An agitation gives way to uneasy silence

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‘Victims’ of GAIL pipeline project stare at an uncertain future; some fear repeat of Andhra incident that claimed 22 lives

Five years of protests and agitation against the laying of GAIL pipeline through some thickly populated areas of the district seem to have had an ebbing effect on the organisation that spearheaded the agitation.

Raucous protests have given way to uneasy silence now as hundreds of people who describe themselves as victims of the GAIL pipeline project gaze at an uncertain future. “We don’t know what is going to happen. The fear remains. But no one comes forward to take up our issue,” said Mohammed Ali, whose land at Kodur will be used for the pipeline.

The pipeline is to go through the panchayats of Irumbiliyam, Kuruva, Ponmala, Kodur, Pookkoottur, and Areekode and Valanchery municipality in the district.

Protests were most vehement in Kodur as the pipeline was to go through the most populated areas in the grama panchayat.

Surveys had to be suspended many a time as people raised banners of protest. Confrontation with agitators reached near-showdowns on a couple of occasions, but the district administration did not press for it.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s recent statement that the project would be implemented at any cost proved a dampener for the protesters.

After the Left Democratic Front (LDF) came to power, the intensity of the protest came down considerably. Strangely, LDF activists who spearheaded and supported the agitation are now keeping mum. Apart from Solidarity Movement, no other organisation has taken up the cause of the people. The Gail Victims Action Forum is no longer active, though its leaders refuse to admit it. According to them, they were in the forefront of the agitation to uphold the rights of the victims.

Although the issue had been a hot topic during the panchayat and Assembly elections, it has found no relevance in the Malappuram Lok Sabha by-election campaign. The candidates of the UDF, LDF, and the BJP share the same view: the project should be implemented only after taking the people into confidence.

More protests planned

Not a single day passes in Kozhikode district without a protest against the laying of the GAIL pipeline project.

Sometimes the protests are huge like the one witnessed at Nellikaparamba village near Mukkom, 32 km from Kozhikode city, where 500 people, including women, assembled against the implementation of the project. “At least 600 people in the district will be affected. The majority will lose their cultivated land and some buildings,” said K.C. Anwar, district president, Solidarity Youth Movement, and convener of GAIL Victims Forum.

Pipes will be laid for around 80 km in Kozhikode district as part of the GAIL Kochi-Koottanad-Bengaluru-Mangaluru natural gas project. More than 90% of the survey is over, and only a section of the Kannur spread at Nadapuram-Thooneri needs to be finished now.

Largely the protests are centred around the hill region of Thamarassery, Mukkom, and Karassery. Villagers are also apprehensive of incidents like the fire in GAIL pipeline in Andhra Pradesh in 2014 that killed 22 people. “We have decided to intensify protests in the coming days. Earlier, the CPI(M) had been in the forefront of the agitation. Now, the party has made a volte-face after coming to power in the State. The Left party has made it a pet project, citing development,” Mr. Anwar points out.

However GAIL Chief Manager M. Viju says the pipeline is laid in accordance with the Petroleum and Minerals Pipe Line (Acquisition of Right of Users in Land) Act. “The protesters are being fed with misinformation on safety aspects,” he said, adding that the compensation for damaged crops would be distributed to land owners by April 15. No buildings will be demolished, even though some had been constructed after the notification of 3 (1) and 6 (1) of the Act, he said.

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