Lessons from Kakarapalli

By Sunita Narain
Last Updated: Thursday 11 June 2015

kakarapalliWe were standing at the edge of what looked like a swamp—grass and pools and streams. On one side was heavily barricaded land with high walls, barbed wires and armed security. A board read: East Coast Energy, Kakarapalli. This was where a bloody battle had taken place a few months ago. People protesting the takeover of their wetland were shot at and three lost their lives. Now the site of the 2,640 MW thermal power plant is under siege—locked and in court.

I could see from the faces around me—a group of some 50 journalists from leading newspapers from across the country—that none of us could understand this battle. Why were people fighting for this piece of water-land, which was neither private nor rich agricultural land? The people, mostly fishers, were obviously poor. Then why were they on a hunger strike, which had now crossed a year? Why were they so belligerent that they were willing to lay down their lives?

We then met a group of farmers from a neighbouring village. In Sompeta also a proposed 2,640 MW coal power plant—this one by the Nagarjuna Construction Company—was similarly fought. Here also a bloody battle took place. Here also people lost their lives. Here also the matter is in suspension; the environmental clearance has been cancelled. But the company wants the site. The people say they will fight to death.

These are today’s battles. I could see that all of us were moved, but unable to comprehend what was happening.

On our drive to the village through the district of Srikakulam, we were shown sites proposed for a nuclear plant, a pharma and chemical city and numerous thermal power projects. It was a massive takeover and understandably so. This is coastal India, where the land meets the sea. This land frontier is ideal for new growth projects. There is ample water for huge cooling needs of nuclear plants; there is easy access to imported coal for thermal power projects and chemical plants can dump their toxic waste into the sea and not have to invest in expensive treatment systems.

There is another advantage. Government holds large parts of land, which means companies do not have to go through messy land acquisition. Better still they get property at throwaway prices. This land is classified variously in government records, from tampara (swamp) to peramboke (wasteland) to bela (wetland). Whatever the classification, it underscores that the land has no real economic value, hence can easily be given away at cheap rates.

This is where policy gets practice fundamentally and fatally wrong. This is not useless wasteland as the revenue office described it when it gave it to the thermal power company at a pittance. This is highly productive land, both in terms of its ecological functions and economic uses. But we cannot see it or won’t because it is not in our interest.

Just consider. This dead swamp is a living sponge, which soaks water, reducing the intensity of floods; the delicately maintained freshwater balance reduces the advance of salinity, which would infiltrate groundwater and ruin drinking water sources. This is a living ecosystem. It plays critical life functions.

Ask Kakarapalli farmers. At first, they were not against the thermal project. Many even sold their land to the developer. When construction on the swamp started, the land was raised to build the foundation of the project. Next year rains flooded their fields. Now the farmers have joined the protest with fisher people. They understand the value of this “swamp”.

These “wastelands” are fertile because they provide livelihood benefits. In Sompeta the bela provides water for irrigation and drinking. In both the villages fish catch is an important economic opportunity. It is another matter that the fishers in our eyes look poor and desperate for a makeover. But this is their life and the water body is their common asset, which provides them a job and gives them money to put food on the table. These benefits cannot be discounted.

The problem is that today there is no policy that protects the interests of water. The environmental impact assessment has limited brief for water issues, or so it would seem. In Kakarapalli and Sompeta the appraisal reports termed the land barren and non-fertile wasteland. The data was collected during summer when water is at its lowest level. It was easy to not see water for the land.

There is no legal protection for water bodies as water bodies. The Forest Conservation Act provides protection for forests and so incidentally protects the land where streams and rivers are born. But this is not deliberate. Today the water structure is invariable common property, which can be taken apart. Its land use can be changed in revenue or municipal records at the stroke of a pen. It can be mutilated and dismembered.

The people of Kakarapalli and Sompeta are teaching us a lesson in future survival. Listen to them before it is too late. There should be no choice here—water and the life it gives are more important than any industry.

Subscribe to Weekly Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.

  • A wonderful commentary on

    A wonderful commentary on flawed policy exercise Ms. Narain. The dismissive attitudes of both government and industries of people who understand these ecological functions is the true reason why these incidents will continue to happen unless our governance structures actually decide to bend down to put their ears on the ground.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • Respected Madam 1. The people

    Respected Madam
    1. The people who survive on marshes or seasonal water bodies suffer at the cost at the plans of aggressive development programmes. Your article is able to shake those industries which need a large acreage and have eyes on this resource of very poor people..
    2. Even the perennial water bodies like the Badha Lake at Fazilka region got its charge of water from Sutlej cut due to Indus Water Treaty of 1960. The encroachers in the form of agencies instituted by government for fair development have decided to grab it. Rhey advertise vigorously. The birds, the fish, the poorr people who raised lotus products on this Lake have left for other regions.
    Because in the land records the Badha Lake is shown as barren land through tricks of the develoeprs. The Municiapal record orf 1919, show it as a land mark water body in the region.
    3. People will resist by holding rallies, but they belong to the poorest section of Indians and after lapse of some time they shift to other regions like birds of Siberia. But though the birds go back to their nests, these people are renedered homeless.
    4. But thank the Almighty that there are journalist like your team who focus the attention of the government to these maladied of development.
    5. The floods in River Sutlej today on September 2, 2011, the government Trisis worried and putting the labouerers to hold the flood water. May be this water body gets recharged.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • I want to make a point out

    I want to make a point out here.In case of EIA, why can't government have their own department or a agency which will be only concerned about EIA

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • Dear Ms. Sunita Narain I wish

    Dear Ms. Sunita Narain

    I wish to congratulate you for the efforts taken and providing us a detailed narration of the plight of the poor in coastal Andhra Pradesh.

    We are observing the revolution in the style of living of our rural folks - (improvement in education, food habits, health care, outlook in life and even dress code) in people living in the villages all along the national high ways and toll roads. This is possible due to rapid growth in transportation and industries. Water bodies, though become extinct, it gets transformed to over head tanks and huts become concrete houses.

    India is blessed with enormous natural resources. Optimal utilization due to scientific developments ensure better economic development of our citizens and our country.

    Let us not resist change and instead try to adopt to developments. Only then we can become economic super power, besides being knowledge super power. For all these, we need energy in any form and let people become aware it. We cannot revert back to bullock carts and reinvent the wheel.

    Please educate our citizen to approach change in a positive frame of mind.

    With warmest regards,
    Dr. E. Prabhu

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • Why not get magazines such as

    Why not get magazines such as Tehelka and Sanctuary, to take up the cause of saving the wetlands from unscrupulous developers? These publications can influence large numbers of citizens to add their voice to the protest against factories coming up in ecologically sensitive areas.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • must stop all power plant

    must stop all power plant projects since the financial bubble is already bursting! no one has solutions for the US or Europe, and China is going to fall harder than the USSR .... let us take care of our food and water - for our kids ..

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • Dear all concerned

    Dear all concerned
    Jai Bharat & Jai Bharti
    Wishing you all a "HAPPY GANESH CHATURTHI"
    Being a true Miners ,I am very much associated with JAL;JUNGLE & JAMIN & deadly fighting for their senseful & sustainable use.I did a lot to conserve them when ever found opportunity.But as you know the right position is not given to right person in most of the time.
    So,the postion of Mining in India is no more hidden
    Any way we have to be in right path to save the Mother Earth.
    Jai Hind
    Hemant & family

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • Modern industries are needed

    Modern industries are needed to emulate western model of development. Since ecology education is absent in engineering, such modern plants create havoc with the local ecology.

    Engineers need to learn about 'ecological engineering' first but this is an emerging area. It will take several years to make engineers eco-literate.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • wetland is not waste land. It

    wetland is not waste land. It has a purpose. We are allowing destruction of fresh water and people on the bank by taking the land for new projects. The opposition of poor people and fishermen must be supported by all concerned.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • Dear The article is well


    The article is well written & very true . Needless to say Municipalities & Local MLA & MP s are hand in glove with the industrialists. ( though I am not against industries , but support only those which do a balancing act in our Ecology )

    The environmental research (pre project studies ) only tell Half Truths ...like wetlands level of water in Summer .......When administration failed the locals , the locals took to agitation ......may be this will be the norm in India in years to come .

    ..Keep it up Down To Earth ! Hope you garner enough support .

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • An eye-opening article on how

    An eye-opening article on how land records are manipulated for selfish reasons, in full connivance with the government of the day.

    We are learning that ecology is so important for future survival. However, economic development is also required. This leads to a situation of shortage of land for development purposes, in order to be able to sustain ecological balance. The way out would be to make better use of available land. Many projects for which land has been given and which are not progressing are making money using the land given to them for real estate activities. Government should have the will to take back these lands and re-allocate these lands for industrial development.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • your article definitely

    your article definitely points to how the materially gratifing & ironically many times educated individuals fail to understand that they are destroying the so delicately & uniquely designed universe by god in the name of progress, ultimately leading to only mess. ess is surprisingly common in progress & mess.
    The fishers & the farmers are so advanced that they immediately have understood the problem and its solution. Indirectly/ Directly they have thus established relation with god & will get his mercy.
    may the tribe of gods followers increase so that we do not have to resort to deal with these demoniac individuals by material methods ie law & order

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • Hi, I believe that the coal


    I believe that the coal for these projects may come from Canada not far from where I live in the north country. We have massive mines in the mountains. Is there someone here who would know where the coal may be coming from for this particular project?
    Re: Engineers
    I know many engineers. Quite a few are intelligent and moral people. However, most engineers construct projects and their training and culture is aligned to exploit the earth. Even on occasions when they are trained in the environmental disciplines the results of exploitation is the same. After many decades of development here in Canada, the impacts of engineering projects are the same. The fish and animals disappear and the people who are close to the facilities sometimes get sick. Don't expect this profession to change. Think of something else. Here's my advice: DON'T MODEL THE WEST: MONEY DOES NOT BUY HAPPINESS! You're country's history and culture is older than mine, there must be a better way. Explore and consider options and be creative in development, don't follow others. The west has purposefully alienated themselves from nature in commerce and development.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • This is the challenge a third

    This is the challenge a third world country aspiring to be counted as a world power must face. It has to exercise a tough choice between the conventional energy generation and the nuclear energy that comes with a higher risk to human lives and properties. The craze for industrialization and higher GDP is a vice of capitalism or one may say crony capitalism that breeds filthy corruption. unfortunately the pedantic Marxism could not be translated into practice. Socialist countries are also in this vice-like loop. There is no escape from corruption in high places, Anna or no Anna. Who would imagine that our honest PM has amassed a Rs.5 crore asset officially declared? He has a score of crorepati cabinet ministers ruling over this land grab regime. As Arun Jaitely has rightly pointed out in Parliament that corruption has ramified into all spheres of our lives, into the triad of sky, land and sea. Whether it is mining or power plant or S-Band or 2G spectrum the King Cobra hydra-headed monstrous Corruption is there to ex-cruciate the poor masses and the tribal people. The poor must lick their wounds and vacate their homeland so that India becomes an economic power. The inclusive growth is only on paper and uttered on the lips of our crorepati political class.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • Dear Ms Narain..., 'm

    Dear Ms Narain..., 'm thankful to u & the entire team of DTE for creating an awareness on the importance of wetlands.. Obviously, wetlands do an important role in ecological balance.. As in the case of India, of course we should provide sufficient energy for the growing populations.. But what we will gain after lossing the balance of nature.. SMART USE OF ENERGY IS ONE OF THE BIGGEST DIFFERENCES WE CAN MAKE, RATHER THAN JUST THINKING ABOUT NEW WAYS OF GENERATING MORE ENERGY ... Hope this issue of DTE can make differences in the minds of authorities concerned.....

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • East Coast Energy/Asian Genco

    East Coast Energy/Asian Genco has holding company in SIngapore and they have a JV with PTC (PPP Company of the Government of India) and have purchased coal fields in Kalimantan, Indonesia. They have been struggling to produce coal but seem to be ready to go on stream next year. They may have other additional sources also, perhaps from your neck of the woods, I don't know. These people are profit driven (and that is OK) to the extent where everything and everyone else is of no concern/disposable to them (and that is not OK). Mushrooming of hundreds of such power plants all over India is going to have disastrous consequences and India's leaders can't (or won't) see that.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • Coal may come from Kalimantan

    Coal may come from Kalimantan (Borneo) in Indonesia. They have a Singapore holding company and a JV with PTC (PPP company of Govt of India) and buying up coal mines there. They may also source from your neck of the woods. This is a bunch of people who care only about their pockets, everything else is for pillage and plunder.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • A fascinating article, moved

    A fascinating article, moved me a great extent. However, will this move Anna Hazare or any one from his team or the media which wrote day-in and day-out for days on. Does any of our middle-class intelligentsia has any time for this ?

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • Dear Ms. Narain, Thank you

    Dear Ms. Narain,

    Thank you fro publishing this story of the governmental misuse of land without examining an EIA review before giving green light for such a project. The point is this that India wants to catch up its energy back-logs for supporting its development needs and may have been following the same politics like that of China. Today in this world of globalisation money can purchase anything and corruption is the deadly instrument that helps to attain the greedy targets at any cost.
    However, in your fight against such injustice we, the PROs and NIRs can come to your side provided in your article if you can provide some "locational maps" and "environmentaland ecological imperatives" data in order to understand the depth of the problems and their consequences. I would have been happy if you you can consider this point in your subsequent articles.

    Most thankfully
    Dr Hari Baral

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • the struggle of kakarapalli

    the struggle of kakarapalli villagers is genuine and the sacrifices they are making are invaluable. The efforts of CSE in bringing critical issues into public domain and discussion board are well appreciated. the stoppage of projects temporarily cannot be construed as final. the vested interests can stike back and influnce the poor people after the present wave of movement subsides. Therefore the local people have to be adequately compensated financially with additional and sustainable income generating resources and skills immediately on an urgent basis.
    The sustaianble mangrove forest development done by comunities living in the estuarian areas of River krishna in Krishna and Guntur Districts can be studied and the suceessful models can be multiplied in all the estuaries of the country more specifically in Andhra Pradesh. The concerns of ecology and biodiversity coupled with liveleihoods of locals have to be kept in mind while formulating different models of development.
    Thrift and credit based SHGs develpment and strengthening the existing SHGs can be done with a view to sustaian the benefits of the ongoing movement.
    Ecologiacally sustaianble, economically viable and socailly acceptable models have to be developed and put in place.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • The reason behind need &

    The reason behind need & growth of such take-overs is growing population and urbanisaton.
    Merely checking a fallout is not likely to help.
    The need of the hour is to strike balance between providing better opporunities at such places and environmental damage.
    Another issue which requires attention is vast spaces lying unused in urban/industrial areas.
    penalties including vacation can be used after fixing a revnue/employment/utility criterion for all such properties.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • Dear Mrs. Narain NGOs such as

    Dear Mrs. Narain

    NGOs such as yours and Team Anna are doing a great job in highlighting issues.The Farming community are at the receiving end of the elements of nature. Surely they do not need man made distructive elements to add to it.
    Farmers of some districts in AP have adopted crop holiday because they could not sell their produce. All this is due to the Governments lack of foresight. Government should be made accountable and transparent and willing to listen to its people.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • The article is excellent for

    The article is excellent for reading but why don't you see the other side of the coin ?
    If a road in a city is widened there are protests, if a dam is built there are protests, if a coal fired thermal plant is built there are protests, if an atomic power plant is built again there are protests. Can we live without agriculture and power ? We have to strike a balance between environment, interests of a few people and people at large.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply