Chief Minister K Palaniswami on Sunday said eight Cauvery delta districts of Tamil Nadu including the rice bowl, Thanjavur, will be categorised as a special protected agricultural zone and assured that permission will not be given for hydrocarbon projects. Asserting that steps will be taken to enact a separate law to confer the protected status to the delta districts, he said here that only agro-based industries will be encouraged on a need basis in the river Cauvery fed regions.
The Chief Minister's announcement assumes significance in the wake of continued opposition to projects like those involving hydrocarbon at places, including Neduvasal in Pudukottai district.
AIADMK cadres and supporters see the move as a leap forward in its pro-farmer initiatives and something which turned the tables on DMK that had picked this issue to target both the ruling party and the Centre.
On opposition from farmers to oil exploration and extraction projects in the delta region, Palaniswami said he understood the travails of ryots since he himself was a farmer.
The Chief Minister said the apprehension of farmers and agricultural labourers that their livelihood may be affected due to "hydrocarbon like projects," was fair.
He was addressing people at Thalaivasal near here after laying the foundation stone for a world class institute for integrated research in livestock, a veterinary college and research centre and a farmers carnival.
The Cauvery delta region, spread over about 28 lakh acres produced 33 lakh metric tonnes of food grains and farmers were continuing their work despite natural calamities like the deluge witnessed in 2017 and 2018, he noted.
In view of the proximity to the coastline, there was also the scope of seawater intrusion and such factors too made it pertinent to protect the region, he said.
Pointing to the emotional bond the people have with the Cauvery delta region antedating the times of great Chola ruler Karikala, he said: "I would like to make a historic announcement to protect the Cauvery delta region and thwart impediments to agriculture."
To guard the delta areas and end farmers' ordeals, special protection will be bestowed on Thanjavur, Tiruvarur, Nagappattinam, Pudukottai, Cuddalore, Ariyalur, Karur and Tiruchirappalli districts, he said.
Legal experts will be consulted for coming up with a law for guarding the delta districts, he said.
The Tamil Nadu Assembly's budget session will commence on February 14 and it is expected that the government may consider introducing the Bill for its delta protection proposal.
Making the announcement, Palaniswami assured that permission will not be given for any new projects like those related to hydrocarbons.
"We will not give permission for any project that may affect the livelihood of farmers," he said.
Coming down heavily on DMK and its chief M K Stalin over the hydrocarbon project, he said it was the previous government led by the main opposition party that had "sown the seeds" for the hydrocarbon project in the state.
Following the find of methane gas in Rajasthan, DMK leader T R Baalu, who was then the Petroleum Minister got the Union government's nod in 2010 for a similar initiative in the State, he said.
The DMK government had given permission in 2011 to an energy enterprise for drilling well and exploration work in Tamil Nadu and a Memorandum of Understanding was signed in the presence of Stalin who was then the Deputy Chief Minister, he said.
This was the truth, Palaniswami said and slammed the DMK for its "disinformation campaign" and an alleged bid to create trouble over the issue.
"I would like to make it clear that is is our government which thwarted the project while the DMK brought it," he said.
Citing the hydrocarbon project proposal at Neduvasal, he reassured that without the State government's 'No Objection Certificate' work cannot be initiated, notwithstanding the Central government's move.
"Everyone is aware of this, including the leader of the opposition (Stalin)," he said and recalled his assurances earlier both inside and outside the State Assembly that the Tamil Nadu government will not give its consent for such projects.
Welcoming the announcement as a "victory," PMK chief S Ramadoss said the decision would prevent desertification of the Cauvery districts and recalled that it was his party which had first voiced the demand and continued to press the plea all along.
Declaring Cauvery delta region as a protected farm zone was the primary demand when PMK aligned with the AIADMK for last year's Parliamentary polls, he said.
"The benefits that have accrued for farmers are manifold.
The future of farmers in the delta region will be bright and this has been assured," he said.
The Central government had said in 2017 that "...two contract areas, Karaikal (10.4 Sqkm) located in Puducherry and Neduvasal (10.0 Sqkm) located in Tamil Nadu awarded under DSF (Discovered Small Field) bidding round have an in-place volume of 4,30,000 metric tonne of oil and oil equivalent gas."
More than 700 wells have been drilled for extraction of oil and gas in Tamil Nadu and such operations are not hampering agriculture and do not pose any known environmental impact or health hazards, the government had said.