The proposed Kakarapalli Thermal Power Plant in Srikakulam district has the locals seething at the danger it poses. Thermal plants at other locations have resulted in polluted ground water and crops being destroyed — a fate the locals don’t want for their village.
Relay fast against the Kakarapalli Thermal Power Plant in Andhra Pradesh entered its 716th day on the date when India witnessed the historic two-day black out on July 30 and 31, 2012. A huge banner with pictures of people killed and houses destroyed in the violence unleashed by armed police force in Vedditandra and HN Peta in Kakarapalli on February 25 and 28, 2011, covered the stage as the villagers of Vedditandra, Kollur and Santhabommali took turns to continue the hunger strike.
The blackout that plunged 600 million people into darkness in North, East and North-Eastern parts of the nation threw open debates across the world on the dwindling power supply and its impact on the economic growth of the country, lest we forget that India is the fifth largest power generating nation. Ministry of Power and Central Electricity Authority (CEA) have projected a total investment requirement of Rs.11,35,142 crore for the power sector during the 12th Plan period, which includes investment for generation capacity addition of about 1,00,000 MW. (Existing capacity is 1,64,508 MW). The overall share of thermal power in total installed generation capacity is likely to increase from 64 per cent (FY2010) to about 74 per cent by the end of 12th Plan.
For instance, in Andhra Pradesh alone the government has planned to set up 107 coal-based thermal projects. Environmental activist Rathnam Janapareddy said, “In 2005, Andhra Pradesh government passed a GO 34 to set up the Industrial Coastal Corridor. Thereby, sanctioning 107 coal-based thermal power plants from Itchapuram to TADA spreading over an area of 972km of coast where 80 lakh fishermen live.”
The conflict between development and protection of ecology continues. Former secretary, ministry of power, government of India and former (Advisor) energy, planning commission, EAS Sarma feels that power demand can be met by maintaining transmission and distribution network and using renewable sources.
Fishermen and farmers continue their stiff resistance against thermal power plants that are set to engulf huge tracts of fertile land in rural areas. A case in point is the Kakarapalli in Srikakulam. As part of the coastal corridor project, East Coast Energy Pvt Limited was sanctioned 2,000 acres of land for the construction of 2,640MW of Kakarapalli coal-based thermal power project. The company has built a bund around the plant to raise the level of swamp, altering the natural drainage system, which led to floods destroying 10,000 acres of farm land last year. Besides, two years back the government withdrew GO 1108 that permitted fishermen to fish in the ponds.
Agitated by this, farmers and fishermen protested, stopping the construction materials from entering the place. This led to clashes with the police in February 2011. The firing that ensued killed three and injured many. Attempt to murder cases were booked against over 2,000 people. In fact, Anantha Manekamma, 92, was incarcerated for 16 days. “A case of attempt to murder was booked against me,” she said. She was not the only elderly woman, Gayashri Lakshmamma, 80, and Sinthala Kousalya, 70, were also arrested.
Undeterred by the police crackdown, people here continue their protest. “We will not allow the plant. We have seen what has happened in Paravada after the Simhadri plant. Ground water is polluted, crops are destroyed. The municipality sends two water tankers. Our village will not have the same fate,” says Karunya Keshava, member of anti-thermal struggle committee.
Impact on Ecology
The company in its environment impact assessment report has described the area as barren, uninhabited and low-lying. However, forest department has termed it a wetland area with rich biodiversity. Karunya Kethro, president, Co-operative Society of Fishers, said, “There are 40 middle-sized ponds in the marshy land and 6,000 fishermen are dependent on this and a vast area of salt farms which provide livelihood to 30,000 people.”
Surrounding the site, there are 2,400 ha of farms. Water from the Garibula, Bheemapuram and Enugula streams flow into the sea at the Tekkali creek. The swamp is sandwiched between the mainland and the Bay of Bengal. There are streams, water bogs, canal system and lush green forest towards the sea. About 3.5km from the plant, there is Telineelapuram Birds Sanctuary which attracts birds from Siberia and more than 100 species of birds including spot-billed pelicans and painted storks come here. The Expert Appraisal Committee sub-group reported that the project should not come up here as it is an ecologically sensitive area.
According to 2004-05 statistics, the total rice produced is 96, 01,045 tones. If costal corridor is formed in the present area State would be losing 67,64,203 tones of rice in 20,23,087 hectors of the land. Not only these, bajra, maize, black gram, green gram , oil seeds, coconut, sugarcane, tobacco, mirchi, cashew, mango, haldi, plantain, crops yield maximum only in coastal districts. If coastal corridor is formed, the yield will be totally lost.
Studies across the world have shown the ecological and health impacts of thermal power plants, it is now up to the government to choose for better alternatives.
Experts in the power sector feel that the fears of farmers and fishermen cannot be dismissed as baseless. It is the unrealistic projection of energy demands, huge power projects with generation capacity of more than three times the required energy and the scant regard towards maintenance of transmission and distribution lines that has led to the failure of the system.
Former secretary, ministry of power, government of India and former (Advisor), planning commission, EAS Sarma says that the transmission distribution loss in the country is 35 to 37 per cent. “If, we would bring down the losses to 25 per cent of it by transformer and voltage line upgradation itself nearly 60,000MW could be saved. This should be done systematically by making investments. Base load is almost 80 per cent and we use thermal power stations. We spend Rs.8 per KWhr for producing power through coal-based thermal power plants. We are producing costly power and losing power due to inefficient transmission and distribution network,” he said.
He added that India is committed to conserve wetlands under the Ramsar international Convention on Wetlands and two other international conventions, one on conservation of migratory bird species and another on conservation of bio-diversity. In almost all these cases, the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, Water, Land and Trees (State) Act, 2002, several rules and regulations to protect water bodies and greenery etc have been violated by the companies and the government.
Coal-based power plants contribute significantly to green house gas (GHG) emissions. Added to this, wetland degradation is also a major contributor to GHG emissions. The secretariat of Ramsar Convention has issued an advisory to member countries to prevent any such degradation to protect the global climate.
In Nellore district, within 5km of Krishnapatnam Port, the State has permitted a whopping 28,000MW of coal-based thermal generation capacity to come up! All around Krishnapatnam, these power projects will create a pollution cauldron. Assuming that these power plants will burn domestic and imported coals in the ratio 70:30, once they start operating, they will burn 400,000 tonnes of coal daily, spew out 141,000 tonnes of ash per day on the ground, into the water bodies and into the air, deposit 20,720 tonnes of sulphur per day and 15,000 tonnes of nitrogen into the air, in addition to many other toxins like mercury, arsenic, zinc and cadmium. A generation capacity of 28,000MW will drain 84 million cubic meters of water every day from the sea nearby and pump back large quantities of heat into the sea waters to destroy the marine resources!
“These plants call for a large well-planned transmission system which is yet to get conceptualised. It shows how ill-planned and ad hoc is the decision to permit such a large number of projects to come up concentrated in small localised areas,” Sarma stated.
Environmentalist Suresh Heblikar states thermal plants could be used if sophisticated technologies are adopted. But, the equipment is expensive and the calorific value of coal in the country is not very efficient. Hence, the coal-based thermal power plants should be slowly phased out and moved to solar energy. In Germany, nearly 65 per cent of the energy generated is from solar and even China is slowly moving towards it.