Farmers’ livelihoods or gas pipeline: The “national interest” debate

FL04_GAIL_PROTEST__2739139g.jpgWith elections to the State Assembly less than three months away, a Supreme Court order has left the Tamil Nadu government wringing its hands in despair. On February 2, a bench comprising Chief Justice of India T.S. Thakur and Justices A.K. Sikri and R. Banumathi upheld a Madras High Court order of November 25, 2013, allowing the public sector undertaking Gas Authority of India Limited (GAIL) to go ahead with its plan to lay a gas pipeline through Coimbatore, Dharmapuri, Erode, Krishnagiri, Namakkal, Salem and Tirupur districts in western Tamil Nadu as part of its Kochi-Koottanad-Mangaluru-Bengaluru Pipeline (KKMBPL) project to transport natural gas.

In its written order, the Supreme Court quashed a communication dated April 2, 2013, from the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) government to GAIL, directing it to lay the gas pipeline along the national highways without affecting the agricultural lands. “There is, in our opinion, no manner of doubt that the State government has no jurisdiction under the provisions of the Right to User Act or the Petroleum and Natural Gas Regulatory Board Act, 2006, to issue any direction to GAIL to alter the alignment of the gas pipeline”, nor has counsel for Tamil Nadu “been in a position to indicate the source of power which the State government could invoke for issuing such a direction”, the order said.

Besides, the court orally observed: “We are not against farmers. But you cannot prevent the gas pipeline project which is in [the] national interest.” It told senior advocate Subramonium Prasad, representing Tamil Nadu: “You supported the farmers’ agitation against the project because votes are involved. You have gone by the sentiments of the farmers.” The court termed the State government’s objections as “populist”.

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