On Monday, July 3, the student community of Kadiramangalam, Thanjavur joined the women folk of the village to take out a silent march; they have been amidst an agitation – an outcry for clean water.
It has been months that the people of the Tamil Nadu village are protesting against the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation’s (ONGC) activities that have depleted groundwater level of the village and contaminated the precious resource.
As a sign of protest, shops remained closed in the area for the sixth day today, even though the locals received pressure from the government to continue business normally. But the villagers wish to leave no stones unturned to get the attention of the concerned authorities.
On June 30, the villagers say, a pipeline of the MNC leaked, thus contaminating the water. The water that comes to their house is yellow in colour, with the villagers displaying bottles filled with the dirty liquid.
At Kathiramangalam village hearing the truth from the people. #StandWithKathiramangalam
“The water surrounding the ONGC well is also contaminated, but the company is denying it. We have decided to send the water for testing so that we can provide solid proof of contamination,” said activist Chandra Mohan, speaking to The Logical Indian.
The people are voicing safety concerns over the oil wells in the area by hoisting black flags atop houses and shops. Subsequently, the police refused to give in to their demands and arrested 10 protesters, while resorting to lathi charge.
“They have been fighting for the last couple of months. Recently, on June 30, when the condition worsened and the people took to organising a non-violent protest, the police rained in on them. They lathi charged and blamed the public for disrupting peace. But the people have denied police allegations and said that the cops started the violence,” explained Chandra Mohan.
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami said the cops had used “minimum force” against the protesters who were allegedly pelting stones. He blamed the residents of Kadiramangalam of indulging in violence. The situation in the village is calm, claimed the CM on Monday, adding that the ONGC has a mining lease since June 2001 to pump crude oil from some private lands at Kadiramangalam.
The villagers have reportedly found the water coming from the municipal pipes mixed with oil. Chandra alleged that the children of the village are exposed to life threatening diseases due to consuming the contaminated water.
In Kathiramangalam village in Manalmettu street we found oil mixed water coming from the municipal pipeline. The horror…
“The water that the municipality is providing is also contaminated, but what can the people do? There was a child whose heartbeat increased to 250 and he was hospitalised for drinking contaminants. The people are forced to buy water from outside even though they don’t have money. Many of them are continuing to take water from the borewell because they have no option left. They are boiling the dirty water and consuming it,” he said.
ONGC has contaminated ground water in Kathiramangalam village for years. The after effects are heartbreaking with children suffering from various life threatening diseases. #StandWithKathiramangalam
“About 15% of the land is already contaminated because of the oil leak. Anyone visiting the place will be able to see that the water has turned into sand dune colour and in a lot of places, a clear oil sediment is visible on top. Today morning, we could literally get a strong stench of kerosene from the water supplied to one of the areas. This agitated the people immensely. Right now, more than a hundred people are sitting on a massive hunger strike,” he said.
The government reaction has been negligible in this regard, claim the villagers. “What the authorities and the police have done is arrest the 10 people who were leading the protest,” added Chandra.
The people’s main demands are – release the ones who are arrested, drop all charges against them, and send ONGC out of the village permanently.
“The government has responded to the issue by sending police to prevent people from assembling. Even still, people are coming in hundreds and demanding for their rights. They are demanding that the collector comes to the village and talks to them personally to resolve the issue. The collector, in turn, is asking the villagers to come and visit him in his house,” said Chandra.
Speaking to The Logical Indian, he added that the crime branch contacted him to convince him to assemble the people for meeting with the collector. But the people are adamant in their demands and are determined to stay true to their cause. “They collector’s denial to visit the village is ethically wrong as it is his duty to come and listen to people’s problems. The protest is non-violent, still he is reluctant in discharging his duties,” he said.
The collector was asked to visit the village on June 30 as well – the day the pipe burst. “If he had come then, the matter would have been solved in the morning itself. But the issue is continuing because of lack of accountability on the collector’s part,” said Chandra.
ONGC has claimed that their pipes are of international standards and the leaks have happened due to corrosion. But if the pipes are of good quality, they should remain strong for a guarantee period of 15-20 years. “Some have even blamed the people for sabotaging the pipeline – which is a blatant lie,” said Chandra.
The Logical Indiantried contacting ONGC for comment, however, after multiple attempts our calls were unanswered.
The people of Kadiramangalam have decided to give away their Aadhaar and voter ID cards if the government continues to ignore their demand. They say that don’t want to be a part of a country which does not recognise their most basic needs. “The people are pushed to a point where they want to separate themselves from the place they were born in. Imagine the state our country’s democracy is in,” said Chandra.
“The ONGC has seven wells in this village which are operating for more than 15 years. There have been accidents in the past as well when a woman’s back was burnt in a fire accident in one of the wells. Three such incidents have occurred but the company quietly took care of the medical expenses and kept the news under cover,” he continued.
“The groundwater level has depleted. The borewells are contaminated and the water has turned yellow with contaminants. ONGC has been extracting gas for almost 15 years. They say that the villagers stopped the company from repairing the pipeline due to which the pipe burst and they incurred a loss of Rs 6 lakh. If one well makes such profits for them, one can only imagine the crores of profits they make from all the wells,” said Chandra.
The government has provided some drinking water but the villagers say that it’s not enough. Water is needed for other purposes as well like agriculture. “If they use contaminated water for farming, then the contaminants enter the food that you and I consume. This is a rich area for agriculture, so this issue is not small, it’s a threat to everyone,” said Chandra. “The government has been extremely aggressive and defensive in their position – there is no accountability or transparency. They haven’t submitted any report and are denying contamination. The 10 people who are arrested have been framed in false crimes, including attempted to murder.”
The Logical Indian strongly urges the state government and local authorities to pay heed to the problems of the people of Kadiramangalam. Water is an essential commodity and a basic right of all individuals. We hope that the government takes strong actions against the malpractices in the villages and adheres to the demands of the citizens.