Tamil Nadu farmer organisations and the state Opposition have called for immediate withdrawal of the MSME Trade and Investment Promotion Bureau’s (MTIPB) October 26 request for proposal on the preparation of detailed project report (DPR) for a petrochemical cluster in Nagapattinam district of Cauvery Delta.
The process to set up a nine million metric tonne per annum (MMTPA) refinery by the Chennai Petroleum Corporation Limited (CPCL) and the Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) is being expedited by Tamil Nadu. The delta region was declared a protected special agriculture zone (PSAZ) in 2020 after protests against hydrocarbon extraction and the subsequent impact on farmers, activities relating to the petrochemical industry and existing industrial projects were exempted.
Farmers and opposition parties have slammed the government’s move with the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) accusing the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) of doublespeak on protecting the rights of farmers.
EXPANSION OF EXISTING REFINERY AND CLUSTER
A one MMTPA plant with a feeder facility is already functional at Narimanam village of Nagapattinam. Known as ‘Nagapattinam Refinery’ or ‘Kaveri refinery’, the plant is categorised as small and was designed by CPCL to process local crude at an estimated cost of Rs 31,580 crore.
The expansion is set to increase to nine MMTPA with the acquisition of more land, building infrastructure and investment. “The necessary arrangements, such as land acquisition and capital investment, have already begun and the state is on a mission to operationalise the additional capacity within the next four years,” the call for DPR states.
V Sethuraman, a member of the Tamil Nadu Science Forum, questioned the call for DPR. “The call for DPR for a cluster has become questionable with a history of agitations against such industries in the region,” he told Newsclick. Farmer organisations and environmentalists had raised alarm when Trichy and Karur districts were exempted from the PSAZ even though they are in the delta region.
Sethuraman also claimed that the government is taking advantage of the exemption for existing industries in the PSAZ. “The existing refinery is small and the impact has been minimal. The plant already has environmental clearance and no public hearing would be required,” he said.
FARMERS, OPPOSITION FLAY DMK GOVERNMENT
Thamizhaga All Farmers Organisations Coordination Committee had demanded a white paper on the proposed petrochemical cluster. Even the DMK had opposed the petroleum, chemical and petrochemical investment region (PCPIR) proposed by the previous AIADMK regime in February 2020.
“The idea for the PCPIR was dropped in Cuddalore and Nagapattinam districts in February 2020 and the region was delimited, bringing an end to the struggle of the farmers. The call for DPR for a cluster will probably renew the farmer protest,” Sethuraman said.
The AIADMK and Pattali Makkal Katchi criticised the DMK for considering such a project in the delta region. Former chief minister and AIADMK coordinator O Panneerselvam said that the new proposal has exposed the DMK’s double standard. Mentioning then-Opposition leader MK Stalin’s call for banning all industrial activities when the PSAZ Bill was being passed, he said, “The DMK government is promoting a business that they were opposing in the Opposition,” he said.
The AIADMK had never conceded to the DMK’s demand for banning petrochemical industries in the PSAZ in 2020. Now, the DMK is proposing a similar and even bigger project.
DANGER OF ENVIRONMENTAL POLLUTION
With the capacity slated to increase to 9 MMTPA and several micro, small and medium enterprises expected to be established, the danger of environmental pollution is looming. “The land acquired for the current plant was termed barren. However, there is no barren land in the delta region. Cultivable land was intentionally converted into barren land and the risk of environmental pollution is high,” Sethuraman said.
Petrochemical industries often face the heat for violating emission norms with North Chennai region being a classic example of high pollution. “The ninefold expansion being planned by CPCL and IOC could lead to severe air and land pollution, which will contaminate the groundwater as well,” Sethuraman said.