KRRS Martyrs remembered as Karnataka village Muttagi struggles against thermal power project

Agitation against NTPC power plant in Muttagi and commemoration of Farmer Martyrs’ Day

KRRS farmers show solidarity with the people of Muttagi after a police shooting took place at a similar protest on July 5th, outside the NTPC power and ask for a judicial probe into the shooting.

On Monday 21 July, 2014, thousands of farmers came from all over Karnataka, mobilized by Karnataka Rajya Rayta Sangha, to lend solidarity to a farmers in North Karnataka struggling against the construction of a thermal power plant just outside their, Muttagi (Bijapur District). It is only fitting that the day marks the Farmer’s Association’s Martyrs’ day, as on July 21, 1980 another police shooting of farmers took place at Naragund.  The plant in question is the NTPC power plant at Kudgi, in which 12 crores rs has already been invested as a step towards so-called “development.” Farmers in Muttagi are adamant that the disastrous health impacts (such as in-utero affects on babies and respiration problems) as well as environmental effects (poisoning of soil and draining of groundwater) seen as a result of other thermal power plants in India should not become a permanent part of their day-to-day reality.

Minute of silence for martyrs

Farmers’ protest for life & livelihood met with gunfire from police

On 5 July, almost 10,000 farmers from 10 to 15 villages surrounding Kudgi organised a protest and tried to storm the gates of the power plant. Women were pushed to the front of the crowd to discourage the police from physical violence. The police were unfazed, and charged at the crowd using lathi. When this was an unsuccessful deterrent, shots were fired by the police. Basuraj Chimmaragi, the former Gram Panchayat President of Muttagi, whose leg was fractured as a result of the stampede, said that the official reports were misleading: while two people had bullet wounds, over 50 people were injured and rushed to the hospital.

Kudgi NTPC Power Plant on 21 July 2014

In the face of such danger, farmers continue to fight. The proposed thermal power plant, will have a generation capacity of 4000 MW and will use water from the Alamatti reservoir, a dam built on the Krishna river. Most local farmers have non-irrigated land and the Krishna river is a major source of irrigation. If diverted towards the power plant, given that the monsoons are become more unreliable every year, the farmers will have close to nothing to fall back on. Though the company has acquired around 2995 acres of land in Kudgi, the effects of the plant will spread to over 40 of the villages in the periphery.

Public awareness grew when Mr. M.P. Patil, a retired atomic scientist from the village of Masuti, took it upon himself ti educating the people about the thermal plant’s repercussions. He later filed a case in the Supreme Court which will be heard on August 5th. Patil campaigned in villages through video screenings of documentaries of other power plants in India, such as in Ranchi. He explained to villagers that the plant would not only will it affect the air and soil adversely, but these villages will get none of the benefits from the plant, with one-sixth of the total electricity produced in already existing power stations being transferred only to Bangalore. There are now 6 cases pending against Mr. Patil, due to which he has gone into hiding. Similarly, after the July 5th protests, over 27 farmers have pending criminal cases against them.

Farmers’ response to so-called “Development”

Farmers’ leaders encouraged government energy policies to shift towards sustainable energy sources. Puttanaiah, MLA from Mandya District, challenged India’s tendency towards coal power plants when the rest of the world is giving up on them. He also demanded a judicial inquiry into the police firing.

“The NTPC is the kind of project that our government calls ‘Development’! But development for whom?” asked Nandini Jayaram, KRRS Women’s Wing President. “They promise to build railroads and give electricity, but without water we cannot grow food. What use is a railroad if we are starving?”

Women sit in protest against the backdrop of the power plant and fertile farmland

But some Muttagi residents find that they are already starving, and NTPC is a short-term solution. One marginal farmer found relief when she and her daughter secured cleaning jobs at the NTPC. She says she hides her face from disapproving neighbors as she goes to work everyday, along with one thousand local coworkers at the plant – all salaried as office boys, cleaners, and other laborers. Her 2 acres of land could not support her family, which she heads as a single mother, and so the combined 17,000 INR/month she and her daughter make at NTPC provide her “rozi roti.” She told us, “I’m not sure if the videos they showed of places like Ranchi are doctored or not… such as babies being born without limbs… but, regardless, at this point I’m unwilling to fight. I need the money here and now.”

Shankaramma of Muttagi

Other women gathered at the protest are hopeful that with KRRS backing their efforts to stop the erection of the power plant will be more organised and that they will eventually succeed in stopping NTPC. Shantabai, a protester, says, “My family discourages me from being involved in this struggle. But even if I die during this struggle, it does not matter. At least that will be a honourable death.” Adds Gangabai, “I do not even have land where I can be buried anymore! If I die, I will die a martyr’s death, and at least they can bury me though my family cannot.”

The government has taken an extremely firm stance and has refused to stop the development of the power despite the growing unrest among the people of the region. Though official figures say that about 70% of the construction is complete, it is alleged that in reality only 30% of the plant has been built.  But if the government refuses to budge, then the people of the land along with the KRRS are willing to match them step for step. Like their slogan says, “Come what may, let us unite.” And that is exactly what they are doing.

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