Kerala and Tamil Nadu are the two southernmost states of India, with higher incomes per capita than most of the country, a very ancient history and distinctive politics. This chapter mentions commodities that we find also in other states in India and in other countries across the world: the defence of the organised fishworkers movement in Kerala with international influence; opposition to oil, gas and hydropower; coal mining and CFPP; the dumping of urban waste; water grabbing; land grabbing for urban and industrial infrastructures or tourist development; pesticides and industrial pollution; iron ore mining; copper smelting; nuclear power and a few others. The environmental conflicts offered here show the strength of an environmental justice movement in Southern India and in India as a whole. At least a whole book would be needed for India as a whole, so I chose to have only two chapters. Other conflicts appear in chapter 10 on nuclear power and chapter 11 on biodiversity conservation.

BACKGROUND

Kerala and Tamil Nadu are the two southernmost states of India, with higher incomes per capita than most of the country, a very ancient history and distinctive politics. In May 2019 these two states escaped the “saffron” landslide of Hindutva that engulfed the country's politics and gave Modi a second mandate as prime minister. These are two states which I have visited several times, consorting with activist-scholars such as John Kurien in Kerala and Nityanand Jayaraman in Tamil Nadu. The selection of environmental conflicts offered here attests to the strength of the environmental justice movement in Southern India and in India as a whole, beyond the old relevant short-list of the 1970s and 1980s, namely the Chipko movement, the Appiko movement, the Silent Valley controversy, the Narmada Bachao Andolan, the Bhopal struggle ‒ important as they were. Just only in the “small” state of Kerala (population of 35 million) the EJAtlas gathers around 20 socio-environmental conflicts, some of them so significant internationally as the Fishworkers struggle. Some other cases in Kerala on biodiversity conservation are analyzed in Chapter 11.

KERALA

Fishworkers’ Struggle in Kerala: against a Tragedy of Enclosures 1

This was a protracted conflict (on marine biomass) between small-scale fishermen defending their commons and outside trawlers displaying more potent and economically more efficient engines and gear. A strong fishworkers movement, the Kerala Swathantra Malsya Thozhilali Federation, complained against mechanized trawlers, achieving some successes. A well-known leader was Thomas Kocherry (1940‒2014) (Figure 9.1).

Banner "An event in remembrance of Thomas Kocherry who fought for the cause of fishermen" (held on November 20, 2014 by the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum in Karachi).
Figure 9.1

Banner “An event in remembrance of Thomas Kocherry who fought for the cause of fishermen” (held on 20 November 2014 by the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum in Karachi)

In the 1960s, there was an increasing international demand for prawns, leading the Indian government to promote export-oriented prawn fisheries. Prawns or shrimp can be obtained by fishing in the sea (endangering turtles and other species) or by aquaculture on the coast (often destroying mangrove forests). Mechanized boats were built and training programmes for fishermen on the use of “trawl nets” were introduced. The shift to export-oriented fisheries allowed the entry of capitalists into the fisheries sector, resulting in a gradual marginalization of the traditional fishing community. The new surge in mechanized fisheries had drastic repercussions for the coastal ecosystem. There was a double attack on the fishworkers: first, a reduction in the immediate catch, and second, a threat to the stability of future resources. As John Kurien wrote (1991), technical modernization was leading to a “tragedy of enclosures” because the artisanal fishing communities had been operating as sustainable commons and now the resources were being appropriated by outside trawlers. A movement started and p. 168clashes began. Between 1970 and 1985, more than 50 fishermen were killed due to attacks from mechanized boats.

Traditional fishworkers felt an acute need to organize themselves. There were already district-level organizations, which were controlled by local caste or religious organizations. In 1977, the Latin Catholic Fishermen's Federation (LCFF) formed a state-level organization and submitted a memorandum to the Chief Minister (CM) of Kerala, demanding that mechanized boats be allowed to operate only beyond 5 km from the coast. A second memorandum included a ban on monsoon trawling and the curbing of pollution of inland water resources. In November 1978, the LCFF called a relay hunger strike in Alappuzha, which continued for 59 days, in front of the collectorate (the office where the District Collector sits). The demand was for a comprehensive Marine Regulation Act. On 30 December 1978, a young fisherman called Babu was killed when a mechanized boat rammed into his boat. This shocked the fishing community, and a series of protest marches and retaliatory attacks began to take place. LCFF organized a jeep rally in Trivandrum, and Fr. Paul Arackal, the president, went on an indefinite fast. On 20 March 1980, the LCFF decided to change its name to Kerala Swathantra Malsya Thozhilali Federation (KSMTF), as it felt that fishworkers of all religions should unite under one banner. The term ‘swathantra’ (meaning ‘independent’) referred to its non-affiliation with any political party, and the term ‘malsya thozhilali’ (‘fishworker’) indicated the solidarity with workers in general. It was an intersectional movement, environmental and working-class at the same time. Fr. Albert Parasivala, a Catholic priest, was elected president.

On 24 May 1981, Kerala's government seemed to ban trawling during the monsoon season but an exception was made for the Neendakara area, which had the largest concentration of mechanized boats. This move was opposed by the KSMTF, and on 12 June 50 fishworkers entered the office of the Fisheries Director and were arrested. The next five days saw fishworkers picketing around the residence of the Fisheries Minister, and on 25 June Father Thomas Kocherry and Joychen Antony started an indefinite fast joined by many other fishworkers. On 4 July, the collectorate of Kollam district was surrounded.p. 169

The KSMTF emerged as a strong secular trade union. The percentage of Hindu and Muslim fishworkers increased, and by the end of 1984 it had become the largest trade union among fishworkers. On 10 April 1984, KSMTF submitted a new memorandum to the CM. The government did not respond, and rallies, torchlight processions and door-to-door campaigns were organized at the grassroots level. On 2 May, a sit-in was organized in all districts, and on 15 May A. Joseph sat on an indefinite fast in front of the Kollam collectorate. More than 7,000 fishworkers courted arrest, and the national highway was picketed by over 1,000 women. After widespread media coverage, the CM finally agreed to meet the trade unions, assuring them of the ban on night trawling and a grant of 180 million rupees for welfare programmes.

Two Members of the state Legislative Assembly (MLAs) decided to join the hunger strike, and on 18 June 1984 all opposition parties staged a walkout from the assembly. This support for an independent fishworkers union was unprecedented. The CM met the assembly and announced a lump sum grant for education for fishworkers’ children and a fishworkers’ pension scheme. On 22 June 1984, KSMTF called off the 50-day agitation. In 1985, they continued the agitation, sending a new list of demands to the government. Between 25 May and 9 June 1985, they started the ‘fill the jail’ campaign (a jail bharo andolan), courting arrest, with almost 220 fishworkers serving prison terms. On 23 July, more than 10,000 marched to Neendakara and picketed the Fisheries Port Office, only to be arrested.

Again in 1988, marches were organized in seven districts demanding a ban on monsoon trawling and Fr. Thomas Kocherry began an indefinite fast. In Kerala's capital, the harbour was picketed, with 1,000 fishworkers in about 125 big country crafts surrounding the fishing harbour. On 23 June, the government proclaimed a ban on monsoon trawling, again exempting Neendakara. The agitation was called off. However, the government proclamation was never instituted as an official statute.

On 26 June 1989, an expert committee appointed to study marine fishery resource management in Kerala recommended a ban on monsoon trawling. The KSMTF organized indefinite hunger strikes and massive agitations. Finally, the CM announced the decision of the cabinet to ban monsoon trawling from 20 July to 31 August in the territorial waters of Kerala. The Kerala high court ruled in favour of the fishworkers. This was a huge victory for the movement. More recently, fishworkers opposed the growing push for FTAs, stating that such agreements work to the detriment of their interests. In 2009, a protest sit-in took place with the KSMTF openly opposing the free entry of imports into the Indian markets. Also, in 2009, the KSMTF and other fishworkers’ trade unions formed the Kerala Fishworkers Coordination Committee to protest against the Indo-ASEAN FTA, which the government had signed (Menon 2001; Mathews 2011; Nayak and Vijayan 2006).

Conservation of Olive Ridley Turtles against the Sand Mafia in Northern Kerala 2

This is a case of grassroots conservation of Olive Ridley turtles by local fishermen fighting against the sand mining industry in Kolavipalam beach. The “cult of wilderness” and the love for turtles came together with an environmentalism of the people based on livelihood interests but also on the changing social values of young fishermen. Kartik Shanker, an expert on turtles in India, and Roshni Kutty from Kalpavriksh, documented in 2001 the struggle by coastal villagers in northern Kerala. One of the major reasons in 2011 for the shrinking of the nesting ground was the ruthless sand mining taking place to develop a port by the Vadakara p. 170Municipality. All along the Kerala coast, construction of seawalls was preventing the landing of turtles returning to lay down eggs on the beaches where they were born.

In contrast with many other cases of “Conservation against the People” and even of militarized conservation (Chapter 11), this case brought the fishermen into alliance with conservationists. Initially, fishermen did not care about turtles and turtle eggs (except as food) but they became conservationists under the threat of sand mining and mangrove destruction. There is a documentary film, The Turtle People or Aamakaar, about this struggle of the people in Kolavipalam, in Iringal, near Payyoli. As Surendra Babu, leader of the turtle protection committee, puts it in the film: “If this beach is destroyed, they [the turtles] will find other shores, but if a village is destroyed, communities become extinct by becoming displaced”.

Turtles ought to be protected during the nesting season from October to March. The fishermen allied themselves with conservationists and also found an alliance with the state Forest Department. Media publicity about their protection efforts spread awareness in neighbouring coastal villages. Most of the 8,000 villagers of Kolavipalam joined in the effort to save the turtles. Kartik Shanker explains that interest in turtle conservation in Kerala dates back to the early 1980s when the Calicut (now Kozhikode) branch of the Natural History Society recommended to the Forest Department that the stretch between Ponnani and Thalasserry in the North Kerala coast be protected. In the 1990s there was an organization called Marine Turtle Conservation Action that interacted with young fishermen in 1992, forming in Kolavipalam the Theeram Pakriti Samrakshana Samiti (Coastal Ecosystem Protection Committee). The committee was focused on turtle conservation but it was also involved in a campaign against sand mining in the nearby estuary, initiating legal action. Some support was obtained by officers in the Forest Department; the courts restricted sand mining but implementation was lacking despite some legal victories. The committee members received threats from the mining lobby but they became nationally known for their turtle conservation actions. Five acres of mangroves were restored in the estuary from 1998 onwards. Villagers first said: “we are protecting the turtles”; later they said, “it is the turtles that are protecting us”.

Athirapally Dam in the Western Ghats: A Battle of Scientific Arguments 3

Resistance has been going on for many years to the Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) proposal for the Athirapally 163 MW hydroelectric project, in the Chalakudy River at the Athirapally waterfalls situated 70 km from Kochi city. I visited this area in November 2017. Environmental groups, scientists and people's collectives opposed the project. The 80-ft-high falls are a part of the Chalakudy River and originate in the upper reaches of the Sholayar ranges in the Western Ghats. The region is deemed to be home to elephants, tigers, bison and sambar deer. Four species of hornbill are only seen here in the Western Ghats. It also has one of the highest levels of fish diversity with 85 different species of freshwater fish.

The Union Ministry of Environment and Forest sanctioned clearance for this project on 19 July 2007, but environmentalists have been against it because it will result in destruction of the riparian ecosystem. The proposed dam would affect 138 ha of forestland and the livelihood of tribal families who depend on the forest and river. Also, a stretch of 28.5 ha of riparian forest would fall under the submergence area, reducing or drying up the water-flow of Athirapally waterfall which preserves the ecology and attracts tourism in this area.

Opponents argued that before construction of any dam on the river, its EIA should be done in a scientific way, but there wasn’t any. As happens so often in environmental conflicts, the EIA became a stumbling stone for the Kerala state electricity company. In 1998, the p. 171Athirapally hydro-power project got clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) without a public hearing. In October 2001, Kerala High Court directed the Kerala State Electricity Board and MoEF to follow all procedures for Environment Clearances. A public hearing was held in February 2002. But on the basis of a report prepared by the EIA agency ‒ Water and Power Consultancy Services (India) Ltd., the MoEF sanctioned clearance to the project in February 2005. In March 2006, the Kerala High Court cancelled the clearance, and ordered the authority to publish the report and public hearing details. The Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP), led by renowned ecologist Madhav Gadgil and constituted by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests to suggest conservation measures for the Western Ghats, rejected the proposal. Biological values, tourism and Indigenous rights were altogether more valuable than 163 MW of electricity.

The project included a 23-metre-high and 311-metre-wide dam around 5 km upstream of the picturesque falls in the Vazhachal Forest division, in Thrissur. Water from this reservoir would be diverted 7 km downstream through a 4.5-km-long tunnel to a power house, located on the banks of a tributary of the main Chalakudy River. Another problem is that the project could displace Kadars, an Adivasi group of the area. They dwell in the forests near the Chalakudy River and their numbers are as low as 1,500 today given the forced displacement they have been subject to in the last 150 years owing to forest clearances.

The case of Athirapally is woven into the larger context of the Western Ghats. The Western Ghats stretches along the western edge of the Indian peninsula and spans across six states ‒ Maharashtra, Goa, Gujarat, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Gadgil, as Chairman of the WGEEP, had come up with a report in September 2011, which triggered a public debate on environment-development choices. Gadgil's report had demarcated areas to be notified as “ecologically sensitive” and had put key curbs on the mining industry. Listed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) as one of the top eight biodiversity hotspots in the world, the Western Ghats area was in need of nuanced regulation of activities.

The MoEF roped in former Indian Space Research Organization chief Kasturirangan to head a High-Level Working Group to advise the government on how to conserve the Western Ghats. Gadgil pointed out the holes in Kasturirangan's report by saying that it would open the Western Ghats to economic exploitation. While specifically studying the Athirapally hydroelectric project, the Gadgil Panel found that 70 per cent of the EIA prepared for the project and the public hearings conducted were flawed; the High Court had repeatedly set them aside. The panel said that Athirapally fell in Ecologically Sensitive Zone 1, a zone where no new large dams should be permitted. Therefore, it should not be accorded environmental clearance. The people too were opposed to the project and nearly all 1,200 present at the second public hearing on the proposed dam had spoken against it. The River Research Centre (RRC)'s assessment pointed out a number of flaws. There was not enough water to generate the power as claimed. Power generation would also adversely impact the current irrigation capacity of the river and the scenic waterfall itself, and thereby the thriving tourism industry. The RRC was founded by Latha Anantha, an agricultural scientist who fought for the unhindered flow of rivers. She unfortunately died in 2017 at 51. The final decision is still pending.

Against the Dumping of Urban Waste in Vilappilsala Village: The Environmentalism of the People 4

Vilappilsala village is located about 15 km away from Thiruvananthapuram (or Trivandrum), the state capital of Kerala. The village was selected for the dumping of urban waste generated p. 172from the city. The Left Democratic Front (LDF) government in 2000 established this centralized waste processing plant for the capital city, on about 12 acres of government land. The plan was given to a private company to install well equipped modern facilities to generate fertilizer from the biodegradable waste, and leachate treatment.

However, the city corporation generated about 300 tons per day, doubling the installed capacity. It was impossible for the plant to process such a huge amount of garbage. The dump site increased because of uncontrolled dumping, posing a heavy health hazard for the local residents. Meanwhile, the company responsible for the management of the dumping site stopped the operations and left the site due to the difference of opinion with the city corporation. People living in nearby areas alleged health damage like skin diseases and respiratory diseases. Seepage of waste materials and water from the site also polluted the nearby water sources. The local population joined hands to form a people's committee in January 2011, the Vilappil Janakeeya Samithi. However, the government did not pay attention to the people's complaints. In September 2011, the committee started a direct action blockade of the corporation's garbage trucks from entering into their village, and the city of Thiruvananthapuram faced lots of problems because residents started dumping their waste anywhere. In the meantime, the city corporation went to court and got court orders to open the site despite public protest.

Defying prohibitory orders, hundreds of local people of the Samithi gathered in front of the Sreekanda Sastha Temple to prevent the movement of garbage to the treatment plant. Women lined up to offer pongala (porridge made of rice, sweet brown molasses, coconut gratings, nuts and raisins) as in religious harvest festivals in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The Samithi leaders held aloft a 31-day-old child, Mohammed Gulal, in front of press and TV cameras, announcing that the infant was the “leader” of the agitation. Due to protests the government was forced to close down the site despite the court's orders. This conflict on urban waste in landfills or incinerators, one of many in the EJAtlas, could be deemed as a half-victory for environmental justice in the sense that, first, the conflict became very visible and, second, the local opposition had a success although the problem itself was not solved.

Plachimada and Water Grabbing by Coca-Cola 5

Plachimada is a little hamlet in Palakkad District. In 2000, Coca-Cola, under its Indian subsidiary Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages Private Limited (HCCBPL), began operations at its bottling plant; HCCBPL acquired 34.4 acres of land (mostly paddy fields) for this purpose. On 25 January 2000, the Perumatty Panchayat (a local governing body whose constituency includes Plachimada) granted permission to build the plant. In March 2000, operations began. The Kerala State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) granted the company a permit to produce 561,000 litres of beverage per day, with an average requirement of 3.8 litres of water for a litre of beverage. The source of water was primarily groundwater from about six bore wells and two open ponds, and about two million litres of water per day were extracted.

Within six months, the villagers complained that the water was unsuitable for drinking; it had turned milky white and was brackish. In the subsequent months, several villagers complained of unusual stomach aches, while farmers complained of wells emptying unusually fast, and crop yields decreasing. One well-known Adivasi activist was a member of the Eravalar tribe, whose biography is called Mayilamma: The Life of a Tribal Eco-Warrior (2019). The translator, R. Sreejith Varma, calls this conflict an example of “subaltern environmentalism” p. 173and quotes Mayilamma: “What is the point in saying that we are free if the land, water and air over which we have the right are not freely available to us? We are all slaves”.

Corpwatch India, a public interest group, found high levels of calcium and magnesium in the water, caused by excessive extraction of water. On 22 April 2002, the “Coca-Cola Virudha Janakeeya Samara Samithy” (Anti-Coca-Cola Peoples’ Struggle Committee) began its protest against the plant with over 1,500 people demanding its immediate shutdown. On 4 August 2002, the Samithy organized a rally and public meeting, with over 1,000 attendees starting their march from Palimukku. The Adivasi leader Veloor Swaminathan presided over the public meeting. He spoke about the experience of the struggle and the sacrifices and sufferings of the Adivasi, agricultural labourers and other affected people. After this rally, the pickets outside the plant continued unabated. In 2003, women from the Vijayanagaram Colony protested that their wells had dried up and complained that they now had to walk 5 km twice a day to fetch water. They also argued that the little which was left was undrinkable and when used for bathing it burned their eyes and led to skin complaints. It also affected their crops of rice and coconuts. Meanwhile, the struggle against the Coca-Cola giant took a decisive legal turn with a positive outcome. By 2005, new rules established by the Kerala Groundwater (Control and Regulation) Act took effect. In January 2006, the company began considering moving operations away from Plachimada, and no operations have taken place at the plant since.

Years later, under pressure from the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC), the Home Department registered a criminal case against Coca-Cola invoking provisions of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, for groundwater exploitation and pollution at Plachimada. Top executives of Coca-Cola in Kochi and Noida were summoned for questioning. The court could also impose a huge compensation package, if it found the company guilty. Finally, the company was accused of causing damage of Rs. 216 crore in the agrarian village. Over 200 SC community members signed the petition. There are other cases in India involving the Coca-Cola company.

The Plantation Corporation of Kerala and the Use of Endosulfan: Slow Death 6

Kasargod District in Kerala is famous for its cashew plantations. Plantation Corporation of Kerala, a state government enterprise, cultivated cashew plant in the vast areas of this district. To protect this crop, since the mid-1970s the organochlorine pesticide Endosulfan was widely used and aerially sprayed on several villages in the district. The controversy emerged in the 1990s. People and animals residing in the villages near the plantations were affected by different kinds of illnesses. Rumours started that the aerial spraying of Endosulfan was the main cause of abnormal cases of cancer, skin disease, congenital deformities, sterility and other illnesses. The side-effects of pesticide spray in cashew plantations also spread into the neighbouring districts of Karnataka, adjacent to Kasaragod. This is a typical environmental human health conflict concerning human bodies more than their territorial rights (Navas et al. 2022).

As time passed, local activist groups became convinced that the illnesses were caused by Endosulfan. Environmentalists together with various groups formed the Anti-Endosulfan Committee to form a pressure group to ban the pesticide. According to an estimate by this Committee, about 9,000 people were affected in Kasaragod district. Over 700 lost their lives owing to various diseases triggered by the large-scale use of this pesticide, a persistent organic pollutant (POP). A global ban on Endosulfan was imposed, mainly promoted p. 174by the incidence in Kasargod. Environmental groups such as Pesticide Action Network and Thanal campaigned globally explaining the effects on human lives and the environment. The Pesticide Action Network (PAN) has been a coalition of around 600 NGOs, citizens’ groups, and individuals in about 60 countries.

Sunita Narain, director of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), describes the development of the conflict in her biographical book Conflict of Interest of 2017. Sunita Narain had called this “slow death” referring to this and other cases of pollution in India, while Rob Nixon (2013) later called such cases “slow violence”. On 31 January 2018, The Hindu reported that a leading social activist, Daya Bai, said that the Kerala government still ignored the suffering of mothers and children 7 (Figure 9.2). The victims of Endosulfan staged an agitation in January 2018, demanding that the State government implement the Supreme Court order issued in 2017 to disburse ₹5 lakh (less than US$ 10,000) as compensation to the families within three months. One year later (The Hindu, 30 Jan. 2019), Daya Bhai began an indefinite fast demanding speedy disbursal of compensation and rehabilitation. Mothers of several affected children took part in the agitation organized by the Endosulfan Peeditha Janakeeya Munnani.

Social worker Daya Bhai in hunger strike (Monarama Online).
Figure 9.2

Social worker Daya Bhai in hunger strike

Source:  Monarama Online

Lakshadweep Islands Residents Complain against a “Political-Corporate” Nexus 8

This is a conflict that reached its peak in mid-2021. Lakshadweep, also known as Laccadives, is a Union Territory of India. It is an archipelago of 36 islands in the Arabian sea, located 200 to 440 km off the Malabar Coast. Ethnically and linguistically similar to Kerala, Lakshadweep residents have strong links with this state. They are mostly Muslims. In 2021, there were several conflicts which had to do with the political party BJP plans in the islands (with 70,000 inhabitants). Some conflicts are linked to religion and food habits (Hindutva principles), and others to the impact on ecology and fisherfolk. On 8 June 2021, the following was reported:p. 175

Lakshadweep went on a 12-hour hunger strike protesting against the Union Territory administration for sanctioning “anti-people” policies. Residents held placards outside their homes, on charpoys and even underwater with slogans like “Revoke LDAR” (Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation) and “Justice for Lakshadweep”. People supporting the movement bombarded social media platforms with #SaveLakshadweep.

What was the protest about? New regulations were pushed by the Union Territory's controversial Administrator, Praful Khoda Patel. Residents were up in arms against the sweeping reforms to be imposed on them in the name of so-called development. First, Patel (a BJP militant from Gujarat) disregarded the threat from Covid and opened the island to tourists. This meant that Lakshadweep, which had been declared a Covid-free region, ended up with 6,847 cases until 24 May 2021. Moreover, Patel introduced the draft regulation for the creation of a Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation (LDAR 2021), seen by the residents as an attempt to take over the small landholdings at the behest of real estate sharks. The islanders, 98 per cent of whom belong to the Scheduled Tribes, have been attempting to mobilize against these draft regulations, which state that any area in the island can be declared as an “area of bad layout or obsolete development” by the government, regardless whether it is inhabited or not. Over 3,000 responses were sent to the Administrator demanding that the draft regulations be withdrawn.

Members of the fishing community have held ‘customary ownership’ of land on the beachfront for centuries. The beachfront and lagoons, where the fishermen park their boats and dry fish, are linked to their survival and to the economic development of the islands. Naveen Namboothri, a marine biologist, stated: “These are the spaces where most of the tourism development activities will be concentrated, bringing them in direct conflict with livelihood needs of the local fishers”. Large resorts and other facilities catering to tourists may pose a threat to the atolls’ sensitive local ecology.

Carrying capacities of these islands are very limited, particularly freshwater availability. So, the ecological cost of large developmental projects will be high on these fragile islands. […] Coral reefs play a very critical role in protecting these islands from adverse weather conditions. Damage to the coral reefs will leave islands extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

The government planning body (the Niti Ayog) and the Union Home Ministry made proposals to develop ten hotel projects under the garb of eco-tourism at Kadmat and Suheli islands since 2018, regardless of resistance by locals as well as environmentalists to such Maldivian type of tourism. The waters around the islands are home to a variety of threatened and endangered marine life, such as green turtles, sea cucumbers, giant clams and corals, which protect the shallow lagoons from the open sea, preventing beach erosion and protecting the islands’ limited freshwater supply. One hundred and fourteen scientists from more than 30 universities and research institutes in India urged the stoppage of such tourism projects. Their petition points out that beaches and lagoons are where islanders fish for their daily consumption. Lagoon fish are the backbone of Lakshadweep's famous sustainable and Indigenous tuna fishery industry. The beaches are heavily used as the catch is processed and sundried on these sands. With tourism, locals fear that they will not be able to use the beaches or lagoons for their traditional livelihoods.

A “Save Lakshadweep Forum” (SLF) became active. For Alif Jaleel, a young sociologist from Lakshadweep, the administration's excuse of development is meaningless, as people in Lakshadweep are happy with their traditional lifestyle. “The only issue we have is the lack p. 176of sufficient healthcare facilities”, he added. The region has an advanced literacy rate and the lowest crime rate in the country. Alif, who currently pursues his PhD at Pondicherry University, feels a harmful “political-corporate nexus” is at play in Lakshadweep. Besides, he said, Lakshadweep has a unique cultural and religious identity that does not fit well with the Hindutva idea of “monolithic Indian culture” advocated by the RSS and BJP. The actions of the Administrator seemed to be part of a three-pronged strategy – pave the way for big players in the tourism sector, restrict cultural-religious freedom, and cut off links with Kerala.

TAMIL NADU

I now start the description and analyses of some environmental conflicts in Tamil Nadu, a state whose capital is Chennai (formerly Madras) and with a population of over 80 million. The Tamils have a very ancient civilization. As for Kerala, other conflicts from Tamil Nadu will appear in some of the transversal chapters. Here, I have chosen mainly mining and industrial conflicts, including nuclear energy. Some private companies appear (Jindal, Vedanta) as Tata and Birla have appeared in the Odisha chapter, but also other powerful state companies.

Iron Ore Mining in the Kavuthi-Vediyappan Hills Stopped 9

In March 2005, the state-owned Tamil Nadu Industrial Development Corporation (TIDCO) entered into a joint venture with Jindal Vijayanagar Steel Ltd. (JVSL) to form Tamil Nadu Iron Ore Mining Corporation Ltd (TIMCO) aimed at the extraction of 1 million tons of iron ore per year. The total iron ore reserves in the region are estimated at 75 million tons of low grade (47 per cent) ore at Kavuthimalai hills and 35 million tonnes at Vediappanmalai hills. By 2016, owing to social mobilization and the involvement of multiple actors, the project was suspended for over 11 years. The last verdict by the Madras High Court ruled against the initiation of mining operations. However, the final decision was still pending with the Supreme Court of India. TIMCO was formed with the agenda of mining low grade iron ore in Northern Tamil Nadu. The initial forest clearance applied for by TIMCO was for clearing 638 ha of forest land in Kanjamalai Reserved Forest in Salem district, and 325 ha in Kavuthimalai Reserved Forest in Tiruvannamalai district. Civil society organizations complained through objections to the EIA, litigation in the courts, hoisting of black flags and street marches ‒ such as the Kanjamalai Padagap Iyyakam, the intervention of the activist Piyush Manush, the Nanadalala Seva Samithi Trust, and the Tamil Nadu Vivasayigal Sangam. There was also support from strong political parties: M.K. Stalin, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (Dravidian Progressive Conference) (DMK) (The Hindu, 12 April 2014). The hills also hold religious significance, serve as the source of various springs and support local livelihoods of 51 villages. The tailings dams could become dangerous. There were therefore persuasive social and environmental values deployed against the economic short-term gain from iron ore mining, and the courts were responsive to such arguments.

Complaints against Oil and Gas Extraction and Pollution in the Cauvery Delta 10

On 15 February 2017, the central government Cabinet committee on economic affairs had approved the award of contracts for exploration of 44 small oil fields across India. Neduvasal, p. 177a fertile village of the Cauvery delta in Tamil Nadu, is one of the 31 contract areas. These fields were offered under a new policy for small oil fields known as the Discovered Small Field (DSF) policy launched in 2015 to unlock the hydrocarbon potential of small fields. This project was part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's plan to reduce oil imports by 10 per cent by 2022. The villagers of Neduvasal have a healthy multi-crop farm economy and they fear that the project will disturb the environment and their livelihoods. They are protesting the project fearing the oil spills, as already happened in that area. In 2019 Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC), India's state-owned hydrocarbon explorer and producer, was planning to drill around 104 wells in its “Cauvery asset”. Depending on the local opposition's strength it might become a “stranded asset”.

Agitations in the region began soon after the approval. Drought hit farmers, and college students and scientists protested this project claiming that it could lead to an ecological disaster. There was a fear of displacement of farmers, occupation of cultivable land, impact on agriculture, saline water intrusion, contamination of the groundwater system and of soil. Some believed this project was tapping into methane and shale reservoirs, which have larger impacts. A statutory environmental public hearing was to be held under the Environmental Impact Assessment Notification (EIA) of 2006. Nityanand Jayaraman, an environmentalist, filed a Right to Information petition. While the response showed that the company had not prepared an EIA report, it also refused to share copies of the environmental clearances secured for the project. Union minister Pon Radhakrishnan and state minister C. Vijayabaskar held talks with the villagers on 9 March 2017, assuring them that a meeting would be arranged with Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan. At the meeting, he assured them that the project would not be carried out against their will. Subsequently the first phase of the 22-day strident protest was called off. But in April the Union government signed an agreement with Gem Laboratories for the exploration in the Neduvasal DSF. The agitation stirred back.

Though the contract is with Gem Laboratories, the villagers have mainly been targeting ONGC as it remains the largest driller in the Cauvery basin. ONGC had started work in Neduvasal in 2007. These wells were now handed to Gem Laboratories. By 1 March 2019, the Madras High Court dismissed a petition regarding this case. According to the petitioner, the hydrocarbon excavation project in Neduvasal was wrongly awarded to Gem Laboratories. Wells dug by ONGC in the Cauvery region caused damage to farmers, and similar hydrocarbon projects had contaminated groundwater and surface water in other countries.

ONGC, a state company, has been exploring the Cauvery basin since 1958. It leases land to the tune of 5 acres for a well, paying Rs 63,000 for an acre of a paddy-field and Rs 72,000 for cane fields. In Kathiramangalam, a village in Tamil Nadu's Thanjavur district in the Cauvery delta, villagers and activists have been protesting ONGC's activities. The company has obtained 700 oil wells in Tamil Nadu and operates 183 of them. The well in Kathiramangalam has been in operation since 2002 and it pumps out 13,000 litres of oil and 38,000 m3 of gas each day. According to the villagers, these wells have been contaminating and depleting the groundwater. Locals allege the probability of Coal Bed Methane mining occurring. The protest was intensified by an oil spill that occurred on 30 June 2017. Examination of soil, groundwater and surface water samples from Tamil Nadu's Thanjavur, Thiruvarur and Nagapattinam revealed that hydrocarbon operations were harming the environment. It added that the ONGC had not employed the best international practices while responding to the oil spill in Kathiramangalam on 30 June 2017.p. 178

Villagers refused to allow ONGC officials to fix the leak. In return, the police lathi-charged protesters, arrested ten people and booked them for sedition under the “Goondas” act. A few protestors went on a hunger strike demanding the release of those arrested. Around 200 residents protested by setting up a community kitchen in the open yard of a temple and used firewood for the same instead of LPG supplied by ONGC. Over 3,000 shops were closed in Kumbakonam and adjacent towns in support of Kathiramangalam residents (Figure 9.3).

Translation: “Release all our 10 volunteer comrades without any condition. Until then we will continue our fast” (Dharani Thangavelu, MINT)
Figure 9.3

Translation: “Release all our 10 volunteer comrades without any condition. Until then we will continue our fast”

Source:  Dharani Thangavelu, MINT

Villagers claim the contaminated groundwater is affecting their children and cattle causing skin diseases, fever and even cancer. Water pumped out from hand-pumps and bore-pipes is “muddy” and sometimes smells of rotten eggs, indicating that hydrocarbons from the drilling site could have mixed with groundwater. The oil spill has reportedly led to spread of contamination to public water courses and the Velloor irrigation canal.

By June 2021 a rumour over an invitation for extraction of hydrocarbons sparked protests once again at Neduvasal, in Pudukkottai district. Farmers staged protests and raised slogans against pipelines planted at Karukakuruchi village, 5 km from Neduvasal. It must be noted that Neduvasal falls under the Protected Special Agricultural Zone (PSAZ) which was passed by the state government in 2020, prohibiting industries from taking up non-agrarian projects in the delta region (New Indian Express, 13 June 2021). Pudukkottai is a dry region but the villagers toiled for around 30 years, used borewells extensively, and changed the landscape. Neduvasal's fertile soil now grows paddy, groundnut, pepper, cocoa and cucumber. And so, the villagers fear losing their land, crops and livelihood to the project.p. 179

An Ultra-mega-coal-fired Power Plant between Pondicherry and Chennai, Stopped 11

Since coal burning for electricity has grown so much in India and the world, it is not surprising that chapter after chapter give instances of conflicts related to Coal-Fired Power Plants (CFPPs). Here we focus on only one of them, in Cheyyur, located on the coast between Chennai and Pondicherry. This CFPP was to rely on imported coal (probably from Indonesia and Australia), in a pattern typical of India's “transition to coal” based both on domestic extraction and increased imports. The coal commodity chain starts at the mining extraction frontiers, it continues with transport and ends up burning in the CFPPs producing electricity, ashes and carbon dioxide.

The Ministry of Power of the Government of India launched an initiative in 2005 to facilitate the development of Ultra Mega Power Projects (UMPPs) of enormous capacity. The aim was to enhance the capacity at both the coal pitheads and coastal locations aimed at delivering power at competitive cost to consumers by achieving economies of scale. Central Electricity Authority (CEA) was the technical partner, and Power Finance Corporation (PFC) was the financial partner. The Government of India identified Cheyyur in Kanchipuram district as one of several sites for a 4,000-MW UMPP using imported coal and super-critical technology, increasing the efficiency of the conversion of thermal energy into electricity. The coal would be brought in through a captive jetty-cum-port located between the fishing villages of Panaiyur Periyakuppam and Panaiyur Chinnakuppam.

A coal stocking yard capable of storing 310,000 tonnes of coal would be constructed on 83 acres of coastal land. The project would destroy wetlands and mangrove forests. A 6.5 km conveyor belt running over dunes, fields, orchards, densely wooded areas and water bodies would carry the coal to the power plant. The land requirements of the power plant and its ash pond would be over 400 ha. The Ministry of Power aimed to develop the UMPPs on a Build Own Operate (BOO) basis, through the Power Finance Corporation Ltd (PFC). For the Cheyyur project, PFC set up a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) called the Coastal Tamil Nadu Power Limited, based in New Delhi. The SPV was solely meant to acquire land, perform the EIA, obtain the various clearances and hand over the project to a private party winning the bid for the project, thus saving it from different troubles.

Villagers alleged that a number of false representations had been made in trying to get clearance for the project. These included claims such as non-existence of any sensitive ecosystem and the stability of the shoreline. A public hearing for the Power Plant and Ash Dyke area was held in July 2010. The Expert Appraisal Committee recommended the project for clearance in May 2013. This expert recommendation was contested. The officials tried to allay the fears of farmers, stating that thorough EIA reports had been carried out and there would be no threat of massive displacement; fishermen would be able to continue with their fishing activity. But the ultra-mega CFPP was not built. According to Sourcewatch, in December 2018 the Power Finance Corporation submitted an online application to the India Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) to change the source of coal for this planned CFPP from imported to domestic coal.

Massacre at Sterlite Copper Smelter in Tuticorin 12

Near the southern tip of India, a very bad case of industrial pollution and violent repression culminated in a massacre by the police in May 2018. After 20 years of complaints, thousands p. 180gathered in Thoothukudi district asking for the copper smelter to be shut down. Police killed 13 demonstrators in May 2018, opening fire on a rally marking the hundredth day of demonstrations. The following day another person died from a rubber bullet. Dozens of people were wounded. The government of Tamil Nadu then asked for a definitive closure of the plant.

The background is as follows. The ‘Anti-Sterlite People's Committee’ had protested against the company Sterlite Industries (India) Ltd since March 2013. The factory belongs to the Vedanta Group. On 23 March 2013, many people from neighbourhood areas fell sick following a noxious gas leak. This led to protests in which over 5,000 people participated, a bandh (strike) was called and the town was shut down for several days. A sensor in the smelter's smokestack showed sulphur dioxide levels were more than double the permitted concentration. This resulted in temporary shutdown of operations of the plant. However, the Supreme Court of India eventually permitted the plant to restart operations under the condition of a payment of INR 100 crore (~15 million USD at the time), to compensate for polluting the surrounding land and water sources (Ruiz Leotaud 2018; Foil Vedanta 2018).

Following the protest, Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board issued a notice directing the Vedanta group company to close the plant. Seventeen years before, in 1996, the copper smelter had begun operations in Tuticorin (Newsclick 2018; Foil Vedanta 2018). Protests against the plant began almost immediately, with hundreds of fishermen blockading the port to prevent unloading of copper ore. However, this did not prevent operations. In July 1997, 165 women fainted as a result of a toxic gas leak from the smelter, and some of them later had miscarriages.

Since then ‒ over a period of more than two decades ‒ villagers and local residents protested against noxious sulphur dioxide leaks and bad effluent management (The News Minute 2018). Fathima Babu was one of the leaders throughout this period. In September 2017, the National Green Tribunal found that the Sterlite plant was responsible for dumping copper slag in the Upper Odai River and causing the blockade of the river stream. The judgment also revealed that the plant had operated without authorization under the Hazardous Wastes (Management, Handling and Transboundary Movement) Rules, 2008, between 2013 and 2017, and was ordered to compensate the affected villagers for the pollution.

There was occasional resistance until 2018, when the announcement of an expansion of the plant drew public anger. The plant was set to double the smelter's capacity from 400 kt to 800 kt per year within the next 24 months making it “one of the world's largest single-location copper smelting complexes” (Ruiz Leotaud 2018). Protests re-emerged after residents called for an indefinite dharna (protest) and hunger strike on 12 February 2018. Villagers had petitioned the district collector seeking closure of the unit, but no action had been taken. After top district officials failed to reach an understanding, around 250 people began an indefinite fast (The Indian Express 2018). Eventually, over 500 people, including many women and schoolchildren, blocked the company gates until they were arrested on 14 February. Since then, protests went on day and night in the villages surrounding the plant worst affected. On 24 March 2018, the movement escalated with over 15,000 participants not only demanding the halt of any further expansion of the project, but also calling for a shutdown of existing operations (Newsclick 2018; Foil Vedanta 2018; Scroll.in. 2018; The Hindu 2018). The plant is located beside the fragile Gulf of Mannar, where toxic waste has damaged fish populations and the livelihood of thousands of fishermen. “There are a lot of environmental dangers as well as health dangers, particularly cancer. Almost every house is affected by cancer. Children are the most affected”, Fathima Babu of the Anti Killer Sterlite People's Movement said (The News Minute 2018).p. 181

Black flags were put up in some houses, making their view of the copper smelter unit clear (The Hindu 2018). Meanwhile, a number of Tamil people held a protest outside the home of Vedanta Group chief Anil Agarwal in Mayfair, London, in solidarity with the protesters in Tamil Nadu. The protest in London was organized by Foil Vedanta, Tamil People in the UK and Parai ‒ Voice of Freedom. British Tamils armed with traditional Parai drums shouted slogans, “Kekudha Kekudha, Tamizhar kural kekudha?” (Can you hear? Can you hear? The voice of the Tamils?) on the streets of London (Foil Vedanta 2018).

The Beaches of Chennai 13

Urban conflicts have grown over access to the beach and the rights of fisherfolk who mobilize against gentrification. Among several conflicts on the use of beaches in Chennai, we can mention the removal of fisherfolk from Marina Beach in 1985, and later on the project for the Elevated Beach Expressway after 2008.

In Nityanand Jayaraman's words, in Chennai, “between a landward moving sea and a seaward moving city, we are crowding out fisherfolk and offering them up as a sacrifice to the next cyclone or tsunami”. Historically, the Madras seashore was viewed as a dangerous place for housing. The fishing community lived on beaches. When the city was formally founded by the British, Chennai's beaches were empty except for small fishing hamlets. The British “developed” the northern beaches to serve the commercial needs of the port. In colonial times, the beaches to the south were left untouched, although boulevards and “garden” homes were built along the coast, as in Annie Besant Nagar. However, the growth of the metropolis has produced tension with resident fisherfolk, because of the grabbing of the coastal commons. Coastal properties became prime real estate. While the Elevated Beach Expressway was defeated, the encroachment on the beaches by private developers and urban infrastructure, and the displacement of fisherfolk, continues. Today (as we shall see next) while to the south there is gentrification, to the north there is an awful concentration of polluting industries and coal power stations at Ennore creek.

Ennore Creek – a Sacrifice Zone Destroying Poromboke Lands 14

There is a sacrifice zone with coal power plants, chemical industries, a port and a landfill. It is situated on a peninsula and is bounded by Ennore creek and the Bay of Bengal. The north–south channels of the creek connect it with Pulicat Lake to the north and to the Kosasthalaiyar River in the south. Three state-owned coal-fired power plants (CFPP) are under operation. The site hosts several other polluting chemical industries, including painting, fertilizers, cement and pharmaceutical ones, as well as a landfill.

In the last decades fisherfolks, environmentalists and citizens have complained. Most recently, fishers are protesting both the destruction of mangroves due to encroachment and pollution by industries because fishing is severely affected. The industries are expanding; apart from the three operating CFPPs, another one has recently been approved. Within 10 km, there will be 6,000 MW of CFPPs. All have environmental clearances but environmentalists argue that there is a rainfall of ashes. Clearance by the Tamil Nadu Energy Company Limited (NTECL) proclaims that the “Boundary for the proposed power project shall be outside the CRZ [Coastal Regulation Zone]”. But the plant boundary encloses mangroves. This industrial p. 182hell of fly ash and fumes is far from the eyes of the city dwellers, who benefit from the electricity. Instead, the people living here are polluted and displaced.

Workers who have at once been employed to construct one of the power plants, now live with their families in miserable huts next to toxic fly ash dumps, without any facilities (water, sewage or electricity). Environmentalist Nityanand Jayaraman reports that one Odiya worker from Keonjhar said: “We came here more than 15 years ago to build the power plant. We used to live there”, he said, pointing inside the plant. Sivanpadai Veethi Kuppam, an inland fisherfolk village, has been devastated by pollution, ill-health and dwindling catches. There are hardly any fish in the creek now. Those with boats sail to less polluted waters to fish. Others who use hand-cast nets walk along to the river mouth more than 8 km away.

Years ago, this area was home to mangroves and fishing communities. Today, the whole site is highly contaminated. There are signs such as “This land belongs to NTECL” which are a lie, as this was never land but water and wetlands. These wetlands are categorized as “poromboke”– a Tamil word meaning “the commons” that has become pejorative, used to describe people or things that are totally worthless.

The Ennore wetlands were very valuable, a healthy ecosystem with water, life and livelihoods, and excellent flood mitigators to accommodate rain waters and tidal surges. Converting them into industrial paved real estate will exacerbate flooding and deflect the impact of storm surges to less resilient areas. Ennore does not have publicly available data on air pollution, “a potent amalgam of ammonia, coal, sewage and diesel, mingling with the salty sea breeze. The thermal ash spewed by power plants makes it unbreathable. Fly ash contains trace quantities of toxic heavy metals and silica that accumulate in the lungs” (Chandrasekhar 2018). Local groups appeal to the courts from time to time.

Already some years ago, on 31 December 2015, The Hindu reported that “Fishermen took to the streets protesting against the destruction of mangroves in the Athipattu area by a contractor engaged by Ennore Port (officially renamed Kamarajar Port Limited, KPL)”. As severe floods had recently affected Chennai, the fishermen claimed that mangroves were crucial for limiting damage during cyclones. Also, this vegetation would attract prawns, a major source of livelihood in the area. According to A. Venkatesh, president of Mukadhwarakuppam Kadal Meenavar Cooperative Union, a sizable area of mangrove vegetation had already been levelled by dumping rubbish. The Port faced similar allegations when activists claimed about 400 acres of hydrologically sensitive wetland area was being dumped with the spoils of dredging as part of the Port's development activities. Venkatesh said to The Hindu that “This activity is also a violation of CRZ notifications”.

The ongoing conflict produced a famous Carnatic song by TM Krishna to arouse people into preventing environmental degradation and reclaiming the word “poromboke”.

Mercury Poisoning by Unilever in Kodaikanal: Working-class Environmentalism 15

Another case of industrial pollution is that of Unilever's thermometer plant in Kodaikanal which exposed many workers to mercury poisoning, without giving them any protective equipment or information about its disastrous health effects. The workers cannot afford private healthcare and have been fighting since 2001. Similar cases of working-class environmentalism appear in Chapter 20.

Hindustan Unilever Ltd (HUL), the Indian subsidiary of the Anglo-Dutch giant Unilever, avoided its responsibilities to its workers and closed down in 2001. Kodaikanal is a hill station p. 183retreat at 2,200 m high in the flourishing forests of the Western Ghats of Tamil Nadu. The factory site and the surrounding area are contaminated by mercury, including soil, groundwater and surface water. Workers, local citizens and environmentalists have been fighting for the company to face its liability, also in the Madras High Court. Despite a partial decontamination of the factory site in 2003, the case is still pending and the conflict ongoing.

The factory produced nearly 10 million thermometers a year for export to the West. This mercury thermometer factory was relocated to India in the early 1980s because it was too dangerous to run it in New York and would not comply with US legislation. In early 2001, public interest groups unearthed a pile of broken glass thermometers with remains of mercury in the Shola Forest, which they knew could come from the company. In March, a public protest led by a local workers’ union and the international organization Greenpeace forced the company to shut down the factory. Soon the company admitted that it did dispose of mercury contaminated waste but refused to face its liability. Five hundred and fifty men and women claim that their work at Hindustan Unilever's Kodaikanal factory caused irreparable damage to their health. They say that at least 23 of their colleagues have died young from complications resulting from mercury exposure: lung problems, heart problems, and kidney failure. Most of the ex-workers report varying symptoms, including headache, skin problems, eye problems, chest pain, dental problems, nose bleed, vomiting, blooded urine, breathing problems, impotency, irregular menstruation, miscarriage, giddiness, tremors, and inability to grip effectively.

The workers did not get any compensation, and they formed the Ex-Mercury Employees Welfare Association in the early 2000s. Their president, S.A. Mahindran, filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) suit in the Madras High Court. The association wants an economic rehabilitation scheme and a healthcare treatment at the company's expense for everyone who worked in the factory. It also wants the company prosecuted. On the contrary, Hindustan Unilever denied that any of the health problems of the workers was the result of mercury exposure in the factory. The factory is located next to the protected Shola Forest, considered to be an important biodiversity spot with over 30 endemic plant species. Part of the controversy has to do with the extent of pollution found on the thermometer factory site and on Shola Forest. In 2003, it partially got decontaminated, when over 28,000 kilos of partially treated mercury sludge from the site were hauled out and sent to the US. High levels of methylmercury were allegedly found in the nearby lakes.

Following the capitalist rule of systematic “cost-shifting”, the company does not want to face its liability. It managed to persuade the authorities that its responsibility is limited to cleaning the factory site and no further. After a first wave of protest led by Greenpeace at the beginning of the 2000s that led to the closure of the plant and partial decontamination, 2015 was a landmark year. On July 30th a rap song on the case went viral. As a consequence, the petition asking Unilever to take responsibility for Kodaikanal mercury poisoning got signed by 100,000 people. After many years, on 9 March 2016 Hindustan Unilever Ltd (HUL) agreed to a financial settlement for an undisclosed sum with a group of 591 workers who had sued the company for health damage. The campaign organizations The Other Media, Chennai Solidarity Group and Jhatkaa.org called the settlement a “fitting culmination of the 15-year campaign”.

However, Unilever still has to clean up Kodaikanal, as the mercury content in the soil does not match the international standard and is 250 times higher than naturally occurring background levels. The clean-up campaign is being spearheaded by the People's Union for p. 184Civil Liberties and Campaign to Cleanup Kodaikanal Mercury Pollution. In September 2016, they started an online petition for writing to the environment minister to not accept the HUL clean-up proposal. In December 2016, fish samples were collected and tested from the Kodaikanal lake and the surrounding Periyakulam pond by researchers from the Indian Institute of Technology, Hyderabad (IIT-H), the findings of which led to a letter being sent to Theni and Dindigul district collectors, urging the administration to advise pregnant women to limit their consumption of fish from these water bodies. In November 2017, a press release was organized to release the findings of these studies in Madurai. Further action from the state government and the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board is still awaiting. A new campaign song was released by T.M. Krishna and others in 2018.

The Expansion of Salem Airport and the Expressway Chennai-Salem 16

Conflicts on transport infrastructures are very common in the world and even more in the growing economy of India, a heavily populated country where land is grabbed from relatively powerless citizens, farmers and sometimes fishermen for new “green field” industry, new motorways, high-speed railways, transport corridors and new or expanded ports and airports. At world level there is an awareness campaign, Stay Grounded, against building or expanding airports, with a special featured map in the EJAtlas. A first conference “Degrowth in Aviation” was held in Barcelona in July 2019.

Expansion of the Salem airport and also the Chennai-Salem Expressway resulted in mass mobilization by the communities, and arrests of activists. On 27 April 2018, hundreds of farmers and their family members laid siege to the Salem collectorate to protest against 567 acres of land acquisition for airport expansion in the city. The primary reason for the protest has been the safeguarding of the land and livelihoods. The land for the initial airport was acquired in 1989 from the parents and grandparents of those protesting now. Farmers and residents also urged the district administration and chief minister Edappadi K Palaniswami to drop land acquiring activity even as they were assured of huge amounts in compensation. “We are not struggling for money and we are protesting to save our livelihood”, the farmers said (The Times of India, 28 April 2018).

In June 2018, activists including Piyush Manush and Mansoor Ali Khan were arrested for protesting against the airport expansion as well as the Chennai-Salem corridor. M. Shivakumar, a farmer and one of the protesters, said, “We don’t have any option other than agriculture”. He owns seven acres of land adjacent to the airport. Manasa Rao's article for the News Minute published on 18 June 2018 captures the fear and uncertainty and the will to save the community, fertile agricultural land, religious shrines and livelihoods. People from the four villages of Sikkanampatti, Thumbipadi, Pottiyapuram and Kamalapuram, engaged for the last three years in this battle, bearing the legal, physical and emotional costs for their rights over their land. In order to lend visibility to the issue, have brought politicians and actors to visit the area.

Meanwhile, the Salem-Chennai eight-lane expressway is also questioned because of its land requirements. This is an ongoing process, since the project came under the public eye in February 2018. There have been many forms of protests since documents revealed that the Rs. 10,000 crore project may have been officially conceived and cleared in just six days, and based on a recommendation by a doubtful World Bank consultant. Nityanand Jayaraman's p. 185article in The News Minute, dated 12 August 2018 traces the chain of events and raised questions on due process.

The protests, which started with the farmers, soon turned into a full-blown movement, with the involvement of political leaders and the arrest of farmers and activists. The DMK and the Communist Party of India slammed the government for not consulting the farmers who argue that the 37-km stretch from Ariyalur to Manjuwadi – a lush belt of coconut and areca nut farms, paddy and horticulture fields – will be adversely impacted once the project gets underway. The State government's view is that a small group of farmers is being instigated by social activists and opposition parties. Only 1,900 hectares would be required. However, according to S. Balaraman, deputy president of Tamil Nadu Vivasayigal Sangam, Tiruvannamalai district, “It is not as though the farmers will lose only their agricultural lands. These will be acquired along with their homes. A number of villages will be wiped out” (The Hindu, 23 June 2018).

The road will pass through 159 villages in 14 taluks of five districts – Kanchipuram, Tiruvannamalai, Krishnagiri, Dharmapuri and Salem. On 21 August 2018, the Madras High Court directed the state and central governments to not dispossess landowners of their property. However, this was not an order to stop the project. Many activists and locals have been threatened and harassed by the police and district administrations. One of the reasons why people have been so vehemently protesting is that there already exist two national highways connecting the two cities of Salem and Chennai. Constructing another highway will reduce travel time by three hours but the lives and livelihoods of the people being affected aren’t being taken into any consideration. According to environmental activist G. Sundarrajan of Poovulagin Nanbargal the expressway would destroy many water bodies and preserve forests that are home to some endangered species (Deccan Herald, 7 October 2018). On 4 September 2018, the Madras High Court dismissed a petition challenging the constitutional validity of the land acquisition process. Many villages in the three districts of Salem, Dharmapuri and Tiruvannamalai passed unanimous resolutions to scrap the project on 15 August as well as 2 October 2018. The conflict includes court cases, attempted self-immolation and protests, harassment and violence.

Kudankulam and Kalpakkam – Nuclear Energy 17

We focus here on the contentious construction of the Kudankulam nuclear plant in Tamil Nadu. The main protagonists have been the local fisherfolk. On 20 November 1989, a deal had been signed between the Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev and the then Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, for the construction of two nuclear power plants at Kudankulam. It is notable that the deal was signed within just three years of the Chornobyl nuclear disaster.

Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KNPP) turned into a site of massive public protest before and after the 2011 Fukushima disaster. The public dissent almost achieved the decommissioning of Phase I of the KNPP and caught the public imagination nationwide in no time. Also, the proposal of drawing water for nuclear plants from Pechiparai dam bothered locals. In 1989, more than 10,000 people gathered under the banner of the National Fishers workers union to register their anger against the proposed nuclear plant. Another protest started on 19 December 1989, under the leadership of Y. David from the samathuva samudaya iyakkam (i.e. social equality movement).p. 186

The USA also raised concerns on the grounds that the agreement did not meet the 1992 terms of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). The project was in limbo for almost a decade, the death of Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 was another jolt to the project. But in March 1997, the then Indian Prime Minister, H.D. Deve Gowda and Russian President Boris Yeltsin signed a supplement to the 1989 agreement. According to it, two Russian high standard pressure VVER –1000 (PWR) water cooled and water moderated reactors that would produce 1,000 MW per unit were to be delivered to India.

In 2001, when the government of India planned to further extend the plant by adding four more nuclear reactors at KKPP, a huge demonstration asked for a comprehensive EIA and staged public hearings under the banner of People's Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE), headed by Dr S.P. Udaykumar. Between 2001 and 2011 various protests and demonstrations were organized by PMANE to mobilize the people against the risky nuclear technology. The social construction of reality is inextricably linked to asymmetries of power. After Fukushima, the opponents gathered support around the idea that nuclear energy is very risky. As a response, public authorities accused the protesters of being anti-national, foreign funded, Maoist guerrillas (so called Naxalites), also “Church-orchestrated” and even mentally disturbed. Later on, the opponents would claim that fraud and corruption were very much part of this project. In this case, the public authorities’ dominant frame was that nuclear energy was cheap and safe.

Parallel to this framing struggle in the media, villagers went on a hunger strike in mid-2011. After local elections, for which the strike had been suspended, the police entered into the villages and started a blockade that would last for almost one year, stopping the inflow of milk, water and food. This led to solidarity groups emerging all over India. The villagers, mainly fisherfolk, resisted. Simplified, the men would keep on fishing while the women would be the protagonists of the struggle. On 10 September 2012, thousands of people from four villages went to the beaches of Idinthakarai, in the Tirunelveli district, to protest against the KNPP, located barely 2 km away. That day, uranium fuel was being filled in the plant ‒ the final step before the nuclear reactors become functional. As the protestors ‒ mostly women ‒ marched towards the plant, the state responded with tear gas and subsequently opened fire on the crowd. The protestors fled to the sea to escape the police. One person was killed, and 66 people were arrested ‒ several of them on charges of sedition.

The “Chennai Solidarity Group for Koodankulam Struggle” was among the most active. It published a pamphlet in November 2011 titled “Koodankulam and Nuclear Power” authored by Nityanand Jayaraman and G. Sundar Rajan. The pamphlet asserts that “India's chest-thumping ‘nucleocracy’ wants to play the death game with peasants and fisherfolk as the pawns in the gamble”. It presents “some myths, realities and answers to frequently asked questions” about this case. A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) was filed in 2011 with the Supreme Court asking for nuclear power development to be delayed until safety concerns were assessed. In May 2013, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the nuclear power plant because it was in the larger public interest.

In June 2013 the first reactor went critical, and production supposedly started in late 2013. However, this unit shut down in June 2015 for maintenance. “It is not just the safety, but the very viability of Units 1 and 2 to produce electricity consistently and sustainably that is being questioned” (DiaNuke.org, 1 October 2014). By June 2019 the environmental group Poovulagin Nanbargal reported that reactor 1 had tripped 11 times since March 2016 and p. 187reactor 2 had tripped 19 times since March 2016. Moreover, there is a controversy on what to do with the spent fuel.

***

Kalpakkam is an even more dangerous installation than Kudankulam, a sodium-moderated breeder reactor. It is a Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR) of 500 MW. Local and national protests have been muted so far. Back in 2006 India wanted to expand its nuclear power by 15 times (from 4,120 MW to 63,000 MW) by 2032. As a percentage of the total energy mix, the nuclear share would double from 3 per cent to 6 per cent. There was, however, a problem with uranium supplies. M.V. Ramana, a physicist who has followed closely the development of the nuclear industry in India, said that “the three-stage nuclear programme was an idea from the 1950s when no one knew that breeder reactors would be a technological failure, expensive and prone to accidents, and that reprocessing would be so costly” (Down to Earth, 15 Oct. 2009).

After the renewed nuclear agreement between the US and India in 2005, India's government identified a list of purely civilian nuclear facilities, with no military links. The US agreed to supply nuclear equipment to India, and France was to follow suit. Guarantees of no military use were sought (Glaser and Ramana 2007). However, one issue in the civil-military separation of nuclear facilities is the status of the fast breeder reactor programme. The Indian Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) declared that sites and facilities related to the breeder programme would not be put under safeguards. This includes the entire Kalpakkam nuclear complex. The PFBR may achieve criticality soon. The site also features a reprocessing plant and two operational heavy-water reactors. The construction of a second reprocessing plant is planned. Existing stockpiles of separated plutonium or spent fuel from some heavy water reactors would also remain outside safeguards under the US-India agreement, which was signed to allow nuclear equipment to reach India again, after some years stopped because of rumours of Pakistan-India nuclear war. Building of more breeder reactors is planned for India of which Kalpakkam would be the first one. They operate with plutonium and are cooled by sodium, and their link to military programmes is difficult to hide. In the future they might operate with thorium.

Opposition to the Kalpakkam PFBR is not vocal and it is diluted in the opposition to nuclear energy in general. However, some vigorous voices are heard. In 2011, Swaminathan S. Anklesaria Aiyar stated:

Nuclear safety has become a top priority after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan. Safety at all Indian plants is being reviewed, and coastal reactors may be built on higher ground for tsunami protection. Critics have objected to unproven French reactors for the Jaitapur (Maharashtra) nuclear power complex. Yet critics and agitators are ignoring the biggest nuclear risk of all: the inherently dangerous nature of fast breeder reactors… FBRs are cooled by liquid sodium, which is inherently dangerous. Liquid sodium reacts explosively with both air and water. Hence, even a tiny leak of sodium coolant can cause a fire.

In March 2013 there was a peaceful protest of about 1,000 people complaining against the nuclear complex at Kalpakkam. Nityanand Jayaraman reported (in Dianuke) that in a bid to intimidate fenceline communities living around the Kalpakkam nuclear reactors, the police jailed 129 of the 650 people who were detained while protesting to highlight that the nuclear p. 188complex in Kalpakkam was all threat and risk to the local community with no benefits either in jobs or electricity.

CONCLUSION: AN ENVIRONMENTAL MOVEMENT OF THE PEOPLE

This chapter on Kerala and Tamil Nadu plus the previous chapter on Odisha mention commodities that we would find also in other states in India and across the world such as wood and paper pulp from eucalyptus plantations, and the defence of “sal” forests; the defence of coastal areas and mangroves; the use and also the defence of marine biodiversity and the organized fishworkers movement; complaints against land grabbing for tourist development, urban and industrial infrastructures, and the dumping of urban waste; copper mining and smelting, iron ore and bauxite mining, coal mining and CFPP, pesticides and industrial pollution, oil, gas and hydropower, nuclear power. These are among the immediate causes of the environmental justice movements in rural, semi-urban and urban contexts.

These three states, Odisha, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, comprise about 12 per cent of India's population. Other “transversal” chapters (on militarized bioconservation conflicts, on beach and river sand mining, on Indigenous protagonists, on religious protagonists) contain more cases from India. What we have seen so far reveals the empirical richness of the Indian environmental movement and its similarities to world movements, and international connections with the Pesticides Action Network (PAN), with anti-nuclear movements, with Foil Vedanta (a network from London), with the international Fishworkers movement, with anti-coal and anti-hydropower movements. The Fisherworkers’ movement in Kerala has indeed blossomed into a Blue Justice world movement (Ertör 2021).

The repertoires of contention are also similar: letter writing, petitions to the authorities, litigation (including PIL), questioning of the EIAs. But there are Indian institutional peculiarities, such as the use of the Forest Rights Act, and also the Coastal Zone Regulation. And indeed, the apex National Green Tribunal (NGT). There is also a specific vocabulary of social agitation with the deployment of typical actions of civil society movements in India sometimes with roots in the anti-colonial movement. The strikes (bandh), the hunger strikes (bhook hartal), the blockades, the surrounding of government offices (gherao) and the sit-ins (dharna), the hoisting of black flags and street marches, the jail bharo andolan (movement to voluntarily fill the jails with arrested protesters). These are all second nature to social agitations in India. On the side of the companies backed by the State there is corporate social irresponsibility from transnational or national firms, and sometimes blatant illegality. There are also activists arrested, booked for sedition, sometimes a few or many are killed as in the massacres in Kalinganagar and Tuticorin.

Again, as in the case of Odisha, while there is no single civil society organization which could be called the “green movement” of South India, there are instead numerous ad-hoc groups, etc. as also individual protagonists such as Thomas Kocherry, Latha Anantha, my friend Nityanand Jayaraman, the singer T.M. Krishna, including several women local leaders such as Mayilamma, Daya Bai, Fathima Babu. These are globally influential movements. The fishworkers movement in Kerala was a struggle for “fishing sovereignty” closely related to the “food sovereignty” claim of the global Via Campesina since the 1990s. Later there was a World Forum. One of its main roots is in Kerala.p. 189

In her search “for social class in environmental movements in India”, Amita Baviskar was influenced some years ago by the evidence of middle-class opposition in Delhi to pollution from motorized rickshaws and how, to clean the air, polluting factories were closed down at the cost of poor industrial workers. She accordingly criticized the theory of the environmentalism of the poor that Ramachandra Guha and myself had proposed since the early 1990s. The EJAtlas shows conclusively that the participants in environmental conflicts in India and elsewhere belong to different social groups and classes. Those protagonists who belong to the professional middle class are more visible because of access to social media. Scientists sometimes engage with activists (Chapter 28). However, the main victims are the poor (and often the Indigenous), and they are also the bulk of those who protest. They are Dalits and Adivasi and other lower caste citizens. But it depends on the type of conflict. Both in Kerala and in Tamil Nadu we have seen fisherfolk (of different religions but of lower caste) become active. We have also seen neighbours and citizens protest against urban waste dumping and against the Vedanta smelter. The theory of the environmentalism of the poor (and the Indigenous) remains robust. When there is an environmental conflict, ordinary people defend the environment because of their own cultural values and also, perhaps mainly, for survival.

There is a strong presence of Adivasi protagonists ‒ not only in Odisha and central India, also in the South. Constitutional protection of the Adivasi (perhaps 100 million people in India as a whole) appears in these cases, although we know that the Hindutva political forces try to undermine it. Adivasi translates as “original population”. Meanwhile, the BJP and the Hindutva forces want to relegate them by renaming them as Vanvasi, peoples of the forests, and expropriate and re-educate them (as is obvious in Odisha). Adivasi often live at the frontiers of commodity extraction and waste disposal. Although sometimes the new frontiers of extraction are on the contrary occupied by long settled farmers as happens with oil and gas in the Cauvery delta.

This chapter will serve as an introduction to the next transversal chapter on nuclear energy conflicts where other cases from India appear.

Notes

1

Fishworkers struggle in Kerala India (Joan Martinez-Alier), EJAtlas.

Menon, M. (2001). A sea of fury: A brief history of four decades of struggle of the National Fishworkers Forum.

Mathews, R.D. (2011). Fishworkers movement in Kerala, Intercultural Resources.

2

Villagers engage in turtle conservation against sand mining, northern Kerala, India (Joan Martinez-Alier), EJAtlas.

3

Athirapally dam, Kerala, India (Joan Martinez-Alier), EJAtlas.

Society for Promotion of Wastelands Development and Rights and Resources Initiative, 2012. Forest and Common Land Acquisition. Estimated Forecast and Lessons of Case Studies from 6 States, India Water Portal.

Pereira, I. (2012). Panel report on Athirapally project biased, The Hindu, 1 January.

4

Vilappilsala waste plant, Kerala, India (Swapan Kumar Patra), EJAtlas.

The Hindu (2012). Administration buckles under protest against Vilappilsala waste plant, 14 August.

5

Coca-Cola plant in Plachimada, Kerala, India (Daniela Del Bene), EJAtlas.

Shiva, V. (2004). Building water democracy: Peoples victory against Coca-Cola in Plachimada, Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology.

Mathews, R.D. (2011). The Plachimada struggle against Coca Cola in Southern India, Ritimo.p. 190

6

Use of Endosulphan in Kasaragod district Kerala, India (Swapan Kumar Patra), EJAtlas.

Misra, S.S., Joshi, S. and DTE Staff (2018). Tracking decades-long endosulfan tragedy in Kerala, DownToEarth, 16 August.

7

The Hindu (2018). Endosulfan victims on the warpath, 30 January.

8

Lakshadweep islands residents complain against a “political-corporate” nexus, India (Joan Martinez-Alier), EJAtlas.

9

Kavuthi-Vediyappan Hills, Tamil Nadu, India (Arpita Bisht),

The Hindu (2014). DMK will not allow Kavuthi hill iron ore mining project: Stalin, 12 April.

10

Hydrocarbon extraction in Discovered Small Field (DSF) in Neduvasal, Tamil Nadu, India (Arpita Lulla Kalpavriksh), EJAtlas.

Oil spill by ONGC, Kathiramnagalam, Cauvery delta, TN, India (Arpita Lulla Kalpavriksh), EJAtlas.

The Times of India (2019). HC dismisses plea against hydrocarbon project in Neduvasal, 1 March.

11

Cheyyur Ultra Mega Power Plant, Tamil Nadu, India (Swapan Kumar Patra), EJAtlas.

12

Sterlite copper smelter unit, Tamil Nadu, India (Swapan Kumar Patra, Arpita Bisht and Martínez-Alier), EJAtlas.MAC: Mines and Communities (2013). Vedanta shouldn’t be allowed to re-open polluting Indian smelter, 13 May. Ruiz Leotaud, V. (2018). Protests in India against Vedanta's copper smelter, Mining.com, 25 March. Newsclick (2018). Thousands unite against Vedanta's Sterlite Copper Plant in TN's Thoothukudi, 26 March. Thangavelu, D. (2018). Tamil Nadu: Protests against copper plant in Thoothukudi intensify, Mint, 27 March.

13

Chennai's seashore beautification and fisherfolk resistance, India (Joan Martinez-Alier), EJAtlas.

14

Ennore coal power plant and Fisherfolk protest, north Chennai, India (Federico Demaria), EJAtlas.

Chandrasekhar, A. (2018). Meet the kabaddi coach who's fighting for clean air in Ennore, The Hindu, 22 December.

Yamunan, S. (2015). Ennore fishermen protest ‘destruction of mangroves, The Hindu, 31 December.

Jayaraman, N. (2014). Remember this much. The sea will eat you, Grist Media, 26 November.

Scroll Staff (2017). Watch: TM Krishna sings to arouse people into preventing Chennai's environmental degradation, Scroll.in, 15 January.

15

Unilever refused responsibility for Kodaikanal mercury poisoning, India (Federico Demaria and Brototi Roy), EJAtlas.

Hiddleston, S. (2010). Poisoned ground, Frontline, vol. 27, no. 19, 24 September.

16

Expansion of Salem Airport, Tamil Nadu, India (Brototi Roy), EJAtlas.

Land acquisition for Chennai-Salem 8 lane expressway, Tamil Nadu, India (Brototi Roy), EJAtlas.

17

Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant, India (Basarat Hassan, V. V. Krishna and FM), EJAtlas.

Kalpakkam's fast breeder reactor, India (Joan Martinez-Alier), EJAtlas.

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