Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa today ordered authorities to put on hold the multi-crore Coal Bed Methane project by Great Eastern Energy Corporation Ltd in Delta districts in the wake of farmers' apprehensions that it would affect agricultural operations.
Jayalalithaa said she had constituted an expert committee comprising academics and government officials to file a report on the project in three months and also ordered officials not to allow any work by the Corporation until government takes a decision based on the committee's report.
The committee would have representatives from Anna University, Indian Institute of Technology-Madras, Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, M S Swaminathan Research Foundation, besides officials from Public Works Department, Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board and Tamil Nadu Industrial Development Corporation.
"Though the Union Ministry for Environment and Forests have given its clearance, it is the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board that has to give clearance for drilling deep wells. TNPCB has not given its clearance to the applications by GEECL so far," she said.
Referring to GEECL's report, which said the CBM bed in Thanjavur and Thiruvarur was similar to Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana states in U.S.A, she noted, "One of the reports on the project said some of the chemicals used to extract coal bed methane are toxic, soluble in water and have radiation."
Jayalalithaa also said her government has taken steps to implement a plan to save Cauvery delta areas from chances of sea water intrusion, with Rs 1,500 crore World Bank aid.
"There are chances of sea water entering farming lands in Cauvery Delta areas due to climate change in the future in addition to the recent doubts raised by farmers. Hence the coal bed methane project in Thanjavur and Thiruvarur districts can be allowed only after we are convinced that the project will not affect the farmers," Jayalalithaa said.
Following reports that the project would affect farmers in the area, she said she had held a meeting with officials and discussed files on it.
In 2010, the Centre signed a 'Production Sharing Agreement' with GEECL, after allocating the work to study and produce coal bed methane from over 691 km area in these districts.
On the the Centre's request, previous DMK regime had in January 2011 given the 'Petroleum Exploration Licence' to GEECL and said various government departments would help in laying of pipelines and get environmental clearance to the project, she said.
Jayalalithaa said the Environment Ministry had not answered any of the doubts raised during public hearings last year in both the districts, which was sent to the Centre, and had instead given clearance to GEECL on September 12, 2012.