The Struggle Against India's Coal Rush
As the Sierra Club reaches out to activists, we hear common themes of violence, corruption, intimidation, toxic pollution and economic ruin emerging from coal affected communities worldwide. For example, after seeing pictures of coal affected communities in the United States in a recent workshop, a colleague from India kept uttering "that's Singrauli."
Whether its thousands facing displacement from the massive Phulbari strip mine in Bangladesh, thousands of South Africans facing a lifetime of toxic coal pollution (thanks to the U.S. Export Import Bank-financed Kusile coal project) in the Highveld area, activists in Appalachia facing down violent company thugs, or human rights and environmental campaigners facing arrest in Chattisgarh, India, our stories are bound by a common thread. It's time we as a global community of activists recognize the similarity of our stories, and stand together in a global beyond coal movement that ends coal's destructive presence in all of our lives.
Nowhere is the story of coal affected communities playing itself out in a more grotesque way than India, where a coal rush is occurring with a mind-boggling 173 coal fired power plants approved last year alone. When you account for holidays and weekends that is nearly one project every day. The sheer scale of this expansion leaves local communities to bear the brunt of an increasingly violent onslaught of land acquisition, displacement, corruption and intimidation, along with a toxic legacy of localized pollution.
Within India, perhaps the most emblematic struggle is occurring in Andhra Pradesh (AP), where 63 power plants totaling 56 GW of coal fired power are proposed. This is Texas-sized development on steroids. (It's in fact double the installed capacity in Texas - the U.S. state with the most megawatts of coal capacity).
Last July in a village in Srikakulam, locals defying an imposed curfew and the groundbreaking of a new coal plant were met with police brutality that resulted in two deaths, while four others sustained bullet wounds. Six months later, police marched into another village, conducted mass arrests and broke into the home of two local activists – 30-year-old C Erraiah and 36-year-old Giri Nageswar Rao – who they shot dead. As recently as March 2011, two more villagers were killed and 25 wounded in a police raid that hit 50 homes in yet another village in Srikakulam.
The violence in Srikakulam has lead to an interim halt on the enormous 2,640 megawatt Sompeta plant, which comes on the heels of a petition filed by Mr. Srinivas Murthy on behalf of the communities in Sompeta. The interim stay gives people breathing room, but unless the Government Order providing for land allocation gets repealed, the struggle continues.
What is going on in the blood-stained battleground of AP, lays bare the egregious attempts by coal companies like Peabody to cloak themselves in the language of development. The truth is: whether you live in Appalachia, the Highveld, Phulbari, Chattisgarh, or Andhra Pradesh, coal is a Faustian bargain. Across the world, communities like those in Sompeta are standing up and rejecting that bargain by waging brave struggles to retain their land, health, and community cohesion.
Co-written by Mary Anne Hitt (Director of the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign) and Justin Guay (Sierra Club International Program). Photo is of several massive coal plants in Singrauli, India, taken by Nicole Ghio.