People boycott magisterial inquiry into Sompeta, Kakarapalli firing

Say have no faith in the inquiry

By M Suchitra
Published: Friday 16 December 2011

Sticking to their demand for an independent judicial inquiry into the incidents of police firing at Sompeta and Kakarapalli in Andhra Pradesh’s Srikakulam district, people’s organisations here boycotted the magisterial inquiry held on December 14. Around 20 people, who were reportedly local Congress leaders, attended the inquiry held at revenue divisional office at Tekkali, 70 kms from Sompeta.

This is the first phase of inquiry by district administration into the Sompeta firing that occurred on July 14 last year. Three people were killed when police opened fire at the people who were incensed at the Andhra Pradesh government allotting a tract of Sompeta’s wetland, or beela, to private firm Nagarjuna Construction Company (NCC). The company plans to build a 1,980 MW coal-based thermal power project here.

The Kakarapalli firing happened on February 28 in which two persons protesting against the proposed 2,640 MW coal-based power plant were killed. The plant is proposed at 3,333 acres of wetlands by East Coast Energy Private Ltd at a cost of Rs 12,000 crore.

The authorities initiated an inquiry only after the Andhra Pradesh High Court reprimanded the government for not doing so. It is being conducted by joint collector of Srikakulam district E Sridhar and revenue divisional officer V Visweswara Rao. The second phase of the inquiry will be held on December 21.

 “We don’t have any faith in this inquiry,” says Y Krishnamurthy, president of Paryavarana Parirakshana Samithi (PPS), the organisation which leads the agitation against the thermal power project by NCC. PPS has been demanding legal actions against the collector and the police superintendent, alleging that they sided with the company. “How can we accept an inquiry by the joint collector?” he asks.

Though the state government maintains that the proposed site for the power project in Sompeta is a wasteland, it’s, in fact, a part of a 20 km-long unique, fertile coastal wetland system that stretches through Sompeta, Kanchili and Kaviti blocks spreading over 1,619 ha. Thirty villages in these three blocks depend on these wetlands for their living. The swamp supports over two lakh people, including farmers, fishers and artisans. It is rich with biodiversity.

Further, this is harvesting season and farmers cannot leave their work to attend the inquiry held far from their place. Those who attended the inquiry were supporters of the company and the police, says Krishnamurthy. “If the government was serious about the inquiry it should have paid attention to the convenience of the people in Sompeta and Kakarapalli,” says E A S Sarma, former power secretary to the Union government.

On June 23 this year, the high court had suspended a government order allotting 394 ha of land to NCC. PPS is demanding legal action against Srikakulam Collector and Superintendent of police
 for violating the rules and allowing the company to take up the ground leveling works though it had not obtained the required consent for establishment from the State Pollution Control Board.

According to Sarma, the Sompeta project would burn 34,245 tonnes of coal, spew out about 14,380 tonnes of ash and deposit 226 tonnes of sulphur daily. In addition, it will also generate significant quantities of other toxic pollutants such as mercury, lead, zinc, cadmium, arsenic and chromium.

As for Kakarapalli, people from 36 villages are opposing the proposed plant. Kakarapalli swamp is a part of the larger and well-known Naupada swamp, a unique wetland system known for its rich biodiversity. About 20,000 people do salt farming on it, 5,000 fish in its ponds and another 5,000 do farming. Ignoring the livelihood and ecological issues, the Andhra Pradesh Industrial Investment Corporation gave the company 992 ha of the swamp in 2006.

Meanwhile, the relay hunger strike at Kakarapalli under the banner of Bhavanapadu Thermal Vyathireka Porata Samithi opposing the power plant completed 488 days and Sompeta agitation completed 742 days on December 15. 


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