A Report on People’s Plight and Resistance at the Site of Proposed Nuclear Power Park in Kovvada (Srikakulam Dist., AP)

Sandeep Pandey’s visit to Srikakulam district

On the 14th April, 2010, Sandeep Pandey, National Convenor, NAPM, visited Srikakulam districts, on an invitation by the Movement against Thermal Power Plant, Somepeta, Srika.kulam district. He was joined by B. Ramakrishna Raju, State Convenor, NAPM, Saraswati Kavula (Movement against Uranium Projects), K Prasad (Forum for Good Governance), Dr. Y. Krishna Murthy and Deenabandhu of the MTPP, Sompeta. This trip was coordinated by JV Ratnam, journalist and environmental activist from Visakhapatnam.

Soon after his arrival, Sandeep Pandey addressed a press meet at Visakhapatnam.

From here the team travelled to Kovvada Village in Ranasthalam Mandal of Srikakulam district. Here Sandeep spoke to the villagers about the harmful effects of the upcoming Nuclear Power Projects. A nuclear power park with a capacity of 6000 MW is to be set up here, by the General Electric Company. The people here are of mixed feelings. Though they know the ill effects of the projects, and have in fact, stopped the setting up of a similar plant way back in 1984, they are now divided, and helpless in the face of the pressure coming from their MPs – Botsa Satyanarayana, Botsa Jhansi and their MLA Dharmana Prasada Rao. Botsa Satti babu (as he is popularly known) has in fact, come to power promising to ensure that the nuclear plant doesn’t come to Kovvada. But now, he is doing a volte face, and says he is helpless since the central govt. has already taken a decision. Saraswati spoke about the campaign against Uranium Projects in Nalgonda and reminded that the MP of Devarakonda Suravaram Sudhakar Reddy took a strong stance against the projects and helped the people of Nalgonda district.

There is a lot of ambiguity as to how much land will be taken and how many villages will be displaced. The concerned authorities are not giving out any details. The here say, is that the land acquisition is 600 acres to begin with, but will eventually go up to 30,000 acres. The displacement will be 3-23 villages depending on the land to be taken. The people in general are quite scared and worried about their future.

The local press reporters of Ranasthalam have covered the visit and highlighted the problems arising out of this project in the local press. This interaction has helped clear the doubts in the minds of the villagers and also the local media.

After Kovvada, the next stop was Srikakulam town, where the local Journalists Union, organized a press conference. Sandeep spoke about the ill effects of Thermal as well as Nuclear Plants and the impending trouble for the entire north coast Andhra and especially for Visakhapatnam city which is already reeling under a severe water crisis. One clever man, from a local NGO, (supposed to be on payment to the Nagarjuna Construction Company), asked, “if there is no power, how will we progress?”

Sandeep replied, “If this power is being distributed democratically, it is fine, but that is not the case, 80% of the people are paying for the luxuries of 20% people. If indeed we must have democratic distribution of power –then we should go for Solar, Wind, Bio-gas, Bio-mass which are cheaper, cleaner alternatives and are more decentralized and thus in the hands of the people. But governments prefer the centralised power only to favour, the profiteering Politician-Bureaucrat-Contractors nexus.

From Srikakulam, the team moved on to Santha Bommali Mandal, the site of the East Coast Energy Private ltd, which is constructing a 1980 MW thermal power plant at Kakrapalli village a few kilometers away. Here the company has been given land inside the Wetlands of Naupada, which is the only recognized Wetland on the east coast. And home to a multitude of rare migratory birds that come from Siberia. This project has already started and the company is illegally filling up the entire wetland area – with mud. Already this has resulted in the ingress of water during the last monsoon and a submergence of close to 3,000 acres of cultivable land. It has severely affected the lives of inland fisher folk, whose sole survival was by fishing in the wetland area. At first, these people were supporting the project, thinking that they will benefit from it. But after the recent incidents arising out of the filling up of the wetland, they have realized that it is detrimental to their survival.

The local people organized a public meeting, at Santa Bommali, and this was largely attended by women. Explaining the harmful effects of thermal power plants and giving details of alternatives to development, Sandeep expressed his happiness to see the women at front, “anywhere where there has been a struggle to save natural resources, women have been at the helm, since when a project comes, the men could be lured by money very easily, but it is the women who understand the importance of land, water, air and forests”. This has thoroughly encouraged the women and they reiterated their determination to send the company packing.

Ramakrishna Raju, spoke about the importance of clean politics and said that the current plight of the people is a result of having sold their votes for some money or some liquor. Hence, he urged the people to not sell their lives out for the vote bank politics of politicians.

After Santabommali, the next stop was Sompeta. Here one could see the intensity of the people’s struggle against the proposed 2640 MW Thermal Power plant of Nagarjuna Construction Company. Here too the project is being set up in a wetland that is the source of many water bodies in the surrounding areas, besides providing drinking water to the town of Sompeta. A rich biodiversity can be observed here – Pythons, multitude of snakes, tailed bats, water birds and many other species survive in these marshlands. Thousands of acres of crops depend on the water from this wetland (known as Bela in local language). One cannot understand how anyone can construct in this area which is at least a few feet deep in water at all times of the year.

Thousands of people gathered in the Gandhi Bazaar of Sompeta town for the public meeting, which was one of the many initiatives being taken up by the Movement against Thermal Power Plants. A unique feature of this movement is that it is being led by the normally reluctant middle class people – doctors, lawyers, engineers, who are actually being hounded by the police and being slapped by multiple cases on a daily basis. A coming together of educated, employed people and the unlettered masses of fisher folk, farm labourers, farmers is the reason for the success of Sompeta struggle. Teams of women have been undertaking relay hunger strikes and that was the 131st day of their relay hunger strike.

A few days before this meeting, a team of young artists of the APVVU, under the guidance of P.S.Ajay, had toured the villages, singing and enacting plays to encourage the people in their campaign. On the day of the public meeting they did a one act play on the “impending nuclear trouble at Kovvada.’

An audio cassette containing songs about the thermal project, prepared for the movement, was released by Sandeep and the local MLA of TDP, Sairaju. Expressing his happiness on the people’s movement, Sandeep once again explained the problems that will arise out of such projects and reiterated the need for a pro-poor, decentralized, democratic process of development, which will not harm the people and which will benefit the majority. Many local people / leaders spoke about the acts of the Local MLA Dharmana Prasada Rao, who surrounded by a security of 1500 police men, claimed, “No matter what, no force can stop the setting up of these projects in this area”. The people denounced the acts of a democratically “elected” Member of Legislative Assembly. “Being an elected representative, how can he make such statements – that even if it is going to kill us, he will ensure that the projects will come?’

Needless to say, the people of Srikakulam as elsewhere in the Coast are living under constant fear and threat of arrests, lathi charge and other police atrocities, perpetrated under orders from the ‘democratically elected’ governments, only for peacefully stating their opinions and urging the government to not take away their “right to life”.

One extremely disturbing factor is the sell out of the local reporters – who are quasi on the pay roll of the NCC – as a result of which not a single report of this massive people’s movement is reaching the outside world: an issue of such national importance, where people in thousands are agitating for their right to life, is not even mentioned in the state editions of news papers, nor is covered by electronic media. If at all it’s mentioned in the district editions, only news against the People’s Movement and favouring the Company is being written about.

Saraswati Kavula
MAUP & NAPM