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Farmers ransack offices to protest power plants

It seems the people’s opposition to proposed power plants that endanger the environment is leaving the state government squirm with unease.

india Updated: Apr 20, 2011 02:16 IST
Pradip Kumar Maitra

It seems the people’s opposition to proposed power plants that endanger the environment is leaving the state government squirm with unease.

The public hearing on the issue of the perceived threat to environment arising out of the three proposed thermal power projects in Yavatmal was indefinitely postponed when locals of Kolura village ransacked the venue on Tuesday morning.

The Maharashtra State Pollution Control Board had proposed a public hearing under the chairmanship of the district collector Sanjay Deshmukh at Kolura village in Ner tehsil of the district on Tuesday. According to reports, hundreds of villagers gathered at the venue and shouted slogans against the government and the projects. However, before the hearing, locals went berserk and damaged the furniture and sound system.

Subsequently, the resident collector of the district announced an indefinite postponement of the hearing. This incident dealt a fresh jolt to the ruling DF government after strong opposition to the proposed Jaitapur nuclear power project in Raigarh and Sofia power project in Amravati in Vidarbha.

Locals, especially the farming community, have decided to oppose the projects at Bijora in Mahagaon, Kolura in Ner and another in Wani tehsil. They fear that water from Bembla dam (which is yet to be completed) meant for irrigation purposes, will be diverted to the new super thermal plants.

Together, these three plants are slated to produce over 4000-MW electricity but in doing so, farmers would be deprived of water meant for irrigation. The other concern being the threat to the environment as the power plants would spew ash that could destroy huge tracts of farmland especially when its deposits are carried far by rainwater.

For Yavatmal district, the epicentre of the agrarian crisis, irrigation facilities are desperately needed to tide over the vagaries of monsoon. However, if large amount of water is diverted to the power plants, the farmers will again be left high and dry.

Little known Jinbhuvish Power Generation Pvt Ltd is proposing to set up a 1260-MW plant at Bijora and 1660-MW plant in Ner at an estimated cost of Rs 5,040 crore and Rs 5,280 crore respectively. Cotton belt of western Vidarbha has already witnessed suicide by over 8,000 farmers in the last one decade. They had been desperately waiting for irrigation facilities to tide over irregular monsoons. But influx of a large number of power plants by private players in Vidarbha region may raise new challenges for farming community, it is feared.

Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti president Kishore Tiwari said, "All major political parties have joined hands to rob the people of Vidarbha of precious water, mineral and forests," said Tiwari, adding that his organisation would launch a massive movement against the projects.

“We will not allow those proposed power plants to take our irrigation water for their purposes,” says Mohan Jadhav, a farmers’ leader who led the Tuesday agitation at Kolura.

“Its unfortunate,” says Sanjay Deshmukh, the collector of Yavatmal. “I was held up with an official work and deputed my resident deputy collector for the hearing. The locals could have participated in the hearing and expressed their views in the hearing in a peaceful manner,” he said.

According to him, the Shiv Sena legislator Sanjay Rathod led the agitation and provoked the farmers against the government and the projects.

The Maharashtra government has sanctioned 62 thermal power projects across the state of which 52 will come up in Vidarbha. Of these, three projects are slated to come up at Yavatmal.

Barring Wani, there are no coal deposits either in Mahagaon or Ner tehsils. Each power project needs 21,600 cubic metres of water.

Most of the major irrigation projects in the district are funded from the prime minister’s special package which was primarily aimed at giving a new lease of life to farmers in debt and those hit by natural calamities.