War for water in a 'Desert District'
The solar thermal power plant under construction in Anantapur district was welcomed initially by the local people. They thought the venture was...
The solar thermal power plant under construction in Anantapur district was welcomed initially by the local people. They thought the venture was 'developmental' in their backward area and the technology to be used was 'environmentally clean'. So they felt happy on those two counts. However, when they began to see later that it may affect the scarce water resources of their officially declared 'Desert District', they started to demand the Company to use less water-intensive technologies or search for alternative sources of water. Ashok Tankasala, who visited the area recently, takes a look at the issue. Why is Ramanjaneyulu worried? We are already having problem due to drought conditions for the last so many years. No water in the river. Bores are going down and failing. If the Company digs such a big well and draws water through such big pipes what should be our fate? When I introduced myself to Talari Ramanjaneyulu, as a media man, he was instantly irritated. "So what? You will write about me and send me to jail!" He looked into my eyes straight accusing me of being "a Company man". It took a while for me to convince him that I was none of the kind and was genuinely a media representative. Ramanjaneyulu, a small farmer of Chitturu village in the Peddavadaguru Mandal of Anantapur district, had engaged a JBC and was busy getting a long trench filled with earth. The trench passed through his agricultural land. Lying around were water-pipes, some of which had already been lowered into the dug outs. The farmer was angry because "the Company people" had done all that when he was away from the village. "How can they do this in my land without my knowledge or permission?" He says when he noticed the happenings upon his return he confronted "the Company people". They promised to fill it up "but did nothing". Finally, not knowing how to deal with them, he felt compelled to engage a JBC on his own, spending a total of Rs 3,200 for a four-hour job. Ramanjaneyulu, with his young daughter listening to him keenly, and pointing his finger to his field a little away, wondered what may happen to it if the Company extracted water from the huge well built in the bed of River Penna. " We are already having problem due to drought conditions for the last so many years. No water in the river. Bores are going down and failing. If the Company digs such a big well and draws water through such big pipes what should be our fate? That is why all our people are agitated", he explained. The Company he was referring to is 'Concentrated Solar Power Project', or 'Solar Thermal Power Project', being set up by MEIL Green Power Ltd., at Nagalapuram village of Peddavaduguru Mandal in Anantapur district on the banks of River Penna. It is, as per its Project Design Document (PDD), is a 50 MW project with a financial layout of RS 765 crore. Normally speaking, a solar or solar thermal power project should not have become a matter of controversy. Using solar heat to generate power, unlike the polluting fuels of coal or oil, it is universally categorized as a 'clean energy'/ 'green energy' sector falling under Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) category. For this reason the project was submitted to the CDM Executive Board of the UNFCC (UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) for incentives. However, the MEIL Green's Anantapur venture designed to use water regularly both for heating and cooling purposes, has attracted controversy. It is solely because the district is a drought-prone one. Because of this situation the local villagers backed by some activists and NGOs have been representing to the district administration to halt the work. They even organized an all-party meeting which expressed solidarity with them. In the last week of April Rajendar Singh, Magasaysay Awardee known as 'Water Man on India', also visited the site and addressed a letter to the Central Ground Water Board asking it to stop what he termed as an "illegal and immoral" venture. At the time of going to the press, several farmers and other protestors taken into police custody under non-bailable charges were languishing in the Anantapur jail. Grounds for opposition There are several reasons why there is opposition to the Anantapur Solar Thermal plant. Some of them are as follows:
- Anantapur is a drought-prone district with an annual average rainfall of 510 mm. It is the lowest for any district in the entire South India. It was officially declared as a 'Desert District' 1995. Added to this, the average rainfall in the area where the solar plant is being constructed is still lower at 419 mm.
- There have been no water flows in the river Penna after 2005. Ground waters in the region, even in the river bed area, have been going down. A good number of bore wells on either side of the river have already gone dry. They say the permissions given by authorities are against the WALTA Act, 2002.
- According to villagers the Company has never told them that the unit required regular water supplies. They thought it was photo voltaic plant using solar heat alone. The Company claims that it was mentioned in public hearing that it was a 'thermal' one. But it is difficult to imagine farmers and other villagers not raising any questions regarding water extraction and usage, had they been told and explained that it was a 'thermal one, particularly in a severe drought prone area.
- As per villagers they were told by the Company that the well in the river bed was meant for drinking water purpose. When the well turned out to be a huge one and 1 ft diameter pipes were being laid to carry water they got suspicious.
- What will be the fate of their own small bore wells and agricultural plots located in the river bed and also along the river banks?
- Then the very sight of five vast reservoir tanks, each spread over about 5 acres with a depth of about 20 feet, intimidate them to no end. They are "sure" that the Company will fill them with waters from the river well, various small natural channels around and continuous infiltration from the depths of the river.
- Villagers are apprehensive that the water extraction will affect hundreds of bore wells, agriculture and drinking water availability in about 20 villages spread over Peddavadaguru and Singanamala Mandals.