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Following violent protests on Wednesday, GAIL has resumed laying of the Kozhikode stretch of a pipeline to carry natural gas from Kochi to Mangaluru.
The protest took place at Kodiyathoor village, in Kozhikode district, demanding realignment of the pipeline from densely populated areas and increase in compensation for land.
The CPI(M) and opposition BJP and the Congress kept away from the agitation. Popular Front of India (PFI) and Solidarity Youth Movement, the youth wing of Jamaat-e-Islami, led the protest.
Blaming Solidarity Youth and PFI, CPI(M) Kozhikode district secretariat said in a statement, “Muslim extremists who possess primitive mindset of 7th century were behind the agitation against the GAIL pipeline. The extremist organisations were trying to create fear in the mind of people by unleashing baseless campaign.”
The pipeline from Kochi to Mangaluru and Bengaluru will cover 503 km in Kerala. GAIL had inked a deal with Kerala State Industries Development Corporation in 2007 to implement the Rs 3,500-crore project. The LNG Petronet terminal in Kochi was commissioned in 2013, but its utilisation has been hit for want of pipeline connectivity.
The laying of the pipeline had been delayed due to protests in various districts, particularly Malappuram and Kozhikode.
Locals at Kodiyathoor, a village on the border of Kozhikode and Malappuram, have been objecting to the pipeline. They want relocation of the pipeline — a demand that GAIL has turned down.
“Several parts of Ernakulam district, where we have completed laying the pipework, are more thickly populated than the location in Kozhikode, where the agitation is going on,” GAIL project manager M Viju said. “Certain sections wanted to create trouble in Kozhikode. A day’s delay in the work will incur a loss of Rs 1.5 crore. Contractors suffered a loss of Rs 70 lakh due to the attack. We cannot stop work, so we have decided to go ahead with police protection.”
On Wednesday, the protest at the village turned violent after two weeks of agitation. The protesters destroyed vehicles and government property.
Superintendent of Police, Kozhikode Rural, M K Pushkaran said militant elements had sneaked into the agitation and created trouble. “The agitators attacked the police without provocation. Many of them were from outside. The violent attack was planned,’’ he said.
Three dozen people have been arrested and 500 booked in connection with the violence.
Although state-level leadership of CPI(M) and Congress are backing the project, the agitation has found support from local leadership of these parties. Kozhikode district Congress leadership and local party M P M I Shanavas joined the agitators, but Leader of Opposition in Assembly, Congress’s Ramesh Chennithala, said, “(Congress-led) UDF will take up the agitation if the present situation continues.”
Industries Minister A C Moideen said people should not get carried away by “propaganda”. He said, “Movement of natural gas through the pipeline is very safe and economical. The width of the land acquired under right of use is only 10 metres. The (CPM-led) LDF government has hiked the compensation to 50 per cent of the market value of the land. People can use the land to grow vegetables that do not have deep roots.’’
The government has called a meeting with the protesters on Monday. But C P Cheriya Muhammed, general convener of the agitation, said they will attend the talks only if GAIL suspends work.
In its statement, CPI(M) Kozhikode district secretariat said, “Land acquisition for the project had began only after giving adequate compensation…. Extremist organisations such as Popular Front of India and Solidarity Youth Movement are using even religious symbols and religion-based agitation methods to turn the people against the government. People should isolate these extremist elements.”