Power plants over our dead bodies, say Andhra villagers

August 3rd, 2011 - 1:58 pm ICT by IANS  

Srikakulam (Andhra Pradesh), Aug 3 (IANS) Development versus environment and livelihood? The tussle is on in the lush green fields of coastal Andhra Pradesh’s Srikakulam district, bordering Orissa.

Replicating protests and concerns elsewhere in the country, be it Uttar Pradesh or Orissa, farmers and fishermen here are determined to stop two upcoming thermal power projects in Sompeta and Kakarapalli.

Unconvinced by the government’s argument that the projects will develop the backward region, local communities say they are ready to go to any extent to stop them — even court death.

“The project can come up only on our dead bodies,” P. Kotru, a leader of fishermen in Kakarapalli in the area, told IANS, reflecting the anger among locals depending on the Naupada swamp for their livelihood.

It is in the middle of this swamp, barely 2.5 km from the Bay of Bengal, that the East Coast Energy Pvt. Ltd (ECEPL) is building a 2,640 MW thermal power plant at a cost of Rs.12,000 crore.

A similar project is planned at Sompeta in the district where the Andhra Pradesh High Court recently suspended a government order allotting 972 acres to the the Nagarjuna Construction Company (NCC) for developing a 2,640 MW plant.

In Kakaripalla, where locals say the movement is yet to achieve that milestone of success, the government is accused of branding the Naupada wetland as wasteland so that it could be allotted for the plant. They also claim vital information was suppressed during the public hearing.

Fishermen claim that the project coming upon on 3,333 acres of land has already affected their livelihood with their catch coming down by 50 percent in two years. And farmers face inundation of their 30,000 acre farmland in 59 villages as the project has obstructed the natural flow of water to the sea.

The relay hunger strike by the villagers at Vadditandra near the project site has completed 350 days but has gone unnoticed by the authorities.

The four canals joining the swamp help farmers grow two crops of paddy and cereal every year while fishermen depend on the ponds for their livelihood.

The fishermen cooperative society, formed in 1948, has been getting lease rights for fishing but in 2008 the government did not renew the lease.

It was only after a visit to similar power projects elsewhere that the fishermen and farmers understood the project’s implications for their livelihood.

“We will not settle for anything less than scrapping of the project,” A.D. Varjun, Vadditandra panchayat president, told IANS.

The protests in Sompeta, where two people were killed in police firing in July last year, provided the ammunition.

On Feb 28 this year, three people were killed in Kakarapalli. Locals say the incident changed their life forever, fuelling anger and strengthening their resolve.

Ninety-year-old Ananta Manikyamma from the fishing community is not even in a position to walk. But she was booked for attempt to murder and had to spend 15 days in jail, all for supporting the anti-project protest.

It’s more than just a livelihood issue.

Environmentalists, who joined hands with the local community, say the project would destroy the local ecology.

“The swamp plays an important ecological function. It acts as a way of flood mitigation with fresh water flowing into the sea, preventing salinity of ground water and thus maintains the balance,” said Sunita Narain, director general of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), who accompanied a group of mediapersons to Kakarapalli.

While locals in Kakarapalli fight on, their counterparts in Sompeta have got the high court order but say the struggle is not yet over.

“We are prepared to die for beela (as the water bodies in Sompeta are called) but will not allow the project to come up for the sake of coming generations,” Krishna Murthy, who is spearheading the movement told IANS.

He pointed out that the government handed over to the company the land on a platter despite it having three water bodies providing livelihood to farmers in over 20 villages.

(Mohammed Shafeeq can be contacted at m.shafeeq@ians.in)

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