16 OCT, 2010, The Economic Times
Can a narrow strip of land that is so rich in plant and animal life that it is recognised as a global biodiversity hotspot retain its character even after hosting 19 thermal and nuclear power plants amounting to 35,000 MW, 56 open-cast mines and 43 private ports?
This is the question that activists from Konkan such as Vaishali Patil have been asking. “If all these mega-projects are crammed into the three contiguous coastal districts of Raigad, Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg, will we able to maintain the ecological balance so vital for the livelihood of the people?,” she asks. Patil, who is emerging as the Medha Patkar of Konkan, was chosen to coordinate the recent Konkan trip of Prof Madhav Gadgil, chairperson of the ecology expert panel on Western Ghats appointed by the ministry of environment and forests. Villagers told Gadgil how pollution from big factories and mines was destroying the thriving horticulture (chiefly mangoes and cashew nuts) in the region.
An electronics engineer by education, Patil said she organised protests against individual projects but soon realised that there were too many projects to tackle one by one. The villagers fighting the projects and proposed projects have now banded together under the umbrella of the Konkan Vinashkari Prakalp Samiti, of which Patil (40) is the convenor. Although, she is left-leaning, the Samiti is not aligned to any political party. “We are against this development model which has no human face, which is driven by greed and which threatens to destroy the fragile ecology of the region,” she said. According to her, the logic of so many mining and thermal power projects in the coastal districts of Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg is simple. “Iron ore from the mines is shipped to China and Japan and in the return journey the ships can carry coal for the thermal power plants.”
The activist says that the privatisation of the 43 ports is to facilitate these projects but nothing is being done for fishermen who are complaining that these projects are blocking their channels. Fishermen in Gholap, Ratnagiri, pointed this out to Gadgil. “Not a penny has been spent on a fishing harbour in Ratnagiri,” Vaishali said. One of the earliest protests against mining was in Kalane village in Dodamarg taluka of Sindhudurg on the old Mumbai-Goa highway. It taught villagers how to to oppose similar projects in the neighbouring villages of Dongerpal, Asniye and Galel. “We have now learnt to speak up and realise that it is not only the fight for our village but for the entire Konkan,” Sampada Desai, who led the women of Kalane, told Gadgil.
The villagers are angry at the projects being foisted on them and that too surreptitiously. The government resolution of January 2, ’09, zeroing on Sindhudurg for mining and thermal projects was burnt in every village. The Samiti is now asking for the implementation of the Kadrekar-Pendse committee report which had identified 43 micro hydel projects. It also wants more incentives to be given for horticulture, which is the mainstay of this region.
“Our fight is for the community’s right to natural resources. It is a livelihood issue for them as they depend on the environment,” said Patil, adding that the challenge was to take this message to the middle class. The people of Konkan have been betrayed so often, she says, that they can’t be blamed for being slightly cynical about the ecology expert panel despite the earnest efforts of Prof Gadgil. “However, we are looking forward to the transparency promised by Prof Gadgil, who pledged to put all the reports on the Net,” said Patil. Gadgil has already said that prima facie there are deficiencies in the environment impact assessment reports of some of the proposed projects.
Prof Gadgil has asked the villagers to mail their objections to him and also asked them what kind of industries they want. “We look at it as an opportunity to reemphasise the kind of development model we would like to have,” said Patil.