Confusion as GAIL told to stop work on Dabhol pipeline

Vol 10, PW 25 (19 Apr 07) Midstream & Downstream

Efforts by GAIL to complete the Dahej to Uran gas pipeline on schedule have hit a major roadblock.

PETROWATCH learns that on 11th April, Gujarat authorities ordered GAIL to stop work on a long-delayed stretch of the pipeline in Surat. "When work was on full swing the sub-divisional magistrate arrived on location and ordered GAIL to stop work immediately," says a source.

"GAIL was told it did not have permission from the state government to lay the pipeline." Stunned GAIL officials at the site tried to find out more but were curtly told that "orders had come from above" to stop work. Senior GAIL officials then rushed to the site and spent the next few days sending a flurry of SOS messages to oil secretary MS Srinivasan and cabinet secretary BK Chaturvedi so that work could resume.

It later emerged that Gujarat authorities are questioning a 15-km detour of the pipeline through Surat. This detour was not mentioned in GAIL's original plan and included only later following threats of violence by villagers.

Originally the route passed through fields and mango orchards but was stoutly opposed by villagers and local politicians. GAIL at first declined to change the route or pay compensation higher than set by the state government.

"Changing the route of a pipeline is not easy when you have the RoU for a particular route," we are told. "It would delay the project.

Fresh land acquisition notifications and public hearings would have to be held." But GAIL gave in, wanting to avoid a situation similar too what happened at Nandigram village in West Bengal where police firing in March killed 14 villagers protesting against land acquisition for a Special Economic Zone. In the national uproar that followed West Bengal scrapped the SEZ at Nandigram.

“The local MLA (state law maker) and villagers mobbed GAIL officials and threatened a repeat of Nandigram (against the pipeline)," says a source. "GAIL decided against courting controversy and agreed a 15-km detour."

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