AP: Statement by HRF against Vandalization of Sompeta Wetland

July 4, 2018

Press Release

28-6-2018

Visakhapatnam

The Human Rights Forum (HRF) demands that the government initiate steps immediately to ensure that the Sompeta wetland (known locally as the beela) in Srikakulam district is not vandalised further by the Nagarjuna Construction Company (NCC). All attempts by the NCC to set up an “industrial park” must be disallowed since it will devastate the lives of thousands of farmers and fisher-folk in the region and will destroy an area that has significant ecological value. 

A HRF team along with activists of the Sompeta-based Paryavarana Parirakshana Samithi (PPS) visited the beela on Wednesday. We were shocked to see land abutting the beela dug up in an area of almost 200 acres ostensibly to undertake aqua farming by Savitra Agri Industrial Park Pvt Ltd, a company set up by the NCC. Following protests by local farmers, the digging, which took place in mid-May this year, was halted. The threat of this precious wetland and immediate surroundings being destroyed in future, however, remains.

It may be recalled that the government facilitated the proposal by the NCC to set up a thermal plant in the area by alienating 972 acres, constituting a substantial portion of the beela, through G.O 1107 in 2008. Ever since, there was a sustained agitation by the people against the project leading to three farmers losing their lives in police firing on 14-7-2010. Subsequently, the National Environment Appellate Authority (NEAA) revoked the environmental clearance accorded to the project.

 The HRF and many organisations, concerned citizens and environmentalists have repeatedly pointed out that handing over of the beela to the NCC was illegal and riddled with gross irregularities. We have emphasised that any industrial activity in a precious wetland is deeply flawed since it will destroy rich biodiversity and subvert the livelihood of farmers, fisher-folk and members of the occupational classes. In fact, any such construction is in contravention of the Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules as well as the Biological Diversity Act. The NEAA order vindicated our stand.

Instead of resuming the 972 acres given to the NCC as well as several hundred acres of the wetland ajdacent to this extent that the NCC had purchased from farmers in a patently illegal manner, the government issued G.O 329 in September 2015 facilitating the setting up of a ‘multi-product industrial zone’ by the NCC! This compounds the collective criminality. Governments are supposed to preserve precious ecosystems for future generations, not be actively complicit in their wanton destruction. 

The deleterious impacts of aqua farming are well known. It destroys local ecosystems and pollutes the land and water. In the beela area this would mean the discharge of waste, pesticides and other chemicals directly into a fragile and priceless wetland. This is a low-lying swamp area serving as a rich biological wetland with high ecological importance. This unique habitat ought to be preserved, not handed over to corporate criminals out to inflict irreversible damage. 

We demand that the government take immediate steps to halt any construction by the NCC in the area. G.O 329 must be rescinded, the government must resume the land with the NCC and concrete measures taken, in consulation with the local people, to preserve this valuable wetland.

KV Jagannadha Rao (HRF AP State vice-president)

K Sudha (HRF AP State general secretary)

VS Krishna (HRF AP&TS Co-ordination Committee member)