State government violated Supreme Court directions and own orders
The Comptroller and Auditor General's (CAG) report, placed in the Andhra Pradesh Assembly on March 30, has indicted the state government for not considering the environmental impact of the proposed thermal power plant by Nagarjuna Construction Company Infrastructure Holdings Ltd (NCC). The CAG report has observed that the state government violated the directions of the Supreme Court and also its own order regarding water bodies and wetlands while allotting land to the company in Sompeta block of Srikakulam district.
The report, which delves into the details of the land allotments by the state government from 2006 to 2011, observes that while considering a special leave petition in 2001, the Supreme Court had clearly stated that forests, water bodies and other natural resources maintain a delicate ecological balance, and hence they need to be protected for a healthy environment. In 2000, the state government had issued an order prohibiting alienation of water bodies for any purpose. The report observes that the state government violated the apex court’s directions along with the rules made by the state government.
The state government in September 2008 has allotted 423.4 hectares (ha) of land to the company for setting up a 1,980 MW coal-based power plant. The CAG report observes that out of this land, 393.6 ha constitute a water body. The area is a huge swamp submerged throughout the year and is used by fishermen for inland fishing and also as a source of drinking water. The swamp is a natural habitat for more than 120 resident and migratory birds and is internationally recognised as a wetland ecosystem.
The state government allotted land to NCC based on a report of the district collector of Srikakulam submitted in June 2008 to the chief commissioner of land administration. The report dealt with the details of the government lands to be alienated to the company. This excluded 44.6 ha under agriculture and the area within the coastal regulation zone. Later in 2009, this was also included in the area to be allotted to the company through another notification.
The collector’s report had described the government land as a swamp and a water course. It also took note of the fishing activity in the swamp. But the report failed to disclose three lift irrigation projects operating there. In 2003, the government had issued an instruction to all the district collectors in the state to notify all lands with water bodies and include them in the village Prohibitory Order Books so that such land could be excluded from diversion and damage.
Wetland shown as wasteland
The district collector’s report conveniently suppressed this fact and described the land in question as “wasteland” and “non-cultivable”, in order to pave the way for allotting it to NCC.
Despite the activists’ repeated submissions that the alienated land was a part of a 20 km-long unique, fertile coastal wetland system that stretches through Sompeta, Kanchili and Kaviti blocks, spread over 1,619 ha, and that thirty villages in these three blocks depend on these wetlands for their living, the state government has been taking a stance that the allotted land was wasteland. In fact, the swamp, rich with biodiversity, supports over 200,000 people, including farmers, fishers and artisans.
Three persons were killed on July 14, 2010, when police opened fire at a peaceful gathering of people protesting against the plant. On June 23 last year, a single bench of the Andhra Pradesh High Court had ordered a stay on the land allotment to the company.
The report observes that the special chief Secretary and chief commissioner for land administration in his reply to CAG has “confirmed that the allotted land was a swamp but stated that it was being used only by fishermen for catching fish for their livelihood and since it was not considered good enough for any other activity, it was allotted for setting up a thermal plant.”
'Government reply not acceptable'
“The reply is not acceptable, because the National Environmental Appellate Authority (NEAA) quashed on July 2010 the environmental clearance given by Expert Appraisal Committee of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), ordering the state government not to alienate such lands,” says the report. Besides, the state irrigation department, in response to a Right to Information application, in November 2009, revealed that three minor irrigation projects were taken up in the area with ayacut (irrigated area) of 303.5 ha. Of these two have already been commissioned (ayacut of 202.3 ha), says the report.
The report further observes that failure of the state government in taking note of the environmental impact of this project resulted in alienation of the water body to NCC, despite the company’s not having obtained the requisite clearances for setting up the power plant from the Union ministries of power and environment.