Amid apprehensions raised by the Opposition, the Tamilnadu Assembly on Thursday successfully adopted a Bill that prohibits projects involving exploration, drilling and extraction of oil and natural gas, including coal-bed methane, and other similar hydrocarbon and ship- breaking industry in the Cauvery delta region of the State.
Aimed at protecting agriculture in the delta areas, considered the rice bowl of Tamilnadu, the Bill also seeks to establish a high-powered authority to be led by the Chief Minister to protect and improve farming to increase farm productivity.
Suggesting measures for fostering infrastructure for food security will be a key function of the authority. The main opposition – DMK and its allies including the Congress which welcomed the Bill, however, staged a walkout since their plea to send it to Select Committee was not entertained.
Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami piloted the Tamilnadu Protected Agricultural Zone Development Bill 2020 and called it ”historic.” He rued that the DMK walked out to politicise the matter. Farmers would however be happy and they would welcome the Bill, he said. State Ministers spoke welcoming the initiative and praised Palaniswami.
The prohibition clause of the Bill said: ”No person shall undertake any new project or new activity specified in the Second Schedule in the protected agricultural zone.”
Apart from coal-bed methane, shale gas and other similar hydrocarbon and ship-breaking industry, the schedule of prohibited projects also include zinc smelter, iron ore process plant, integrated steel plant and sponge iron plant.
Also, copper smelter, aluminium smelter, bone meal, processing of animal horn, hoofs and body parts and tannery are included. However, activities or projects in operation in the protected agricultural zone would not be affected. Also, infrastructure developments in the zone such as harbour, pipelines, road, telecommunications, power, water supply and other utilities are excluded from the Bill.
The prohibition applies to Thanjavur, Tiruvarur, and Nagapattinam districts that form the core of Cauvery delta region in Tamilnadu besides several blocks of Cuddalore and Pudukottai districts.
As per the Bill, the government shall take steps to use available agricultural lands for sustainable development of farming and ensure that agricultural activities are not unduly constrained by non-agricultural use or other development. This is a welcome move which would help benefit agriculture in Delta regions.