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India has a diverse natural habitation with innumerable animal and plant species. Gradually, with an increase in human needs and selfishness, we have started misusing the resources available to us. Humans are slowly destroying the agricultural lands and have started constructing concrete jungles. There is now less food and more bellies to feed.
Big corporates are drilling oil wells and sucking out minerals from the ground, making the land barren and making it harder for the farmers to grow crops. People are protesting to stop this misuse and overuse of our mother nature.
Tamil Nadu has been experiencing this anger for the past so many years now. People are no more ready to sacrifice their dharti maa. With this in mind, Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palanisamy of Tamil Nadu recently declared a Protected Special Agricultural Zone in Tamil Nadu which will include Thanjavur, Tiruvarur, Nagapattinam districts, and most importantly the Cauvery delta region.
Significance of this move
In the past few years, Neduvasal in Pudukottai and Kadiramangalam in Thanjavur have been the nerve centres for the protests against oil and gas exploration projects in the Cauvery delta region. People have protested tirelessly to force the government to meet their demands. In 2013, the then Chief Minister Jayalalithaa suspended coalbed methane exploration in Thanjavur and Tiruvarur. But in 2017, the Tamil Nadu government delSneated 45 villages covering about 23,000 hectares in Cuddalore and Nagapattinam districts in the delta, as a Petroleum, Chemical, and Petrochemical Investment Region, with an eye on over ₹90,000 crores in investments; reversing the attempt of Jayalalithaa.
The PSAZ or the Protected Special Agricultural Zone launched in Tamil Nadu aims for the protection of the Cauvery Delta region. With this move, the government has recognised farmers’ concerns about hydrocarbon exploration and accorded primacy to food security.
Significance of Cauvery Delta
Cauvery Delta zone in Tamil Nadu is known as the “rice bowl” of Tamil Nadu. It primarily grows crops like rice, pulses, and paddy. This region has suitable cultivable lands and agricultural facilities. Most of the production and irrigation are done with the help of the Cauvery river water making the river a crucial part of this entire state. It is also very rich in minerals making the farming process easier and more efficient. The Cauvery delta region thus provides great employment opportunities to farmers. This indicates the significance of the region to not only to the people of Tamil Nadu but also to the entire nation.
What is PSAZ?
A PSAZ is a region that has been established by the government to prevent methane, hydrocarbon, oil and natural gas explorations. They are established to promote agricultural activities and prevent any possible hinderances to them. No private company can undertake any oil exploration projects without the permission of the state government. This also infers that this region will be free from non-agricultural activities.
Why was this concept introduced?
In 2011, Uttarakhand became the first state in India to set up a special agricultural zone. Recently, the same concept was introduced in Tamil Nadu. These have been set up on the lines of Special Economic Zones (SEZ). The main aim of this move is to protect the fertile agricultural lands and provide employment opportunities. The oil extraction activities performed usually harm the environment and make the lands infertile, unsuitable for farming. In the past few decades, farmers have been protesting and demanding such zones in order to protect their livelihood which has been in grave danger.
Protected Special Agricultural Zones will be provided with adequate agricultural resources like water, electricity, manures, and fertilizers etc.
The Uttarakhand Special Agricultural Zone currently has irrigation facilities and marketing, collection and processing centres, one free soil treatment facility, training services in new agronomic practice to one member of the family and concessions of agro-equipments and recurring and non-recurring expenses.
The legal framework for the Tamil Nadu PSAZ is still in making and is yet to be released. Currently, the PSAZ in Tamil Nadu is just on paper and will take some time to be practically implemented.
Pros and cons
The Protected Special Agricultural Zone has been formed to provide a safe and secure environment for farming purposes and hence, promote food security. With this, all the mining and well drilling processes along with natural gas exploration will not be executed without due permission from the state government. This makes it difficult for big corporate companies to earn profits by exploring hydrocarbons in such areas. This will definitely be a major setback for the nation’s economy which is already in crumbles. But seeing the rate of degradation of our environment, this step of the Tamil Nadu government will prove to be fruitful for the coming generations. It had become necessary for the state to stand for this climate emergency we’re experiencing today.
On the other hand, this step by the Tamil Nadu government seems to be out of its set plan. In 2017, the same government had delineated 45 villages covering about 23,000 hectares in Cuddalore and Nagapattinam districts in the delta, as a Petroleum, Chemical, and Petrochemical Investment Region, with an eye on over ₹90,000 crores in investments. Hence, this is more like a political move and not something actually done for the farmer community. With Rajinikanth coming to the political field, it is not difficult to infer that the DMK in Tamil Nadu is feeling insecure and is hence trying to woo the farmers in order to win the state assembly elections which is scheduled for the coming months.
The concept of Protected Special Agricultural Zone is a very unique and beneficial step that has been once again brought into the limelight by the Tamil Nadu government after the Uttarakhand government became the first state in the country to establish such zone in 2011. The PSAZ is aimed at reducing the harmful effects of the oil and hydrocarbon extraction process that they have on the environment. It also plans to increase employment opportunities in the Cauvery delta region especially for the farmers who have been demanding such help from the government for the past few decades.
From now on, every project launched by either the centre or the state for natural gas explorations in such areas will have to be assessed by the state government and will have to receive a NOC in order to execute it. The final legal framework is yet to be formulated and hence, it will take some time to come into effect. Thus, the implementation of the Tamil Nadu government move will not be seen immediately, but in the near foreseeable future.
Author: Nilay Kumar from Symbiosis Law School, Noida.
Editor: Anna Jose Kallivayalil from NLU, Delhi.