Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami on Sunday announced that the Cauvery delta region will be a protected agriculture zone and said eight districts will be roped into the process, The Hindu reported. The chief minister also said that his administration would never permit hydrocarbon projects in the delta region.

The move, viewed as a measure to maintain food security in the state, is expected to prevent non-agricultural projects in the area. Pudukottai, Cuddalore, Thanjavur, Ariyalur, Karur, Tiruchirapalli, Tiruvarur, and Nagapattinam are the districts that will be turned into a protected special agriculture zone, the chief minister said.

“I am a farmer and the state government would never give permission for any project that would affect the livelihood of farmers,” Palaniswami said at an official event at Thalaivasal in Salem district. “At Neduvasal [village in Pudukottai district], whatever project the Centre may introduce, it cannot be implemented without NOC [no objection certificate] from the state government.”

Palaniswami observed that farmers continued their work in the region despite climate challenges, adding that the area needed to be protected due to its proximity to the sea. He said his administration will consult with legal experts and steps will be taken to introduce a special legislation for this, Hindustan Times reported.

The announcement came after continued protests against projects, including those involving hydrocarbon. Paattali Makkal Katchi chief S Ramadoss described the decision as a “victory”, and said his party was the first to call for it. “The benefits that have accrued for farmers are manifold. The future of farmers in the delta region will be bright,” he said.

In 2019, the Centre had relaxed rules that incentivise companies conducting oil exploration surveys in less-explored oil fields. The Oil and Natural Gas Corporation and the Vedanta group were granted permission to conduct exploratory oil surveys in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry. This had led to protests by the Opposition Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the Congress. Both parties had argued that exploratory drilling will lead to destruction of agricultural fields in the Cauvery delta.

On January 19, The Hindu had reported that oil and gas firms no longer needed to seek an environmental clearance to conduct onshore and offshore exploratory drilling.