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Thane farmers oppose GAIL pipeline through their land

Meena Menon

They say compensation at 10 per cent of the land cost is unacceptable; over 63 villages to be affected

— Photo: Vivek Bendre

TROUBLE AHEAD: Girdhar Pandurang Chaudhary, a farmer of Waveghar village, shows his field through which a GAIL pipeline will be passing.

WADA (Thane district): Giridhar Pandurang Choudhary's lush green paddy field in Waveghar village in Wada taluk was about to be dug up for a project of "national importance" a few weeks ago. A yellow marking on the tar road near his land is the only indication that a gas pipeline will pass through his field.

Like him, other farmers in this area have received notices from the government. The Gas Authority of India (GAIL) plans to lay the Rs. 1,836 crore, 485 km Dahej-Uran natural gas pipeline that will eventually supply gas to the revived Dabhol power plant.

The pipeline will pass through 63 villages in at least five taluks of Thane district, 18 of them in Wada taluk alone, according to S.S. Bhise, Resident Deputy Collector, Thane district. However, the Kunbi Sena, which has launched a protest against gas pipelines in Thane district, says the number of villages affected could be much higher. For the last three years, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has also been raising the issue and demanding a fair compensation for farmers.

The Dahej-Uran pipeline will connect to another pipeline from Panvel to Dabhol at a cost of Rs. 1,330 crore. The entire pipeline network, passing through six districts of Maharashtra, will be completed by March 2007, GAIL sources say.

Farmers complain that they were not warned in advance. On July 30, Narayan Thakre, general secretary of the Kunbi Sena, was supervising rice transplanting on his field when he saw a host of officials accompanied by earth moving machinery. His field is next to Choudhary's which is where they were planning to dig, says Mr. Thakre. "They came with 10 to 12 vehicles, police and the tehsildar and all of us ran over to find out what was happening. We had no idea what was going on," he says.

Choudhary, who owns about eight acres along with his brothers, says he got a notice about two years ago from the government that a gas pipeline would go through his land. He does not recall a survey being done. When some people came on July 30 to dig up his land, about 30-35 of them protested and they went away. Choudhary already has a huge tower on his field, part of a long line of power transmission lines. For the power line crossing his field, he got only Rs. 1,600 as compensation. Now a 30-metre strip across the length of the field will be acquired for the pipeline. "Even if it's underground, my field is almost useless and there are many restrictions on what we can do. There are questions of accessing the fields," he says.

`Land forcibly acquired'

Vishwanath Patil, president of the Kunbi Sena, complains that the entire process is not transparent. "Land is almost being forcibly acquired and that too, partially. If a 30-metre strip across the field is acquired, what will the farmer do?" he asks. Mr. Patil points out that no trees, or bore wells or crops with long roots can be grown in the area under which the pipeline passes and no construction is allowed there. What the farmers find even more unacceptable is that they will be paid only 10 per cent of the cost of the land per acre, as valued by the government.

Under the Petroleum and Minerals Pipelines Act, 1962, there is a provision for "a right of user" acquisition whenever a utility is being constructed, GAIL sources say. The process of acquisition is already over and farmers will be compensated accordingly. Insisting that the whole process is transparent and legal, they say a competent authority of the rank of Deputy Collector is handling compensation and an adequate rate of 10 per cent of the prevailing market rate is being paid. Near Choudhary's field, another utility has made markings for laying a gas pipeline. GAIL's is not the only pipeline about to criss-cross Thane district. Reliance Gas Transportation and Infrastructure Company Limited too is installing a network of natural gas pipelines that will pass through eight taluks in Thane district. Work on this will begin after the monsoon. This pipeline will transport natural gas from KG Basin located off the Andhra Pradesh coast to Gujarat for use by various consumers en route in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Gujarat.

Local revenue officials have been sending notices to village level functionaries asking them to ensure that there is no law and order problem. While the Kunbi Sena has warned of a major agitation if the farmers are not treated fairly, contracts have already been awarded for the work which has begun wherever possible, GAIL sources say. In Thane, work is expected to pick up after the monsoon. A sprawling warehouse in Wada has dozens of spanking new earth moving machines, welding machines and other equipment. Twelve-metre long pipes are being coated with cement using spray guns powered by a diesel generator.

But farmers are not satisfied. They say that instead of giving them irrigation, their land is being damaged in this way. Raju Paranjpe, state committee member of the CPI(M) says that while they felt the projects were important, farmers should be adequately compensated.

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