Future of the fisher folk of Krishnapatnam?
The Krishnapatnam “Ultra Mega Thermal Plant” is yet to be constructed. Mere expansion of the port has rendered uncertain the lives of fisher folk in 16 villages. In fact, the expansion of the port per se has also not yet happened. The leveling activity taking place along the coast for this purpose has already wiped out fishing as a source of livelihood in the area. Once the entire work–the two thermal stations with a shared capacity of 5,600 MW and the port that is primarily meant to serve as a base for importing coal for the two stations–is completed, will there be any fisher folk left?
In media reports, Krishnapatnam is frequently conjured up as an occasional symbol of “development” of the Rajashekar Reddy Government. But the underside is not reflected in the media. The Government feels it would be sufficient if farmers, whose lands are being acquired for projects, are given a per-acre nominal compensation or those displaced from their homesteads are doled out a house-site at some place. Those who do not possess ownership rights recognized in law but yet depend on these lands and natural resources for their livelihood simply do not figure in the government’s calculation.
But even as this “development” is in its incipient stages, many of the facts and issues concealed by the Government are coming out in the open. All the fisher folk who are living in the villages behind this coast line and have been fishing and catching prawns in the sea, Kandaleru river and Buckingham canal and are now unable to catch any fish are in a desperate predicament. The port-management dug out the required mud from the sea itself by way of “dredging”, for the purpose of ground-leveling at the site where the port constructions are going on. The reproductive biological cycle of the water-based creatures has been badly affected, what with all the dredging activity, and constant shifting of mud.
The State Government initially pretended as if it was not concerned with this issue and its decisions were not in any way related to this. There was only a guarantee that a colony, near Muthukuru, would be built for the denizens of the three fishing hamlets of Adalanagar, Middirevu, Ramalingapuram that would have to vacate their villages due to the project activity. Though the Government also says that it would provide jobs to these fisher folk in the Project, everyone knows that this is a lie. During the construction phase, some amount of mud-carrying work would be available to some, but later, there would be no job that the fisher folk from the remote fishing villages would have in the Port.
Not only have the livelihoods of the fisher folk in the three above-named villages been jeopardized, but those of 16 villages have been imperiled and this situation would only exacerbate in the days ahead. There are more than one thousand fishing families in the villages of Nelaturu, Krishnapatnam, Adalanagar, Middirevu, Ramalingapuram, Eepooru Venkannapalem, Mittapalem, Konetimitti, Beach Colony, Gummalla Dibba, Lingavaram, Varagali and Momidi. We are now hearing that the Government is contemplating to give compensation to the fisher folk here as long as the dredging work continues, as the activity is bound to create hurdles for fishing.
This is the case also with the wind-energy project of the Reliance Company at Tallarevu, East Godavari District. Even there, the mud required for the purpose of ground-leveling at the project constructions sites are being dug out from the sea itself with the aid of “dredgers”. Just as the Krishnapatnam port is near the Kandaleru River, where it joins the sea, the port is also near the Gaderu River, where it joins the sea. The catch of fisher folk was quite good over there as well. But owing to the constant digging activity, damp dunes of sand accumulated at many places, marshy puddles were formed, the reproductive biological cycle of the water-based creatures was severely affected and the ingress and egress of the fishing boats hampered. Having identified these problems, the Government gave a fixed amount as monthly compensation to the fisher folk as long as the dredging work continued. There seems to be a similar “compensation” proposal in the case of Krishnapatnam as well.
The problems of and threat to fishing would continue and rather intensify even after the port construction work is completed and the dredgers exit. The real trouble would begin then infact. This is precisely why the fisher folk are earnestly pleading that the Government not be complacent and bask in a self-congratulatory mode, thinking that its job is done by doling out a few hundred rupees (peanuts) as compensation to them.
Till date, there are no Thermal Stations in Andhra Pradesh, which have a capacity of more than 1000 MW. Two Thermal Stations, one with a capacity of 4, 500 MW and the other with a capacity of 1,600 MW, with a joint capacity of 5, 600 MW would come up at Krishnapatnam. To operate these plants, 5. 84 lakh mega litres of water would have to be drawn from the sea on a daily basis. Though this water would again be released into the sea, it would be a myth to presume that the fisher folk would venture into the sea to catch fish, even as churning of the sea on this huge a scale happens daily.
Be this as it may, the looming danger of pollution is also very obvious. The principal source of pollutant that emanates from the Thermal Plants is ash. The bigger of these two plants, i.e. the Reliance Thermal Plant which has a capacity of 4000 MW, it is said, would be operated by “foreign coal”, which has a propensity to produce just one-third of the present ash-residue. Nonetheless, the ash that would be discharged by a 4000 MW Thermal Plant would be two and a half times more than the ash that is released by the Ramagundam NTPC Thermal Plant. Since the other Thermal Plant of 1600 capacity would run primarily on native coal, the pollution would be in full measure.
The National Rehabilitation Policy is going to come is something we have all been hearing for many years now. One such Draft Bill on Rehabilitation is now before the Parliament for consideration. That it would be a law very soon is something that the Prime Minister, Mr. Manmohan Singh, in his recent address on the occasion of the Republic Day on the 26th January, 2008 announced. It is notable that while there is no urgency to bring in such an important legislation, there is so much of haste when it comes to clearance and implementation of projects.
It is also being claimed that the ash thus emanated, would be mixed with water and stored in huge lakes, and industries that would use this sludge as raw material, would continue to remove this sludge from the lakes, thereby reducing the pollution, but this is not as easy as claimed is a fact of experience. The Ramagundam Thermal Station is itself an illustration of this. The ash dries up during the summer months and covers the dwelling and fields as a thick layer of smog, making the lives of the residents of Ramagundam miserable. Since the Krishnapatnam Thermal Plant is situated very near to the sea and since there is a seawards wind during the daytime, this ash would invariably move above the sea. Add to this, the human waste that would also feed into the sea, a consequence of the post-port coastal habitations. Though the Environment Clearance states that the Project Colony must be within half a kilometer radius of the coast, there is no guarantee that the waste water would not be let out into the sea. Therefore, in the coming days, fishing on this side of the coast would not be possible. By implication, this means that the fisher folk of the 16 villages, must enmasse vacate their hamlets, along with their kith and kin. Leaders are already making attempts to silence the voices of the fisher folk by making false and unrealistic promises that they would be provided jobs in the Port and the Thermal Projects. But this is plain fraud. None of the industries that our leaders are inviting in the state in the name of “development” have provided even a handful of well-meaning jobs to those who do not have high education.
The Government may probably tell the fisher folk, “Go and fish elsewhere”. Wherever they might go, it is quite possible that there might already be other fisher folk there who are fishing for livelihood. Then is the State not brewing resentment and enmity between he various fishing peoples, pitting some against others! Even if any coastline is vacant, a housing colony is needed, a Jetti (berth would be necessary, if there is no natural harbour. If the word “rehabilitation” has any meaning, all these must be provided. The Government seems to be making no such deliberation.
That the National Rehabilitation Policy is going to come, for such people, is something we have all been hearing for many years now. One such Draft Bill on Rehabilitation is now before the Parliament for consideration. That it would be a law very soon is something that the Prime Minister, Mr. Manmohan Singh, in his recent address on the occasion of the Republic Day on the 26th January, 2008 announced. It is notable that while there is no urgency to bring in such an important legislation, there is so much of haste when it comes to clearance and implementation of projects. People do not know what is in that Bill. The Bill hasn’t yet become law. Society has not debated its pros and cons. But in the meanwhile, without any of these processes unfolding, lakhs of people continue to be displaced.