They don’t have time to listen to us. They are using our land, but we are never allowed to enter their building” he said in a very sad tone.
“People no longer beleive oil companies-Why?”
“In Kamalapuram, Narimanam, Vellakkodi and in other parts of the Cauvery delta region whereever ONGC has set its foot on, these same problems are faced by people living there” according to Vikatan.com, a famous Tamil News website and ONGC has earned the peoples distrust there. The government has not stood by the side of the people here and ONGC who took their land has not cared for them .
Now go to the first paragraph and read what Sarah had said. It is true for Kamalapuram and Narimanam and you will understand why people are fighting against ONGC. Yes, “As long as the government doesn’t regulate the policies related to oil production companies, people won’t allow the oil companies to extract oil from their land”