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The Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) is up in arms against the land acquisition move for the Neyveli Lignite Corporation’s (NLC) third mine expansion project. The party has been insisting that land owners who part with their lands for the project, be given a guarantee of employment in NLC. But one cannot help but raise the question if the PMK is right in opposing the power generation expansion project in Tamil Nadu which is already plagued with shortage of power.

The Neyveli thermal power stations play a vital role in meeting the power needs of Tamil Nadu. When the Neyveli project was launched in the 1950s, there were no major power projects in the state. Electricity was required for the industrial development of the state. Neyveli’s first and second thermal power stations fulfilled the requirement. Even today, the NLC’s contribution meets a third of the state’s power demand. At present, four NLC projects are in operation and in Thoothukudi, it is implementing power projects in association with the Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Corporation (TANGEDCO).

Tamil Nadu Electricity Minister Senthil Balaji said on March 14, the demand for electricity touched an all-time high of 17,705 MW. This figure is expected to rise to 18,500 MW in peak summer/ the three-week stretch aptly called Agni Nakashatram.

About 2180 MW of electricity is supplied to the State from the Neyveli power projects while about 7,000 MW of power is available from the Central power plants.

Apart from this, about 14,000 MW of electricity is obtained in TN through windmills and solar power utilities. This quantity of electricity will be available only if the installed production capacity is fully achieved.

The PMK is up in arms against the move for land acquisition for the NLC third mine expansion project. The party has been insisting that the land owners, who part with their lands for the project, be given a guarantee for employment in the NLC

Against this background, the PMK has demanded that the move for acquisition of land in Cuddalore district for the Neyveli power project be stopped and the NLC driven out of the district. It is not surprising that farmers are up in arms against the likely loss of their livelihood in the wake of the NLC expansion project.

The NLC is a public sector undertaking run by the Union Ministry of Coal. The NLC operates coal mines and thermal power plants in other parts of India too, with the generated power being part of the central pool, shared by states across the country. As far as Tamil Nadu is concerned, the NLC, apart from setting up coal mines and generating thermal power, is also set to manufacture methanol. The NLC also pays an annual share/royalty to the state government, depending on the quantity of coal mined. Recently, the company paid a share of Rs.5.6 crore to the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu.

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The TN Revenue Department has been entrusted with the task of acquiring land for the expansion. But the process is beset with challenges with no clear policies on how much compensation should be paid for acquiring lands, especially agricultural lands.  The compensation offered is also often inadequate.

The union government has made several amendments to the Land Acquisition Act. In 2013, an Act was passed, replacing the colonial law of 1894. According to the 2013 law, compensation for acquisition of land in villages must be four times the market value of land and in urban areas it must be twice the market value.  However, exemptions from this rule are sought for power projects because a power project may take two to three years to go on stream and if compensation is paid according to the law, the power tariffs may also be on the higher side. As a result, many states do not have a clear-cut compensation system in place.

Alternatives must be explored if the NLC expansion plan is not allowed. As mentioned earlier, wind and solar power generation in Tamil Nadu is excellent. Balaji pointed out that the union government provides a subsidy of up to 40 per cent for rooftop solar installations.

If solar power is propagated and structures come up in union and state government offices, there will be no need to depend on thermal power generation. A union government scheme is already in progress to utilize solar energy for farm irrigation. There is a subsidy of up to 70 per cent for the scheme. Additional 20% subsidy is available for farmers of the Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes. The Tamil Nadu government is keen on taking this scheme to about 5,000 farmers this year. About 16 per cent of electricity generated is used for irrigation in Tamil Nadu. It is projected to come down to 13 per cent in the next decade.

Tamil Nadu Electricity Minister Senthil Balaji said that on March 14, the demand for electricity touched an all-time high of 17,705 MW. It is also predicted that power demand after the onset of ‘Agni Nakshatra’ will increase to 18,500 MW

Total power consumption is projected at 1,63,156 million units in the next decade. Power consumption in households is also predicted to increase. Therefore, there is a need to generate electricity, especially in non-conventional ways.  Prime Minister Modi, speaking at the Glasgow conference on global warming prevention, assured that by 2070, 100 per cent of the country’s energy resources would be green (that is, without carbon dioxide emissions). While the country will be going forward towards the goal, we have to depend on thermal power plants in the interlude.

At this juncture, another trend has to be taken note of.  Union Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari recently introduced methanol-powered vehicles in Bengaluru. These vehicles are capable of being powered by conventional oils and of also running 100 per cent separately. As per this scheme, the buses running on methanol will be operated on an experimental basis in Bengaluru metropolitan area. The Metropolitan Transport Corporation has allotted 10 buses for this purpose.

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It has been proposed to allow MT-15 buses to be equipped with 15 per cent methanol and M-100 cargo vehicles to run on 100 per cent methanol. The vehicles have been supplied by Ashok Leyland. This methanol can also be extracted from coal and from coal ashes.  The NLC too has such a plan. This can be implemented in all thermal power plants. Therefore, the allegation that the use of coal causes pollution may lose its substance.

It is not surprising that the government is promoting methanol, which is a cheaper fuel. Now the use of 20 per cent methanol may spell reduction of crude oil imports by 15 per cent and thereby saving of foreign exchange.

Therefore, it is the responsibility of the state government to acquire land for the NLC expansion project in such a way that it does not affect the livelihood of farmers and the general public. We have to take alternative green power generation to the people. For this, parties like the PMK, which had long ago started talking about environmental hazards in Tamil Nadu, should launch a vigorous campaign to take up alternative power initiatives. This is the need of the hour.

On the contrary, instigating protests and blocking power projects will only harm the development of the state. It should also be remembered that we are not reaping the harvest alone and that the fruits of good schemes are always inter-state. Today we are getting electricity from other states as well.

Will the PMK campaign door-to-door in support of green electricity generation in tune with its thinking that change spells development?

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