Farmers and fishermen opposing the construction of a thermal power plant in Sompeta, Andhra Pradesh, have been boosted by the findings of an environmental research body. Appointed by the government to study the district’s wetlands, the Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History reports that the land where the plant would be built is a “major shelter for biodiversity and water security.” This directly contradicts the government’s assertion that the disputed area is wasteland. Protests against the project have been ongoing for the past two years and have cost three lives in clashes with police. Opponents of the project say it will destroy the area’s ponds and swamplands, depriving them of their homes and jobs. “If the plant comes up, 200,000 people - farmers, fisher folk and artisans from 30 villages - will be homeless,” said one protester. Natti Gopal, president of the local fishermen’s union, said the Nagarjuna construction company bought 600 acres and was allotted a further 900 acres by the government, to build the plant. Known for its greenery and biodiversity, the land supports three lift-irrigation projects, catering to 750 acres of farmland. “But the government officials altered the records so they described the land as dry wasteland,” Gopal alleged. A local resident added that “the company bought the land on the pretext of developing fishponds and paid more than the market price for it. We realized only later that it was bought to build a thermal power plant.” The protesters are supported by Paryaavarana Parirakshana Sangham, an environmental conservation association. “The proposed plant would burn 34,245 tons of coal and spew about 14,380 tons of ash,” said Y. Krishnamurthy, president of the association. “It would deposit 226 tons of sulphur and other toxics like mercury, lead, zinc, cadmium, arsenic and chromium.” “Hot water from the plant will be released into the sea. The deposits will kill the biodiversity and destroy people’s livelihoods.” One association member added: “we are asking the government to protect the environment and natural resources, but they kill protesters and file fictitious cases.” Another accused politicians of being “sold to big companies. They make laws and resolutions in their interests and claim that they are acting as per law. They are not working in the interests of the people, but for business people and big firms.” With state minister Dharmana Prasada Rao insisting that the government will not only go ahead with the plant but also bring more projects to the area, it appears that this dispute is far from over.
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