Drop Proposal to Establish Thermal Plant In Sompeta Wetland: HRF

The Human Rights Forum (HRF) demands that the proposal to set up a coal-based power project of 2640 MW capacity by M/S Nagarjuna Construction Company Ltd (NCC) near Gollagandi village in Sompeta mandal, Srikakulam district be dropped since it will devastate the lives of thousands of farmers and fisher-folk, in two towns and over 30 villages, as well as destroy an area which has significant ecological value.

The NCC thermal plant is proposed to be constructed in an extremely precious wetland known locally as ‘beela’. This ‘beela’ (‘peddha beela’) is a low-lying swamp area with a unique habitat, serving as a rich biological wetland with high ecological importance. It is part of perhaps the last surviving marshy stretches on the Andhra coast and they are an integral part of the surface-cum-marine ecosystem that supports a variety of flora and fauna apart from providing livelihood to thousands of families in the area. The ‘peddha beela’ wetland is linked to two other wetlands — the ‘china beela’ and the ‘tampara’ near Idduvanipalem where it finally joins the sea. The thermal plant will surely destroy the bio-diversity of the swamp. The area must be declared as a Biodiversity Heritage Site immediately.

The whole area is abundantly fertile. The area around the proposed plant has a population of about 1.5 lakh consisting principally of agriculturists and fisher-folk. Significantly, water from the ‘beela’ is the lifeline for a two-crop paddy in an extent of not less than 5000 acres in the area. Three lift irrigation schemes from the ‘beela’ sanctioned by the present government are also functioning.

For many of the fisher-folk of Manikyapuram village in Kanchili mandal, the ‘beela’ is the only source of livelihood as they do exclusively inland fishing. Fisher-folk from Kaviti mandal are also leased out fishing rights by the fisheries department every year. The theera and agnikulakshatriya fisher-folk communities will have their livelihood robbed if their access to the ‘beela’ is taken away.

It is largely because of the ‘beela’ that the groundwater table in the region is healthy and there is no water crisis for either domestic or farm usage. It is preposterous on the part of revenue officials and project proponents to have described the area as “wasteland unsuitable for cultivation”! 

The ‘beela’ also serves as a huge grazing area for sheep and cattle. Apart from this, hundreds of families eke out a living making mats from the grass obtained in the ‘beela’. It is also used as roof-top material and animal fodder. The ‘beela’ and the area surrounding it is also home to rare medicinal plants like ‘aswagandhi’ and ‘sarpagandi’ as well as the well-known ‘eclipta alpa’ which is used extensively to treat jaundice.

Moreover, the ‘beela’ is a bird habitat for about 120 species. Every year in the month of October thousands of birds from Australia and Siberia visit the area for about six months. They use the ‘beela’ as a feeding habitat. This is an important migratory route and passage migrant place. The area is also home to several wild animal species known locally as ‘varudu and peddhanakka’. The ‘pamula metta’ in the ‘beela’ contains many varieties of snakes and a rare variety of a bat. It is astonishing that this fact has been glossed over by the forest department!

 The HRF strongly believe that a thermal plant in the wetland will upset the fragile ecology of the entire area. Abutting the ‘beela’ is the magnificent Uddhanam (Udhyanavanam), known for its beautiful coconut groves and large extents of cashew, jack fruit and mango. Indeed, this pristine area is referred to as a ‘mini-Kerala’. There is also a coconut nursery and a coir industry here.  Over 600 families from the segidi community eke out a living from toddy tapping in and around the Uddhanam area.

The coast here is home to a vibrant and hard-working fisher-folk community living in over 20 villages. If the thermal plant comes up in the area, it will severely undermine marine catch and make life miserable for them. We know this from earlier experiences of fisher-folk living in the vicinity of the NTPC thermal plant and several other highly polluting industries in Visakhapatnam district.

The environmental public hearing for the NCC thermal plant that was held at Gollagandi village on 18-8-2009 witnessed an overwhelming majority of people strongly opposing the proposal. Cutting across community, class, occupation and political party’ lines, the local people have formed into a ‘Paryavarana Parirakshana Sangham’ and have been organising countless rallies (almost on a daily basis across villages in the three mandals), dharnas, postcard and other peaceful campaigns against the thermal plant proposal since several months. In fact, a totally voluntary bandh was observed in Sompeta, the mandal headquarters on August 21.

In case the thermal plant comes up, it will cause irreversible damage to an eco-system of great value that we all need to preserve for future generations. The land here, the coast and the ‘beela’ has supported and sustained the livelihood and economy of innumerable farmers and occupational classes.  The location of the project directly conflicts with both livelihood and conservation objectives. The proposal must be dropped immediately.

V S Krishna
State General Secretary, HRF


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