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Protest against coal mines in Tamil Nadu follows a pattern, to hit investment in state

By NS Venkataraman* 

The ongoing protest against the tender announced by Government of India for opening new coal mines in part of delta region in Tamil Nadu is not surprising, as it follows a trend and pattern in Tamil Nadu.
In recent times, several projects have been heavily delayed or closed or given up in Tamil Nadu due to protests and demonstrations due to one reason or the other by one section of the people or the other. In such demonstration and protests, political parties in opposition and some environmental groups/ activists have actively involved themselves and have largely conducted the media campaign.
However, in the case of many of such protests, it has been later on proved to be counter productive and against the larger interest of economic and industrial growth in the state.
Kudankulam nuclear project was delayed by more than ten years due to protests and litigation and the project is now functioning quite well.
The natural gas pipeline project from Kochi to Tamil Nadu was not permitted . However, the Kerala government successfully laid the pipeline from Kochi to Karnataka under similar conditions. that was objected in Tamil Nadu.
The large Sterlite Copper Project in Tuticorin was forced to be closed by agitation due to so called environmental violation but now it is seen that even after three years of closure of Sterlite Copper , there is no change for better in soil or atmospheric conditions in Tuticorin, which proves the fact that Sterlite Copper was not causing environmental hazard.
The highway project between Salem and Chennai was also blocked by agitators.
The proposed gas exploration project in delta region has also been given up due to protest.
Now, there is huge protest going on against the acquisition of land for the new airport at Parandur.
Several other similar incidents can be pointed out.
What is to be noted here is that in raising objections to such projects by the agitators or the state government, informative cost benefit analysis based on facts and ground realities ,the need for holistic outlook are not highlighted or debated. In most such cases, the views of experts are not given due consideration and the issue is converted into an emotional one or subject of state centre relationship. The role of media in bringing out the facts and truth with regard to such protests are not what they should be in most cases and have been treated as a matter of sensation and to draw larger readership / viewership by the media.
The ongoing agitation against acquisition of land for coal mines in Tamil Nadu is being discussed in the media , without relating the issue to economic and industrial needs of the state.
The fact is that India needs paddy, sugar and agri products as well as coal , crude oil , natural gas. The deposits of coal or crude oil are available only in certain selected areas and the government can open the mine only in such areas and such areas are limited.
It should not be viewed that opening of mine or acquisition of land for airport or industry in agricultural land is anti farmer activity and such arguments cannot be considered as appropriate.
Tamil Nadu has more than 61 lakh hectares of agricultural land where sowing is done and of this, 14.7 lakh hectares is in delta region.
In delta region where Tamil Nadu is blessed with lakhs of areas of agricultural land , a few thousand acres allotted to mining and gas exploration would not make any significant difference in agricultural production.
While speaking on the agricultural operations, it needs to be kept in view that agricultural yield per acre in India is much lower than many other countries and wastage of harvested crops due to lack of proper storage conditions are also very high. Why are we not talking about these issues also?
Certainly, policy initiatives are needed about compensating the affected farmers due to take over of such agricultural land for non agricultural purposes. The fear of farmers is about the loss of livelihood , as mere a few lakhs of rupees of compensation will not help them in the long run. Perhaps,farmers can be given stake in the projects to be set up on the acquired land in a way that would protect their long term interests.
The interests of farmers certainly require utmost consideration as they are the food providers for the country. But, farmers also should develop a broader view with overall national interest , instead of viewing take over of agricultural land as an anti farmer activity.
What is disturbing is that knowledgeable debates and discussions are not being carried out on such issues and the political leaders in the state view such issues as a matter of vote bank politics and not considering the loss of economic growth opportunities to the state.
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*Trustee, Nandini   Voice For The Deprived

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