Chennai/ 22 February, 2014: Coal power plants have destroyed fishing and farming livelihoods, damaged health and contaminated local water resources, said fisher and farmer representatives from villages near coal-fired thermal plants in six states of India. Recounting their experiences of living alongside coal power plants, the villages from Singrauli (UP), Mundra (Gujarat), Korba and Raigarh (Chattisgarh), Jharkhand, Neyveli and Ennore cautioned Tamil Nadu villagers against allowing coal-burning plants to come up in their neighbourhoods. The representatives of coal-impacted communities from all over India had visited Cheyyur yesterday, and interacted with villagers there.
Delivering the keynote address at “Real Face of Coal — a state-level Convention” held at Asha Nivas in Chennai, Mr. E.A.S. Sarma, former Power Secretary, Government of India, said Tamil Nadu is planning to set up more than 40,000 MW of coal-fired electricity plants in just three districts – Thoothukudi (16,460 MW), Nagapattinam (14,701 MW), and Cuddalore (10,140 MW). “If the Cheyyur UMPP materialises, it will make this water-rich, agriculture-rich and fisheries-rich area of Tamil Nadu a toxic hotspot,” he said. Citing scientific studies, Mr. Sarma pointed out that pollution from coal power plants were linked to a “dramatic rise in birth defects” in the Punjab, and high mercury levels in the blood of people living near India’s energy capital of Singrauli. According to Sarma, “Rational energy planning should shift the focus from new megawatts to saved megawatts, or “negawatts”. “Supply-oriented planning in energy, especially electricity, has outlived its time. Sooner we face this hard reality, the better it will be from the point of view of sustainability,” he said.
Speaking to Tamil Nadu fishers and farmers from Kanchipuram, Thiruvallur, Nagapattinam, Thoothukudi, Cuddalore and Thanjavur, Bharat Patel – a villager living near Tata Power’s Mundra UMPP in Gujarat – said: “Before they come, there will be all kinds of promises. But once they are there, there is only pollution, ill-health and poverty. Your collector, chief minister – even your courts – will abandon you,” he said. The 4000 MW Mundra power plant has destroyed mangroves and biologically productive mudflats, and reduced a once-prosperous fishing community to poverty.
Awadesh Kumar Dwivedi pointed to his district – Singrauli – as proof that coal plants are nothing but bad news. “Singrauli has 22,000 MW of coal power plants – more than twice Tamil Nadu’s peak demand. But villagers near the plant still have no electricity. Breathing difficulties, asthma, birth disorders and early deaths are common place. Far from creating jobs and ushering in prosperity, these power plants have robbed farming livelihoods and increased poverty,” Dwivedi said.
Similar stories of groundwater depletion, water contamination, declining farm and fishery incomes, ill-health and unresponsiveness of authorities emerged from Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.
People from Gujarat (Bharat Patel), Singrauli (Awadesh Kumar), Chattisgarh (Vinod Pandey and Samantha Agarwal), Jharkhand (Umesh Najeer), Neyveli, TN (Selvaraj) shared their experiences of living next to coal facilities with people from Nagapattinam, Thoothukudi, Cuddalore, Thanjavur, Ariyalur, Mettur and Thiruvarur. Thank you Poovulagin Nanbargal; Chennai Solidarity Group; All India Union of Forest Working People; All India Forum of Forest Movements; Bharat Jan Vigyan Jatha; National Fishworkers Forum; Delhi Forum; Earth Watch Trust; Community Environmental Monitoring; 350.org.
The Convention was organised by Poovulagin Nanbargal; Chennai Solidarity Group; All India Union of Forest Working People; All India Forum of Forest Movements; Bharat Jan Vigyan Jatha; National Fishworkers Forum; Delhi Forum; Earth Watch Trust; Community Environmental Monitoring; 350.org