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It takes two to tango

First the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI)and later the Gas Authority of India Ltd (GAIL), two prominent Central government undertakings, are getting stuck with their major projects in Tamil Nadu.

The NHAI envisages an elevated road project connecting Chennai port with Maduravoyal,covering a distance of 19 km.  A part of the project is routed through the Cooum riverbed. The state government has stalled it objecting to the piers constructed over the riverbed as affecting the flow of the river. NHAI is consequently affected by the delay leading to cost and time overruns.  The project was conceived to ease traffic connecting the Chennai and Ennore ports providing for speedy transportation, especially of export cargo. In spite of several rounds of meetings between NHAI and PMO officials, including the Advisor to Prime Minister T K A Nair from the Union government, the Chief Secretary and other officials from the departments of the state, the deadlock continues.

 

Work on gas pipeline stopped...

Similar is the plight of the state stalling the construction of the Kochi-Coimbatore-Salem-Bengaluru gas pipeline by the Central government undertaking GAIL.

IE has been stressing the precious contribution made by natural gas for economic development. Gujarat and Maharashtra have built their prosperity by initially making use of the copious availability of gas on and offshore and later through imported gas. The two states have 4800 km of gas pipelines forming 38 per cent of the total pipelines erected in the country of 12,580 km. The share of Tamil Nadu, at 270 km, has been miniscule. Gujarat and Maharashtra make rich use of natural gas, both domestic and imported, for feeding fertilizer, power, petrochemicals, steel, ceramics and other industries, as also for city gas distribution and transportation. Strangely, Tamil Nadu has been content to focus on the engineering industry,and has not bothered to appreciate the elegance, economy and efficiency of gas.

 

Lack of interest in natural gas...

Up to the 1980s, Tamil Nadu was a major producer of fertilizers through Neyveli Lignite Corporation (lignite- based), Madras Fertilizers and SPIC (naphtha based). When the feedstock shifted to gas in the late 1980s, Tamil Nadu failed to adapt and soon the industry turned sick. Today the state is heavily dependent on other states for meeting its requirements of nitrogenous and phosphatic fertilizers.

    The lack of interest on the part of business leaders and policy makers in using gas and the neglect of major producers and marketers of gas like ONGC, GAIL and Petronet to  educate the public on the superior qualities of gas have led to sections of TN citizens opposing the laying of the gas pipeline.

It is not as if the state has been trying to lay pipelines for the transportation of liquid fuel only now. Years ago, major oil marketing companies had laid product pipelines connecting Karur with Kochi Refineries and Tiruchi, Madurai and Bengaluru with the Chennai Petroleum Corporation Ltd. These have been laid through agricultural land and have been extremely elegant and economical in moving large volumes of petroleum products.

GAIL plans to connect the Kochi LNG Terminal with Bengaluru. This will serve the seven districts in

Tamil Nadu. Through spur lines, cities en route can be supplied with CNG for automobiles and PNG for domestic and commercial uses. Natural gas will also spur industrial development powering textile and forging units, ceramics, glass, food industries, as also power and fertilizer units.

The resistance by farmers needs to be tackled by the government more effectively. Though late, GAIL is now actively projecting the benefits of natural gas to industry associations like CII.

The Chairman, CII (SR) B Santhanam has been impressed and has suggested GAIL to project the benefits to a cluster of small industries and domestic users. But, far more important is the initiative of policymakers in Delhi to make a concerted effort to convince the state leadership.

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