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Indian farmers and fishermen stop coal plant in Sompeta, Andhra Pradesh, 2010-11
Coal is the main commercial energy in India and the government launched an internal improvement program in the early 2000s to bring energy to the hundreds of millions of people in the country without technology and other modern conveniences. Andhra Pradesh was the most ambitious state in this endeavor, as it proposed for 7 major and 30 smaller coal-powered power stations.
One such larger power station was to be built in Sompeta in the Srikakulam district. Community members, especially fishermen and farmers, were extremely opposed to the construction for it would destroy their entire livelihoods. The proposed construction site was on an expanse of wetlands and the villagers of Sompeta used this land to sustain their entire livelihoods.
Campaigners demonstrated at the construction site of the 2,640-megawatt coal power station on 14 July 2010 in Sompeta. This group of community members, mostly fishermen and farmers, were disobeying an imposed curfew by protesting at the site. Police used batons against the unarmed campaigners, who responded by throwing stones.
In the clash, two fishermen were killed. The killings of 60-year-old G. Krishnamurthy and G. Joga Rao were determined to be completely “deliberate” by investigative reports. Eyewitnesses state that Krishnamurthy was “simply waiting for the police to leave the place so that he could return home safely.”
It was estimated that 150 people were injured, with 5 other people sustaining bullet injuries. Consequently, the Andhra Pradesh government sent troops of armed policeman the next day, 15 July 2010, to the surrounding villages to use violence against anyone suspected of participating in the campaigns. Police instituted a ban against assemblies of five or more people in order to suffocate any future protests.
As a result of the high volume of media coverage of the 14 July 2010 Sompeta protests, with an emphasis on the police brutality, the National Environmental Appellate Authority (NEAA) rejected the Nagarjuna Company’s environmental permission to the land. This was a large roadblock for the company because it could not continue construction without the consent from the NEAA. The company decided to shift its construction to other areas of Andhra Pradesh but had no intention to give up the fight for the land in Sompeta.
Meanwhile, the citizens submitted an appeal on 22 July 2011 under Dr. Y. Krishna Murthy the President of Sompeta to Shri K. Rosiah, the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh. The appeal consisted of 16 points asking for the government’s intervention in the matter of the coal-based power plant, one point was: “We state categorically that we are not against development. We are all for it. But we are of the firm opinion that this thermal plant will not usher in development. Rather, it will destroy whatever development we have. It will devastate the lives of thousands of families from the farming and fisher-folk communities as well as throw into deep distress landless labourers and artisan classes.”
It is difficult to determine precisely what happened in Sompeta between the end of July 2010 and June 2011 for news sources on the subject are vague. Farmers that lost their land petitioned the High Court advocating for the Government Order that allocated the land to the company to be revoked. The Nagarjuna Construction Company engaged in a dialogue with Andhra Pradesh governmental officials trying to secure the rights to build on the land. In the meantime, the company continued its coal plant developments in other regions. Eventually, on 23 June 2011, the Andhra High Court issued an interim stay on the development of the Sompeta land. Even though the original Governmental Order was issued in September 2008 allowing Nagarjuna to build a coal power plant, Justice Nuti Ramamohan Rao declared there would be no more work at the site. Although a senior official of the company stated that they would try to continue construction on the Sompeta Power Project after 2012, it is a victory for the people who protected the well-being of the ecology as well as defended the rights to their land.