In mid-1990s the Mega Power Project policy met with limited success. Hence, aligned with the objective of ‘Power to all by 2012’, the Government of India started planning Ultra Mega Power Projects (UMPP) in 2005 to meet the energy demands required for the economic growth in the county. Each of the projects with an installed capacity of 4000 MW was envisaged with the intent to make power available at minimum cost through economies of scale and superior, energy efficient and environment-friendly technology. This also ascertains the fact that it is needed to change our mindset and find ways to strike a balance between economic growth and sustainability.
In line with this vision, Tata Power, India’s leading power company has established Coastal Gujarat Power Limited, India’s first Ultra Mega Power Project which is one of the most energy efficient plant using supercritical technology resulting in substantially lower CO2 emissions as compared to most of conventional thermal power plants in the country. Along with being a benchmark project not only in India but also on world map, it is in discussions at international level as it is funded by World Bank agencies like IFC and ADB.
Mundra UMPP is located near the coast of Mundra-Mandvi in Kutch region and is based on once through cooling water system for cooling purpose using sea water as its prime source of water. Its footprint in this region is evident from the efforts made for improving quality of life of local communities including fisher communities in this region. The conviction in the words above has come over by studying Mundra UMPP’s interventions and projects for the betterment of community in this region. This has been preceded by coming across a petition filed on change.org against Mundra UMPP which aroused my curiosity to understand the ground reality.
Coming back to petition, it has been created about a month back on Change.org, an online social activism platform, urging members to show support in cancelling the funding of Tata Power’s Mundra plant by IFC, the international financing arm of the World Bank. The petitioner is a woman named ‘Aminaben’ about whom much information is not available except a photograph posted in the petition.
The petition seems to be in continuation of a complaint to IFC regarding social and environmental impact to fishermen on account of Mundra UMPP Project by a trade union called MASS (Machimar Adhikar Sangharsh Sangathan). In this regard, CAO-IFC (Compliance Advisor Ombudsman, IFC) team had visited the site and assessed the performance vis a vis the complaint filed by MASS. CAO and IFC team commented favourably for Mundra UMPP project. (Ref: http://www.cao-ombudsman.org/cases/document-links/links-171.aspx)
The petition has been made on basis of three major issues viz. Blocking the access of fisherfolks to the fishing grounds, Impacting breeding grounds of marine creatures and Depleting fish catch due to the construction of outfall channel.
On thorough research of the ground reality, it could be ascertained that there exists a paradox between the basis of petition and actual facts. As it stands, the access of fisherfolk to the fishing grounds hasn’t been blocked.To ensure continued access of fishing communities to the inter-tidal areas and fishing site, following measures have been taken by Mundra UMPP
- Alternate road has been provided which is connecting Tragadi village to Tragadi Bunder including construction of bridge over the outfall channel
- Approach road has been provided upto Tragadi bunder so as to access the fishing site
- Boat has been provided to cross the outfall channel and reach the fishing site
Furthermore, company has taken up various intensive studies for biodiversity in this region. National Institute of Oceanography has been commissioned by Mundra UMPP to undertake Marine Impact Assessment study prior to construction of outfall channel. It has also engaged Bombay Natural History Society to conduct thorough studies in this region. The biodiversity study reports are available on Tata Power website which clearly shows its commitment towards biodiversity conservation.
Petition also refers to depletion in fish catch. In lieu of any factual data to back the basis of petition, the Fisheries department data was referred which shockingly revealed that the bunder referred above isn’t even a government recognized fishing site and therefore no data of fish catch is available in government records for this site. Detailed study of the trend of fish catch in Kutch region over the years revealed that the fish catch trend for Kutch fluctuates from year to year following a cyclic pattern and depletion in fish catch deviating from this cyclic pattern was not observed.
Moreover, Tragadi Bunder is a temporary fishing site where once the fishing season is over, the seasonal resident fisherfolk return to their villages leaving no structures behind; temporarily, semi permanent or permanent.
However, Mundra UMPP has partnered with reputed government and non-governmental organizations for livelihood enhancement for seasonal migrant fishing communities residing in this region. It has also engaged with Aga Khan Society for Rural Development Program (India) to implement the Sagarbandhu project dedicated to the development of the fishing community. Such programs includes distribution of solar lights on fishing boat, better fishing nets to fishermen and fish selling equipment to fisherwomen.
The efforts taken by Mundra UMPP for social development in this region are described by Anwar Hussain, the sarpanch of Tragadi village as “The Company has undertaken varied initiatives for the development of the village. There were no social and economic provisions in the village before, now there are development efforts and employment opportunities all around us. They have provided extensive livelihood support, tools to fishermen like fishing nets, built approach roads for our community and invested in other infrastructure amenities. These interventions have helped fishermen increase their productivity and in turn their income levels. Education plays a very important part in any area’s development. With their various interventions in education the area will definitely prosper in the coming years. We are certain that the Company’s presence will bring in a new wave of development in our village. Our journey for prosperity and development with CGPL has started, with a focus on partnerships, and we believe that together we will be able to build a sustainable and happy community.”
Mundra UMPP continues to work with communities to find sustainable solution for their holistic development while providing reliable power to 4 million households in five states of the country.
It is expected that India will continue to be dependent on coal to meet its power requirements and therefore the need of the hour is to promote thermal power projects with supercritical technology that will result in lower greenhouse gas emission and superior performance that average in India, as a way to meet the increasing power demand for the growth of the country.