August 2010: Four people lost their lives defending Andhra Pradesh’s wetlands when police opened fire on a group of locals protesting the construction of a coal based thermal power plant in the fragile Sompeta swamp in the Srikakulam district by the Nagarjuna Constuction Company.
What is tragic is that the government was aware of local opposition to the project well before it was sanctioned. A report submitted jointly by the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) and the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) to the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) in December 2009 cited local sentiments and biodiversity values as the reasons not to site power plants in the Srikakulam district. The report also recommended that a Wetland Conservation Act be passed.
It also drew focus on a wetland in Naupada, and opposed development by East Coast Energy Pvt. Ltd., though environmental clearance was granted in April 2009. The sudden upswing in power plant proposals is a result of domestic coal fields that are easily accessible through the rail network. Incredibly, six thermal plants and a nuclear plant are proposed in the 90 km. wetland stretch from Naupada to the Itchapuram lagoon.
Power companies shoot pictures in summer, and insinuate that there is no water in them. Both Sompeta and Naupada, incidentally are submerged for almost eight months of the year and locals have lost livelihoods as a result of such destruction. Authors Dr. Asad R. Rahmani of the BNHS and Professor Asha Rajvanshi speaking about the East Coast project’s EIA report said, “The EIA was conducted in summer (March-May) when water is at its lowest in the swamps and migratory birds are not seen. The report says there are no migratory routes or endangered animal species within 10 km. of the site, which is again false.”
These wetlands are unprecedented in their ecological value. The Sálim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History (SACON) reported 7,147 birds of 20 species from Naupada. Painted Stork, Spot-billed Pelicans, Oriental Darters, Large Egrets, Asian Openbills and a host of duck and heron species have been seen frequenting these swamps and it attracts 123 species of migratory birds. Incidentally, these studies were sponsored by the MoEF itself! Only three kilometres away from the project site is the Telineelapuram Bird Sanctuary, an Important Bird Area. Approximately 150 Spot-billed Pelicans and 250 Painted Storks breed here.
Locals and conservationists have the support of the former Union expenditure secretary E.A.S. Sarma from the NGO, Forum for Better Visakha who says: “Both the state and central governments are bound by the statutory commitments of the Ramsar International Treaty on the Conservation of Wetlands (which India signed in 1982) to conserve this wetland stretch in Srikakulam.” Sarma also says that East Coast Energy agreed to give up 500 acres of land but then reclaimed through a different company. He fears that altered water routes caused by the construction of these plants will lead to widespread floods in over 30,000 acres of farmland even during a normal monsoon. Human Rights Forum general secretary V.S. Krishna has also voiced his disapproval of the Naupada proposal saying that 1.5 lakh people in 30 villages will be affected. In his words, “The thermal plant, which will occupy about 1,882 acres, is encroaching on a wetland area of 1,200 acres. This will devastate the lives of thousands of farmers and fisherfolk and will surely destroy the biodiversity of the swamp. Water from the beela is a lifeline for a two-crop paddy over 5,000 acres. Inland fishing sustains the Kandra and Agnikulashatriya communities. It is preposterous that such a fertile, life-sustaining area could be described by revenue officials as a wasteland.”
Villagers allege that bribery is rampant. Y. Krishna Murthy of the Teerapranta Machhikara Aikya Vedika and Parivaranana Parirakshana Sangham which have been campaigning against the Sompeta project says, “We are ready to sacrifice our lives to prevent the power plant from coming up. NCC bribed panchayat presidents to pass a resolution in favour of the plant without explaining to villagers the consequences.”
Handing over these lands to large power companies against the wishes of locals and the advice of experts is foolish and callous. The Andhra Pradesh government should know that Naupada and Sompeta play a vital role in carbon sequestration and storage and are critical to moderating the impact of both floods and droughts.
Sanctuary readers are urged to write to the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh and Jairam Ramesh, Minister for Environment and Forests. Make these points:
The area should also be declared a Conservation Reserve and an Important Bird Area and a scientific management plan to protect the region must be developed.
Policy directives for wetland conservation outside PAs and forests must be put in place in the form of a Wetland Conservation Act. Other wetlands need to be mapped and identified by a competent group of experts.
The land must be re-surveyed by wetland experts with a mandate to assess the ecological damage done, together with steps for its restoration.
K. Rosaiah, CM, Andhra
Pradesh Chief Minister’s Bungalow, Greenland Circle, Begumpet, Hyderabad – 500016
Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF)
Paryavaran Bhavan, CGO Complex, Lodhi Road, New Delhi – 110 003.
You can also send an email to RAMSAR at