As political parties, environmentalist banner-holders and indigenous industries cry themselves hoarse over the entry of the Cogentrix facility, moot ecological issues seem to take a backseat
The price of power
FAST track power projects ha
of late, become stages I
macting'the theatrics of en
ronment politics in India.
was first evident this July, wh
the Bharatiya Janata Pa
(sip)-Shiv Sena government
Maharashtra cancelled the
t*s-based 2,015 mw Enron
project proposed at
Dabhol in Ratnagiri district. The target immediately after the Dabhol pro-
Oct has been the 1,000 mw
thermal power station
proposed for Karnataka's
Dakshina Kannada district, by an international cc
sortium led by another t
based firm - the Cogent
Energy Incorporated. Its pi
posed location has led the E
and other political grou
campaigning against the pla.
to espouse the environmen
cause with extra shrillness.
The proposed site of the Cogentrix plant is 'at Nandikur viHage in Udupi taluka of Dakshina Kannada, 30 km north from the portcav of Mangalor 'e, and three krn inland kom the Arabian Sea shoreline, acclaiseed for its magnificent biodiversity.
In comparison to the dwindling evergreen forest cover of Kerala, Goa 4nd Maharashtra, the natural wealth of Dakshina Kannada is still pristine. The rich vegetation is home to some ad the most endangered fauna and 16ra typical to Indian rainforests. V"pite the establishment of four tracts of reserved forests by the state, fuel, $Wder and food is hardly a problem for district's rural population.
So, concerns among various poligroups that a large, polluting powermay cause irretrievable damage to the environment is a recognition of the wide degree of awareness among the region's inhabitants. One of India's reknowned environmental campaigns of the '80s - Save Western Ghats Movement - had its hub in this district. A successor to the movement survives in the form of the local environment network - the Dakshina Kannada Parisarasaktha Okkuta (Dakshina Kannada Environmental Federation). Through its constituent Parisara Jagaran Samitis (Environmental Awareness Committees), active in each of the eight talukas of the district, the Okkuta has recruited a committed band of 3,500-4,000 activists. "We in Dakshina Kannada are concerned about our environment," says M Veerappa Moily, the Karkala assembly constituency representative, during whose tenure as Karnataka's chief minister, the mou between the state government and Cogentrix Inc was actually signed.
A few more factors contribute to make the affairs of Dakshina Kannada - environmental or other - recipients of keen attention by statelevel politics. The district has been selected by successive state governments to be a key link in' the integration of Karnataka into national and international sectors of economic growth.
Mangalore - India's ninth largest port - handles mineral exports by the Kudremukh Iron Ore Company. India's most ambitious railway expan sion scheme, the Konkan Railway Project, anticipated to introduce an economic revolution on the west coast, starts in Bombay and culminates in Mangalore. The state government also plans to build an ultramodern international airport in the district, principally for traffic with West Asia, Africa and Europe.
Successive Karnataka state governments, like their counterparts elsewhere in India, have eagerly sought the entry of mega-industrial projects. Their achievements for Dakshina Kannada have been particularly impressive. Since 1990, the overall value of industrial investment cleared for Dakshina Kannada amounts to Rs 12,800 crore. Of this, over Rs 10,500 crore are accounted by just seven mega projects.
Sources at the Karnataka Industrial Development Corporation reveal that an amount of Rs 24,800 crore is envisaged by this century's end. The bulk of this would come from 30-40 large technology investment projects.
But even sections of the state and the Union government are apprehensive about the impact of such massive industrialisation on Dakshina Kannada's ecology and environment. In 1989, the Union government requested the government of Denmark to assist the Karnataka state authorities in preparing an Environment Master Plan (EMP) for Dakshina Kannada. Says the project coordinator, Fleming Mouritsen, "The district was selected because it was anticipated to witness dramatic rates of industrial and urban growth during the '90s and there were concerns about the long-term impact on the region's natural resources and ecological systems." Team members and experts of the Danish International Development Aid (DANIDA) study aspire to provide an Emp which would become a model for every district in the country. The DANIDA report warns that the proposed power project near Mangalore may cause acid rain.
A N Yellappa Reddy, secretary for ecology and forests in the Karnataka government, has become a thorn in the eye of the state government for opposing every mega-industry that has been cleared for Dakshina Kannada. Reddy is convinced that "the advent of Cogentris: will mean the death of Dakshina Kannada". His charges range from observations that, while the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) has presumed pollution standards applicable for industrial zones, much more stringent stipulations for ecologically sensitive zones should have been used as a point of reference. Based on the conclusions of an EIA report for an earlier proposed power project at Nandikur, he argues that Cogentrix authorities have deliberately underestimated the extent of flyash discharge and disposal problems.
But the state environment minister, H D Siddangoudar is avowedly in favour of Dakshina Kannada's industrialisation. The chairperson of the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board, S V Bengery, also disagrees with nearly all of Yellappa Reddy's objections.
Since the late '70s, Karnataka has exuded the impression of growing into a modern Indian state, with high techno- logy industrial and services sector. Large cities and small towns have deliberately Demand-supply gap for power in Karnataka tried to foster encrgy-intensive metropolitan fifestyles in keeping with thisdrive.
Rs 20 billion have been spent on Karnataka's power sector during the Eighth Five Year Plan period (1990-95). Yet, this investment is totally inadequate for the roughly three lakh fresh connections installed every year which by themselves constitute a demand of 600-650 mw. Says chief minister H Deve Gowda, "For the sake of the state's prosoperity I am committed to any power project as long as it comes on schedule."
There is also widespread conviction that the shortfall can be tackled only through dedicated power generation facilities within Karnataka itself. Karnataka already imports about 600700 mw of power, and overall projections suggest that it would be able to obtain not more than 220 mw over a above this even by AD 2005. Its shar4 generation from existing Central gc ernment facilities is also very sma1N 19 per cent from the 2,100 Ramagundan project, 13 per cent fr4 the 1,050 mw Neyvely Thermal Static and 6 per cent from the 470 MW Mall Atomic Power Station. "Through mu higher private as well as public invi ments, we hope to be able to mat demands by AD 2005," says I H Patel, state power minister.
Sucessive chief ministers belongi to the Congress party, S Bangarappa a Veerappa Moily, negotiated the im I deal with Cogentrix. Moily has begun acknowledge that "perhaps certain el ronmental aspects of the deal were n thrashed out. These must be resol for once and all.'
But there should be no subsequent opposition to the project, he argues. However, the state unit of his party feels that the matter should be settled by centrally appointed experts. The response of the Karnataka Rajya Raiyat Sangh, which has for long proclaimed its identification apparently with grassroot environmental concerns, is almost equally mundane.
In comparison, the Bip does seem to have been successful in reflecting the environmental concerns in opposing the Cogentrix project. Says senior BJP leader, B S Yediyurappa, who is also leader of the opposition in the Karnataka assembly, "Our hostility to the Cogentrix project was principally on the financial count. Of late we have discovered that there are grave environmental consequences as well."
The us multinational company has drawn an extremely costly construction plan worth Rs 4,080 crore, and will receive an interest of 16 per cent on this investment before the plant is commissioned. It will sell power to the Karnataka Electricity Board at the point of generation at Rs 2.49 per kilo watt hour (kwhr), to be sold to the consumer at around Rs 4.50 per kwhr. Current rates are nearly 40 per cent less - at Rs 2.80 per kwhr. Not only will Cogentrix receive a hefty bonus for any generation beyond 85 per cent efficiency (in terms of the total capacity), but will get the entire deal undetwritten in the form ofcounter-guarantees by the Centre.
In September, BJP legislators from Mangalore decided to press for a special session on the potential environmental hazards of Cogentrix. To get over the perceived information gap, the Bip has planned a series of public meetings late into November. Party functionaries claim that they would present experts from institutions like the Indian Institute of Science, the National Institute of Oceanography and several enginneering institutions to speak on key issues like energy planning, fuel options and pollution control.
After the BJP, the Communist Party of India, (Marxist), (cpm) has vociferously opposed the Cogentrix project. It has only one sitting MLA, G Srirama Reddy, representing the Balegady constituency in Kolar district. The cpm's real strength in the state comes through its labour Organisation - the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU). A document prepared by CITU workers of Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd in New Delhi, which compares the Cogentrix project's cost with that Of BHEL, is the keynote of the CPM/CITU campaign. The document asserts that BHEL would have been almost 48 per cent cheaper ("Rs 3.13 crore per mw as against Rs 5 per mw"), and the electricity supplied at 60 per cent of the Cogentrix rate ( Rs 1.65 per kwhr as agaisnt Rs 2.65 per kwhr).
But Reddy, along with the state CITU president, P Suryanarayana Rao, also believes that Karnataka's power crisis,is largely the handiwork of environmen- talists. "Kaiga, Sharavathi, Bedti, Vaahi," he says heavily, 11 each was a sorely needed power project which got crippled by environmental protests. Otherwise, we would have been much better off." Ironically, the bulk Of CITU'S membership and following comprises workers in traditional industries like beedi rolling and coffee, cashew and rubber processing - each dependent on a natural resource likely to get effected by any adverse change in the district's ecology. "We believe in looking to science for solutions," says B Madhava, the local cpm spokesperson.
The ruling Janata Dal opines that environmental considerations would not be an insurmountable opposition to Cogentrix. Within the state cabinet, many are cocksure that the project would sail off smoothly. "Environmen- talists or the BJP in Dakshina Kannada... these are mino7r problems. You can discount them totally," Siddangoudar told Down To Earth.
But since August, there has been a mass protest in Dakshina Kannada. Instead of Cogentrix, its immediate target is the Rs 2,090 crore Mangalore Refineries and Petrochemicals (MRPL) complex in Kulai village, 20 km from Mangalore, built to produce 3,000 tonnes of petro-products annually. Production starts in February 1996, as the first new mega-project in Dakshina Kannada is hailed by the state as a certificate of its pro-industry policies.
On September 18, the Meenugara Parisara Samrakshana Samithi (Fishermen's Environment Protection Committee), an offshoot of a broader multi-faceted Moghaveera Sangha Industrious effort A veritable boom in industries proposed Dakshina Kannada may boomerang (Fisherfolk Community), communicat- ed with chief minister Deve Gowda and industries minister R V Deshpande, that they would observe a "direct action day" on the September 23 by dismantling the pipeline still under construction. The Meenugara Samithi has the unflinching support of nearly two lakh fishermen in the district. After hectic negotiations throughout the night of September 22, the district administration impressed upon MRPL authorities to remove a kilometre long stretch of the pipeline.
A Central Marine Fishery Research Institute (CMFRI) study in 1993 had estimated that the district provides nearly 70 per cent of the marine fish production in Karnataka, although the trend is nosediving.
The Meenugara Samithi maintains that the real reason behind this decline is the dumping of untreated effluents by industrial units into the Netravathi and other rivers. This has supposedly destroyed several fish feeding and breeding grounds. Such events have united the Meenugara, Parisara Samithi and the Okkuta.
These organisations have attracted the attention of other civic movements like the Balakedarara Vedike (the Consumer's Forum) against polluting industries. This is also attracting the attention of academics, doctors and lawyers. The Vedike secretary, Ravindranath Shanbagh, said, "Basically, it is a transmission of the principles formulated aslocal people have right to use the environment as they wish to; they also have a right to be informed about the hazards they are being exposed to."
The key themes of the Dakshina Kannada movement have been reiterated by ecologists and environmentalists of the Indian Institute of Science, and researchers from the University of Bangalore. Babu Matthew, professor, Natitmal Law College in Bangalore, a civil rights activist and president of the power trade union at BHEL, said, "The Dakshina Kannada movement has become a unique non-party political platform."
The Cogentrix plant would daily use 5,200-S,300 torme of imported coal. According to the power purchase agreement being worked out between the state government and Cogentrix, a ready stock for 45 days of operations would always be in reserve. The storage and transport of such huge quantities of coal would certainly cause ground or air pollution. The power station will also generate 685 tonne of fly ash, capable of contaminating large stretches of land or even percolate down to the water table, eventually polluting streams and estuaries. Seventy to 80 tonne of sulphur dioxide released in the atmosphere may also Since '90, fish catches in Dakshina Kannada cause acid rain in the Ghats. However, the protestors are more preoccupied about the problem of water. The overall water demand of Cogentrix is 8 million cu rn a day. The Karnataka government has offered to sell 77 million cu rn daily from a barrage at the Mulki river at concessional rates.
"But the Mulki is a seasonal river and the barrage will end up becoming the personal property of the power company," says Sommath Naik, of the Okutta. White this has provoked the fisherpeople even more, the fact that ssater from the proposed desatination plant would be discharged into the sea at a relatively higher temperature, has raised serious objections.
Ironically, the agitationists have a grudging respect for the Cogentrix: managing director, Ron Somers'publicity campaign. Since April, he has cultivated a constituency within Dakshina Kannada to whom the idea of a modern power plant as well as other induste sounds attractive. The exercise has cot. eTed the Kanara Chambers 49 Commerce, the Mangalore Enginects Association, the Manipal InstituteO Technology, the T A Pai Managernew Institute and all district Rotary Clubs.
Cogentrix has assured that its firm construction activity will be a rehab iuld tion colony with permanent electrici;. supply. The company will ensure p fessional re-training of all of those I may have to change vocations dued displjccment.
Somers asserts that the environmental safeguards applicable tv Cogentrix will comprise techrm,191 designed toy standards from the Unall States Environment Protection Ageni which are far stringent than their Ind.11 counterparts. The Karnataka St Pollution Control Board stipulates III suspended particulate matter emall should be at 150 micrograms ' - Somers promises that the Cogent facility will emit only a third - at micrograms per co m. The pro) Iec emission stack will have the mov I ern flue gas desulphuration unit wo Rs 300 crores to scrub out all sulph dioxide elements. Simultaneous imported coal whose calorifi nearly double that of the Indian van and ash content is less than half, produce much lesser flyash. Besida Cogentrix documents also assi should flyash seepage occur from storage pond, "provisions wilt be male to correct liner deficiencies". But mu sores to handle ground water contan nation, which would be an imminent outcome, are not discussed. Somers has prepared a list of Indian public sector power projects already cleared by the Central Electricity Authority in the last two years which would be finished by 1996 or 1997. He also points out that given the extremely poor recovery of dues by the Karnataka Electricity Board, no international investor would come in without some security or counterguarantee of payment. He draws attention to the fact that due to unwillingness of the railways to guarantee timely and regular supplies of coal, even the Andhra Pradesh State Electricity Board has decided to lay in reserves of 5 lakh tonne of imported coal this year. "Our option for fuel makes great economic as well as environmental sense," says Somers.
The leading business association of the state - the Kanara Chamber of Commerce - supports the entry of outiside industries only if they commit to provide sub-contracts and jobs to locals. "We should judge them entirely by the beneficiary tradeoffs they can offer," says Gopinath Shenoy, the Chamber president.
What turn the Dakshina Kannada movement will finally assume, is yet to be seen. The movement leaders sometimes exhibit distrust of the panchayati institutions, although there is a high rural participation. This is also fed by the prosperous Moghaveera community's disdain for inland agricultural com- munities recently besotted by falling incomes. "The panchayats are full of illiterate people who do not realise their longterm interests," said a,senior agitationist. But typical is the response of B N Shankara Pujary, president, Udupi Talukan Panchayat Samiti in Brahmawar, which covers viliages around the Cogentrix site, 'Sometimes environmentalists make some sense. But they can also be very whimsical," he observes.
I In contrast to the intentions of its Bangalore leadership, the district BJP unit had not considered any protest against Cogentrix even late into September. The four-member environmental committee appointed to investigate the plant had not met even once. Moreover, since the district's dominant :ndustrial house of the Pais have been maditionally supporters of the Congress, the Bip kept up supporting the entry of mega-industries.
In Bangalore, Babu Mathews candidly admitted the weakness of leftist political groups on environmental issues. He sees the BJP as "keenly sensitive to people's movements. It displays a dynamic opportunism with seemingly pro-people programmes". In fact, several Bangalore-based environmentalists, otherwise supportive of the Dakshina Kannada movement, have already consigned it in the BJP's hands.
In Mangalore, however, the agitation leaders have begun to anticipate manipulation of the fisherfolk's mood. Dayanath Kotian tackles the issue squarely, "We have entered the movement with long-term commitments. After all, we are fighting for the right of our future generations to continue fishing." The Okkutta leadership has tried to sidestep the challenge altogether by hunting for even more technical evidences against incoming industries. "We are not looking for politcal gain," says an activist, "We are basing our arguments on firm scientific data."
Some such consequences are already visible in Dakshina Kannada. According to the 1991 census, the combined urban population f Mangalore and Udupi was 586,000. Through informal estimates, district authorities estimate it around 750,000 now and project it to cross the I million mark by AD 2000, with industrialisation taking firm root. This burgeoning population's demand for housing and other civic infrastructure has already crossed the upper limits. Land prices in Mangalore have doubled every year during this decade. After much delay, Mang4lore authorities started a Rs 18.Are water supply network, which although is nearing completion, is already inadequate.
Sewage disposal is a greater problem, with groundwater contamination reported from several urban settlements. The DANIDA study projects that vehicular traffic in the MangaloreUdupi corridor will rise by 400 per cent over present levels by AD 2000. Traffic density in this stretch is anyway among the highest in south India.
There is a dire need for strong regional level planning to regulate the changes and prevent their worst consequences. "The collapse of civic infrastructure and regulation will only encourage industry and everybody else to exploit and abuse the environment all the more," warns Rama-swamy. "We have prepared a good plan and it is for the government to implement it," is the noncommital comment of Fleming Mouritsen, senior coordinator, DANIDA. The state has demonstrated little energy or inclination to implement this environmental master plan for Daskhina Kannada.
The hina Kannada Movement has vigourously focused attaintion on the probable imminent environmental future of the district. It also appears to be the only local body with sufficient energy for forcing the agents and groups which have made this future imminent, to work towards its mitigation. Ron Somers asserts his desire for a Citizens Advisory Council from the local population which would oversee all the environmental aspects of the Cogentrix power plant. Cogentrix is also prepared to contribute its share of a regional master plan that maybe made compulsory for all incoming industry in Dakshina Kannnada.
"We must develop capabilities and influence to operationalise the ideal that industrial projects be vetted by representatives of all the communities that may be affected," says Shanbagh.
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