Removal Of Protest Camp At Kakarapalli Wetland Decried

The Human Rights Forum (HRF) strongly condemns the removal by police of the protest camp at Vaddithandra village in Santhabommali mandal of Srikakulam district and the brutal caning and arrest of activists on Friday. The camp was being run since over 6 months by local villagers as part of an ongoing agitation against construction of a thermal plant in the Kakarapalli swamp by East Coast Energy Pvt Ltd (ECEPL). According to reports, several villagers have been injured. HRF demands immediate withdrawal of the massive police force mobilised in the area.

          The demands of the local people are entirely justified. The plant is being constructed on a precious wetland in utter disregard of all environmental norms. In fact, the project has been mired in controversy from the very beginning with ECEPL committing several illegalities in open contempt of the law. Action should have been initiated against the project proponent (EPECL) and those government functionaries who have colluded in many ways so that the company could regularise its illegalities. Instead, the government is seeking to suppress a peaceful mass movement that rightly perceives the thermal plant as undermining its livelihood and local ecology.

          Over the past three years, HRF and several civil society organisations have been speaking out against the falsification of information and irregularities committed by the ECEPL. We had pointed out how the ECEPL had gone ahead and vandalised the precious ecosystem in the area even before obtaining statutory clearances. This was done in utter defiance of the law and was possible because of active collusion by government officials. The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MOEF) has failed to act despite violations of the Environment (Protection) Act 1986 staring it in the face.

          We recall that expert groups including the reputed Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) have confirmed the socio-ecological importance of this wetland. They highlighted the fact that clearances were obtained based on deliberately concealed, faulty and misleading information. They recommended that the ecosystem of the wetland be safeguarded and also made critical observations about diversion of such a wetland for industrial use. Both the State government and the MOEF have failed to act upon these recommendations.

          In the face of government inaction, ECEPL has continued construction and destroyed a fairly large portion of this precious wetland over the past two years. It went ahead with this vandalism without complying to conditions set out by the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) of the MOEF as well as orders of the National Environmental Appellate Authority (NEAA). In particular, it is carrying out levelling work in the wetland far in excess of the 1317 acres it is allowed to hold on to. This has resulted in repeated flooding of farm land in the area causing much distress to farmers. Time and again EPECL has misled the MOEF and flouted laws with impunity. The district administration knew of these violations and non-compliance with the law, but did nothing.

The HRF demands that environmental clearance accorded to the ECEPL be immediately cancelled. Punitive measures must be initiated against those who had violated statutory norms and colluded with the committing of the illegalities including personnel in the Revenue and APIIC. Keeping with the ecological importance of this wetland, steps must be taken to protect and conserve it.

VS Krishna 
(HRF State General Secretary)

S. Jeevan Kumar
(HRF State President)


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