The Weekend Leader - Save the wetlands

Green campaign to save bird habitat, wetland system, and livelihoods of hundreds of villagers

Marianne de Nazareth   |   Bangalore


Vol 2 | Issue 8

Environmentalists are fighting a grim battle to save an ecologically sensitive spot at Srikakulam district of Andhra Pradesh, where a thermal power plant is being constructed. According to activists who visited the spot recently, the district authorities have deployed large number of policemen in the area to intimidate the villagers who have been staging peaceful protests against the project since last August as it is affecting their livelihood.

The disputed site of M/s East Coast Energy Pvt. Ltd which is setting up a 2460 MW coal fired thermal power plant is located within the internationally recognised wetland system of Naupada swamps, about 160 km north of Vishakapatnam. The site is also just 2.5 kms away from Telineelapuram, which falls in the category of the Important Bird Area Site (IBAS).

Taste of power: The villagers of Kakrapalli, who are on a relay hunger strike since last August against the power project, are facing police wrath    

The birds of Telineelapuram have been declared endangered species and recorded in the Red Book of International Union for Conservation of Nature. According to environmental laws of India and the RAMSAR Convention – an international conventional signed in 1971 at Ramsar, Iran, to protect wetlands - to which India is a signatory, wetlands are protected areas, where no polluting activity can be taken up.

Saraswati Kavula, joint convener of the National Alliance of People’s Movements (AP Chapter), who visited the hotspot a few days ago, said the State police was targeting villagers protesting against the project. “The police are going from door to door beating up the villagers,” said Saraswati Kavula. She said the project has been cleared by suppressing the facts about the Naupada Wetlands and describing it as a ‘wasteland’.

“Every year, Siberian birds come to live here. More importantly, about 18 village panchayats with a population of a few thousand households will be losing their livelihood with this construction. Though it is illegal according to Indian law to construct anything on a wetland, they have got the permission and all environmental clearances. When the issue came up in court, the court said, "well, since they have already constructed in the 1000 acres, let them leave the rest of the area as it is and continue to complete the project," said Saraswati.

In the last monsoon, when the outlets to the sea got blocked due to the construction, the excess water could not go out, and flooded the region submerging nearly 3000 acres of crop land.

The inland fishermen who lived fishing in the wetland don't get any fish now as the fishes thrive only in a mix of fresh and sea waters. The local people started a relay hunger strike which is already into its 150th day.

Saraswati and her colleagues have now written to the Chairperson, Andhra Pradesh Human Rights Commission, Hyderabad and hopes justice will be done.

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