After Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the GAIL Kochi-Mangaluru pipeline on Tuesday, he claimed that it would be beneficial for both Kerala and Karnataka. Reiterating the same, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan maintained that he is happy about having completed the project despite the hurdles. The “hurdles” that Vijayan alluded to include the floods and the Covid-19 pandemic, but fails to remind us that the ruling CPM had been in staunch opposition to the original GAIL pipeline plan.
While they were the opposition, the Communist Party of India (Marxists) had claimed that the project is harmful to the people and called it a “gas bomb”. The original protestors were farmers and landowners with the active support of the political parties. The original project was envisaged in 2012 when the UDF was in power with Oommen Chandy as the chief minister. The CPM and CPI actively took on the GAIL authorities and the state government, rallying farmers, landowners, and concerned citizens.
The proposed major problems included the destruction of paddy fields, threat to life, and insufficient compensation. Moreover, the GAIL pipeline explosion in June 2014 in Andhra Pradesh, where 11 were burned alive and 15 suffered severe burn injuries, created panic in Tamil Nadu and Kerala where similar projects were happening. The left parties in TN urged the government to stop the project immediately. They rallied people and proclaimed that the project was unsafe, and Kerala followed suit.
By 2014, anti-GAIL sentiment had grown in Malappuram and Kozhikode with many of them unsatisfied with proposals of compensations, claiming that it was not enough, as their life was under threat. They completely opposed the project and in the same year, the Centre, as well as the UDF government in the state, lost all hope of pulling it off. In 2016, the LDF government comes to power and what follows is a classic example of political hypocrisy.
“The second phase of the project — Kochi-Mangalore and Kochi-Coimbatore-Bengaluru parts — got approval in January 2012. The project was marred with delays during the initial phases. Problems in obtaining the right of way over land led to the cancellation of all contracts in 2014. The stalled project was again resuscitated in 2016 under the new Government. Till May 2016, the right of way was secured only for 80 km long part of the total 410 km long stretch between Kochi and Mangalore,” it was said in Kerala CM’s official webpage.
It fails to mention how most of the delays were caused by the ruling party. However, after getting to power, their stance changed and everything seemed alright. They began to reiterate GAIL’s original claims and shower support for the project, often calling it important. By then the public company had acquired quite a bit of loss. GAIL had to terminate its contract with the construction company over the delay and retendering caused some damage. Moreover, the Kochi terminal incurred financial loss without the distributional capacity, and it was escalating. The project, which should have been commissioned in 2013, happened in 2021.
In November 2017, protests in Kozhikode, organised by the Popular Front of India and Solidarity Youth Movement turned violent. The ruling left termed the protestors as “Muslim extremists with a primitive, seventh-century mindset”. However, following the protests, they increased the compensation regarding the Right of Use agreements. The CPM government took the compensation to ten times the rate, forcing GAIL to pay for it.
Moreover, Congress retracted their support for the protests, as they didn’t want to be seen anti-development. This political strategy somehow worked for the ruling left but not on them. This “anti-development” angle was “a fight for people’s rights” when the CPM was organising the protests. Right after they got into power, the CPM withdrew full support for the movement and began to term the protesters as “anti-development”, “regressive elements” and “Muslim extremists”.
The LDF is happy that the project has been completed before the elections, as they hope to gain political mileage from this. However, it must not be forgotten that the very expensive road to fulfilment of this project was led by political hypocrisy.