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Death knell for hamlet

Death knell for hamlet
Highlights

Death Knell For Hamlet, S Madhusudhana Rao, Number of Projects Along The East Coast. The report that a fishermen’s village in Nellore district is on the verge of extinction because of pollution being generated by thermal power plants around it is only the tip of the iceberg of the humongous environmental problems the country in general and Andhra Pradesh in particular is facing.

Steps to rehabilitate the affected people could be done more humanely, keeping in view the importance the landholders attach to their homes and farms. Often, we find the humane approach missing in the official scheme of things

The report that a fishermen’s village in Nellore district is on the verge of extinction because of pollution being generated by thermal power plants around it is only the tip of the iceberg of the humongous environmental problems the country in general and Andhra Pradesh in particular is facing.

Nelaturu Pattapupalem was a quiet village with about 1500 residents whose main occupation was fishing, at least until a few years ago when the electric power-starved AP had given permission to a number of projects along the East Coast. Coal-based units require huge amounts of water and the black raw material which, when burned, releases tonnes of carbon gases that pollute both land and air in the surrounding areas.

Commonsense dictates that the highly polluting thermal power plants should not be set up in a concentrated manner in one place since their combined effects on nearby villages and farms will be disastrous. But the State authorities, however, have allowed them to mushroom, disregarding their impact on villages and their residents.

Pattapupalem is one such village that is caught between power needs and pollution caused by them. Unlike many villages on the East Coast which have fought tooth and nail the setting up of power plants that are seen threatening the rural people’s livelihood, Puttapalem villagers seem to have no political clout or enough muscle to fight on their own the string of power plants that are coming up near their village. Otherwise, there is no reason for them to move out or migrate to nearby areas, leaving behind their hearths and homes.

As many as eight thermal power plants around the village are spewing out -- or in the process of doing so – effluents and toxic waste making the villagers sick and destroying marine wealth, flora and fauna and farm lands. In other words, their livelihoods are threatened or lost forever. More saddening is when they leave their native village there is no guarantee that they will be adequately compensated for and they have to eke out a living in a far off place. Do they deserve such fate?

But, what happened to the promises made by the managements of the thermal power plants that the affected people would be handsomely compensated for the loss of their landholdings and livelihood; or, a family member would be given a job in the project? Allegations are galore that the promises have never been fulfilled; nor have the authorities taken measures to make the power plants’ managements to abide by pollution control norms and honour their pledges given to the local inhabitants before acquiring thousands of acres of land.

The taken-for-granted attitude and policies make the rural folk suspicious of government moves whenever it announces new power plants whatever their feedstock may be. We need electric power in enormous quantities, but at what cost? The dilemma is everywhere. However, the only difference between this country and elsewhere is the constant quest for lessening the harmful effects of thermal power plants on human habitation and environment.

By adopting latest technologies the industry can eliminate a lot of toxic gases emanating from the coal-based plants, but they can’t be nullified completely. Similarly, steps to rehabilitate the affected people could be done more humanely, keeping in view the importance the landholders attach to their homes and farms. Often, we find the humane approach missing in the official scheme of things, resulting in untold misery to the victims and battles between the managements and landholders as happened in Srikakulam district.

The agitation launched by a large number of native populations against Sompet thermal power plant is well known. Proposed to be set up by the Nagarjuna Construction Company (NCC), it was cleared by the Central government over five years ago but had been facing fierce opposition from local fishermen and farmers.

For the outside world, the protests undertaken by local communities with the support of some non-governmental organizations look foolish and politically motivated. But when one goes into details and unearth the facts, it would be clear how hastily the project had been approved tossing aside local people’s interests. In other words, the power project was sought to be thrust upon villagers who were more concerned about their environment and Mother Nature than generating power.

The 2600MW Sompet power plant hit the headlines when two protesters were killed in police firing on a rally taken out by local fishermen and farmers opposing the NCC project on July 14, 2010. Since then it has become a focal point for green activists and locals to fight against it. Even before the violence flared up, several NGOs, farmers and fishermen had opposed the land allotment to NCC in 2008 contending a power plant on wetlands would violate the 1986 Environment Protection Act. Brushing aside the objection, the Union Ministry of Forests and Environment cleared the project in 2009 prompting the Sompet Paryavarana Parirakshana Samithi (SPPS) to move the National Environment Appellate Authority (NEAA) which quashed the environment clearance given by the Centre. But Nagarjuna Construction appealed against the order to the National Green Tribunal which upheld the NEAA decision and ordered last year a fresh public hearing on the plant. Another case in point is Kakrapalli 2640MW power project in Srikakulam district that faced dogged opposition from nearby villages.

Thousands of villagers in and around Kakrapalli fear the upcoming thermal plant is a death knell for their livelihood. The project coming up on 3,333 acres of swamp land, about 3km from the Bay of Bengal, is said to have been flooding thousands of acres of farmland in about 60 villages as the plant has become a hurdle to the natural flow of water to the sea. As a result, salt farmers and fishermen who are dependent on the sea for a living find their source of income being robbed by the power project. Besides, there are ecological concerns and allegations of illegally sanctioning the project without addressing the environmental issues.

The State government has given permission to dozens of projects, mostly private companies, in its over-enthusiasm to boost power production despite objections. While it is incumbent upon the government to address the power problems of the State, it’s also mandatory on the part of the State – as well as all the political parties -- to ensure communities are not robbed of their livelihood and environment is not degraded. Economic development at the cost of social justice often results in losing both as neither could be achieved through ad hoc measures.

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