• Gas pipeline from Kochi to Mangaluru: hurdles crossed, and why it matters

    On Tuesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi dedicated to the nation the Kochi-Mangaluru natural gas pipeline of the Gail Authority of India Limited (GAIL). The key infrastructure project has come about after overcoming protests in Kerala, misconceptions about safety, and a long delay.

    The terminal, since 2013

    The pipeline will deliver liquefied natural gas (LNG) sourced from a terminal in Kochi built by Petronet LNG in 2013 at a cost of Rs 4,500. However, for want of pipeline connectivity, it could not be utilised until now. The terminal’s objective is to supply natural gas for domestic and industrial use in Kerala and South India. It is South India’s first LNG-receiving, regasification and re-loading terminal with a capacity of five million metric tonnes per annum.

    Phases and sections

    The project, conceived in 2007, envisages pipelines from Kochi to Mangaluru and to Bengaluru. In the first phase, a 44-km line was laid in Kochi, linking the terminal with local industrial users, including Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited. To take natural gas to domestic consumers, Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) entered into a pact with Adani Gas Ltd.

    The second phase of the pipeline passes through seven districts of Kerala to carry natural gas from Kochi to Bengaluru via Palakkad, with another leg taking it to Mangaluru. The Kochi-Mangaluru line (444 km) has been opened while the Bengaluru leg is nearing completion, officials said.

    Already 2,750 domestic gas connections have been given in Kochi and work for supply of natural gas in other towns is going on. The pipeline supplies 3.8 million cubic metres of gas a day to industrial and residential customers in Kochi and is set to cross 4 million cubic metres in the city itself. Menagaluru has a potential of 2.5 million cubic metres per day, The capacity utilisation of the LNG terminal will go up to 25-30%.

    Delays since 2007

    In 2009, the then CPM-led government headed by V S Achuthanandan gave single-window clearance to the project, which should have been completed in 2013. However, protests took place as local people wanted the alignment along a sea route rather than through inhabited areas; they felt the pipeline was a ticking gas bomb.

    After the Congress-led government headed by Oommen Chandy came to power in 2011, the CPM, then in opposition, chose to stand with the protesters. When even local leaders of the ruling UDF joined the agitation, the government suspended the survey. GAIL too suspended all contracts. The government even pulled up then Chief Secretary Jiji Thomson for having said the pipeline would be laid at any cost and the protestors would be arrested. During the UDF regime, only 48 km of the 444-km pipeline could be laid.

    The pipeline was planned at an estimated cost of Rs 29.15 billion in 2009. Due to the delays, its cost went up to Rs 57.50 billion.

    Expedited by Vijayan

    While in opposition, the CPM had stood with the agitators. But, after assuming office in 2016, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan placed the GAIL pipeline in his 100-days projects. As Vijayan had the party under his firm control, no one in the CPM or Left Democratic Front questioned his decision, and local leaders stepped back from their protest. The Centre too wanted Kerala to give top priority to the project as the LNG terminal in Kochi was incurring huge losses.

    To win over landowners, Vijayan increased the compensation amount for the acquired land, and reduced the width of the land to be acquired was reduced. After laying the pipeline, farmers were allowed to cultivate, except deep-rooted crops. Although right wing Muslim outfits Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) and Welfare Party of India (of Jamaat-e-Islami) led protests in many places, and the protests turned violent in Kozhikode district in 2017, the government ensured that work proceeded under police protection.

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