UPCL starts Unit 2 – Development doubles or the problems?
Udupi: Undeterred by huge criticism and numerous protests, the Udupi Power Corporation Limited (UPCL) has gone a step ahead by kicking off the operations of its second unit on September 12, raising many eyebrows over its environmental and agricultural impacts on the villages of Padubidri.
“UPCL is an illegal company. It has not only failed to procure a Panchayat licence but also the DC chairmanship, therefore the company is in violation of all government laws and regulations,” alleged Vijaykumar Hegde, President, Viroda Horata Samiti. He had led a hunger strike against the conglomerate, staged in front of District Commissioner (DC) office on August 28 which was supported by leaders of organisations like the Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha (KRRS), Janajagriti Samiti Shashidhar and Traditional Boat Fishermen’s Association.
Backed by Karnataka State Government, the coal-based power plant will now produce a total of 1200 MW power. “We provide almost 37 percent of the total Karnataka State Power base catering to the power needs of cities like Mangalore, Mysore, Hubli, Manipal, etc.,” informs Kishore Alva, Vice President (Corporate Affairs) of the company.
Since it’s commissioning, the power plant has been condemned for many reasons; be it methods of waste-disposal or its very nature (see the UPCL monologues). Its critical location has always been under question as it lies in the ecologically sensitive coastal strip between the Western Ghats and the Arabian Sea. Despite of these complexities, neither the government conducted a study of the carrying capacity of the coastal districts before permitting this project, nor had it arranged for a mandatory public hearing before setting up the plant.
Hegde who has opposed the power plant ever since it started its operations also adds, “According to the Airport Authority of India, no industry should be set up within a 25 km radius around any airport. However, UPCL is only 15 km away from the Mangalore Airport, making the runway prone to disaster. UPCL is also under contempt of court for deforestation of land; therefore we have filed a case against the company in the Supreme Court of India”.
Rubbishing these claims Alva retorts, “What nonsensical allegations are these? If you go abroad there are power corporations in cities like Hong Kong producing as much as 4200 MW power and are within 15 km from the airport. They do not have any problems, so why should we?”
But Hegde’s complaints do not end here. He also goes onto claim that the villages do not get an adequate amount of electricity despite being in proximity to the power plant. According to official reports, UPCL produces about 300 tonnes of fly ash per day. The dumping of this fly ash is carried out in Mudarangadi village, in a pond which is surrounded by around 1000 families within its two km radius. The villagers in the vicinity of this fly ash pond complain about respiratory and skin ailments while they watch their crops and the foliage dying a slow death. Not to forget, the discharge of effluents into the seas from the plant threatens the fish stock in this coastal belt.
However Alva asserts, “We usually import our coal from Australia and are using better filters (FDD filters installed) to reduce the ash content coming out of the chimneys to minimal levels. As far as our promise of green rehabilitation goes, the government had rendered us with 1500 acres of land, out of which only 700 acres was utilised by us for setting up the corporation. If we weren’t concerned about the environment we could have utilised all of 1500 acres; but we consider the environment as an important aspect while taking major decisions.” “We assure you there is not even a single health problem reported to us till date due to operations of the UPCL,” he adds.
Agricultural concerns of the residents and local environmentalists are brushed away by the DC. “The allegation of 35000 acres of agricultural land being affected is false, and enough measures were taken before setting up the plant. There are no such emissions as all the fly ash is directly taken to the cement factories through enclosed pipes,” said Dr. M.T. Reju, DC, Udupi District. “Also, the other petition of conversion of the plant from coal base to gas base is overruled, because it is not possible to change the machinery of the whole plant at once. Similarly, the claim of inadequate electricity is untrue as enough electricity to meet the substantial needs of the residents is provided; as much as 130 MW,” he added.
Infuriated Hegde has more reasons to worry as he snaps, “More than being a public servant, the DC of Udupi is a spokesperson or an agent for the company; complying with the needs and demands of the corporation. Moreover we are tired of submitting appeals, with the government turning a deaf ear to our concerns.” If the government feels a need to increase the power generation we might come up with more units in the future, foresees Alva.
“It is shameful if you put India’s state in front of foreign nations. If the country would not have sufficient infrastructure, how do you expect it to grow and prosper? It is because of these individuals that today our country is hitting the road blocks, and not prospering as it should,” he adds.
People like Hegde and the local residents share his concern when he says, “Do you think the Rs. 7000 crore invested in this project is a joke?
Sub-edited by Priyanka Sharma