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Gas Pipeline Laying-Image Courtesy: GAIL
 
 
After GAIL, it is now the turn of Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited (BPCL) to throw up its hands over the issue of laying gas pipelines in Tamil Nadu (TN). 
BPCL has also put on record the inordinate delay and fickleness on the part of the Centre in granting environmental clearance (EC) for its pipeline that would transmit liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) from Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited (BPCL’s) refinery at Kochi in Kerala to Coimbatore in TN. 
Exasperated by the tortuous delay in clearing the section of the LPG pipeline that passes through TN, BPCL has urged Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MOEFCC) to delink this section from the 238-kilometre pipeline project and grant it EC for the project up to Kerala-TN border. 
The company has pleaded for grant of truncated EC to avoid turning its Rs 15,000-crore expansion of Kochi refinery into a white Elephant! The pipeline is crucial for transport of additional LPG that would flow from expanded refinery, which is scheduled for completion by December 2015. 
Apart from serving existing LPG bottling plants located along the pipeline route, the project provides for setting up of LPG storage and bottling plant at Coimbatore. 
In a letter dated 5th March2015 address to MOEFCC, BPCL says: “Without evacuating the additional LPG, the refinery cannot be operated at additional capacity.” 
The letter continues: “It is not feasible to evacuate the additional product through any other modes like rail or road as they are already saturated and the increasing road accidents is a great concern for the State Governments.  We require minimum of 18 months to 24 months for completing this pipeline and being so, the commencement is already delayed. The proposal was put for EC as early as December 2012 considering the criticality of the proposal and was initially cleared with TOR (terms of reference) by the Expert Committee.
“We have complied with the TOR conditions subsequently issued also including public hearing in all the three districts in Kerala. We have submitted separate application to Tamil Nadu State PCB for Coimbatore Receipt Terminal…and initiated the activities of public hearing/EIA study.”
The letter adds: “PCB officials will not be in a position to announce the public hearing date till they get a direction from the Tamilnadu Government. In view of this uncertainty, we therefore propose to defer the laying of the pipeline in Tamilnadu till such Tamilnadu Government comes out with their policy for laying cross country pipelines.” 
The company would apply for amendment to the EC for extending the pipeline to TN as originally proposed after it gets the requisite permission from the State Government. 
Simultaneously, BPCL is scouting for notified industrial land close to Kerala-TN border for putting up a LPG storage terminal keeping in view anticipated delay in laying pipeline in TN. It intends to soon apply for EC for the proposed storage. 
In its ‘medium term notes’ offering circular dated 27th January 2015 issued to foreign investors for raising external commercial borrowings up to $ 2 billion, BPCL has, however, given a larger profile of the pipeline project, in spite of knowing TN hurdle.
According to the Offering Circular, the pipeline is proposed to extended by 170-km from Coimbatore to Salem. The company intends to complete this Kochi-Coimbatore-Erode-Salem pipeline at a cost of Rs 998 crore in February 2017.  It has proposed to execute the project as a joint venture with its equity stake limited to 50%. 
As for the fickleness of EC clearance process, MOEFCC‘s Expert Committee for appraisal of industrial projects initially recommended grant of EC to the pipeline at its meeting held on 5th March 2013by noting that the project did not attract the provisions of Environment Impact Assessment Notification 2006. 
The Committee later backtracked. At its meeting held on 29th July 2013, it specified terms of reference (TOR) for environment impact studies on the project, followed by public hearing to be conducted by Kerala State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB). Subsequently, three public hearings were held in three districts of Kerala. When the case up for EC consideration at the Committee’s meeting on 29th September 2014, the Committee ordered public consultations in Coimbatore too. This has effectively put the fate of the pipeline in the hands of TN Government. 
The Committee’s change in stance towards BPCL project is apparently influenced by TN farmers’ agitation against GAIL’s cross-country pipeline that would haul imported natural gas from Kochi terminal of Petronet LNG to consumers in Kerala, TN and Karnataka.
Taking note of farmers’ agitation, TN Government ordered GAIL to stop construction of Kochi-Mangalore natural gas pipeline in the State’s territory in March 2013. 
In November, Madras High Court (MHC) quashed TN Government’s order following a petition from GAIL. The High Court reportedly noted that the pipeline was being laid in public interest. In January 2014, the Supreme Court stayed MHC’s order, expressing its sympathy with the farmers. The case is still pending in the Court.
In April 2014, GAIL reportedly scrapped the tender for laying pipeline in TN. It is not clear whether Modi Government has approached TN Government to resolve this issue politically in the interest of environmentally sustainable development of both rural and urban areas in the State. Rural because LPG and compressed natural gas (CNG) are also used in rural areas as green fuels.  
The Opposition against laying underground pipelines through farmland is thus yet another instance of harsh ground reality for ‘Make in India’ initiative.
TN stalemate might embolden NGOs to misguide farmers in other States to oppose grant of the statutory ‘right of the way’ to lay underground oil and gas. They might also extend the agitation to acquisition of small patches of land for laying power transmission towers across the countryside. 
                                                            
 
 
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