Cumulative Environmental Appraisal Of Thermal Plants Sought

It would appear that Sri Potti Sriramulu Nellore district is fast becoming the State’s dumping yard for intensely polluting coal-based thermal plants. This was clear to a four-member Human Rights Forum (HRF) team that visited several villages in the Muthukur mandal recently and spoke with farmers, fishers and agricultural labourers in and around the villages of Nellathur, Musunuruvaripalem, Painampuram, Devaradibba ST Colony and Nellathurupalem.

The HRF demands a thorough cumulative environmental appraisal of all the coal-based thermal projects that are coming up by the coast in the Muthukur and Chillakur mandals of Nellore district. Till a comprehensive and integrated environmental appraisal on the impact of these highly polluting projects on land, livelihoods, ecology, water bodies, the sea and health of people and vegetation is done, these projects must be put on hold.

It is shocking that so many coal-based plants with such a staggering capacity have been accorded clearances with reckless abandon by concerned authorities. It is clear that both the State government and the Central Ministry of Environment and Forests (MOEF) are presiding over a rubber-stamp clearance regime as far as coal-based thermal plants are concerned.

According to our information, the cumulative coal-based capacity of these plants at the moment in a whopping 28,540 MW and there are several other projects in the pipeline. All these projects are coming up in a stretch of not more than 25 km from Painampuram (Muthukuru mandal) in the north to Tamminapatnam (Chillakuru mandal) in the south near the Krishnapatnam Port. We have no hesitation in stating that this is a recipe for a human and ecological disaster in the area.

Generating electricity on this scale would involve burning of about 4.5 lakh tonne of coal every day and the spewing of 1.75 lakh tonne per day of toxic ash into the environs. Given the nature of coal combustion, significant amounts of sulphur, zinc, mercury and other dangerous elements will be released into the environment. Moreover, running of all these plants will involve daily drawal of 92,00,000 cubic meters of water, mostly from the sea and its pumping back at higher temperatures.

The consequences of this process on human and marine health and the ecology will be multiple, huge and devastating. There has been a large-scale diversion of land and natural resources to these plants resulting in deprivation to not only farmers with title land holding pattas but also those from the marginalised communities and members of various occupational classes. Ongoing construction by some of the projects in and around Nellathur and Painampuram has already resulted in a steep drop in fish and prawn catch for the yanadis, a Scheduled Tribe who eke out a living by fishing in the Buckingham Canal and local water bodies. There is a lot of apprehension in the area that the ash ponds that will come up will have serious ill-effect on human health, farming and the groundwater table. Agitated farmers are already protesting against one such proposed ash pond of the APGenco plant which is being sought to be located amidst lush paddy fields and in the midst of several villages.

It is common knowledge that mangroves are coastal protectors which is why they are described as bio-shields. The ongoing construction work for these thermal plants has already resulted in mangrove vegetation being destroyed on a large scale, particularly in Muthukuru mandal.

The local people told the HRF team that over the years revenue authorities acquired large tracts of their lands through deceit and even threats. They were of the opinion that sufficient and credible information was not provided to them before public hearings that were held. For instance, for a recent public hearing of Cairn Energy, the fisherfolk of Nellathurupalem were not even informed and so could not even attend and voice their concerns. And these are the very fishers who are being directly impacted by the drilling and other work of that company.

The overall picture is truly alarming. It is obvious that both the State government and the MOEF have been extremely callous in according clearances for these projects without even bothering to consider the combined impact in terms of health, livelihood and ecological concerns. Local people have been fed false promises of jobs which are simply not there.

The HRF recalls that M/S Thermal Powertech Corporation (India) Ltd. (TPCL), proposed to set up a 1980 MW coal-based plant at Polatithippa near Machillipatnam of Krishna district. It could not do so because the site which was allotted it by the APIIC was situated in a notified CRZ I (Coastal Regulatory Zone I) area on which construction of a power project is prohibited. It was therefore impermissible in law. The TPCL had to drop out of the Polatithippa area since the violations were just too brazen but it has since conveniently relocated to Muthukur mandal in Nellore district and has now managed to obtain all requisite clearances and is even going ahead with land leveling work near Nellathurupalem. Meanwhile, reports suggest that Nagarjuna Construction Company (NCC) has sought coal linkage from the government (Coal India) for a possible relocation of its 2640 MW plant in Muthukuru mandal of Nellore district. If this works out it would mean good news for Sompeta but yet another addition to the developing destructive cauldron on the Nellore coast.

VS Krishna
(HRF State general secretary)   

A Bhaskar
(HRF Nellore dist. Jt secretary) 

T Devadanam
(HRF Nellore dist. secretary)

A Prakash
(HRF Nellore dist. EC member)


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