It had resisted setting up of a ship-breaking yard in 1987; it had successfully challenged the establishment of Barge Mounted Power Plant in 1996; and it hadn't let a sea port ravage its beauty in the year 2000. But the battles are not over for Tadadi and other fishing communities in the estuarine backwaters on the west coast near Karwar. Their next challenge looms, as the Government of Karnataka forces a 4000 MW coal-fired power plant on their pristine environment and livelihoods. And once again, the 'environment versus development' debate is on familiar turf, pitching ecological diversity and peoples' livelihoods against power generation and employment creation.
Why should Tadadi be the favoured site for most big projects? Undoubtedly, it holds currency for being in close proximity to the sea, and the consequent ease of shipping in raw materials - the proposed power plant will run on coal that will be shipped from Australia. Coastal sites also make it much easier to dispose off harmful wastes, and while this calculation is often made, it is in gross violation of the Coastal Regulatory Zone (CRZ) provisions. But that is of little consequence in the present scheme of things, the CRZ regulations are rarely observed by large project developers anywhere in the country, let alone in news-remote areas.
Disregard for local sentiment is also an established tradition, by now. In proposing the project the government has undermined the sustained protests against it by fishermen, and has also avoided all ecological rationale. No wonder, then, the entire affected community of over 25,000 people is up in arms against government's decision to uproot them. While the government may seem better prepared to face the opposition this time, it is up against a combined force of religious heads, community leaders and local elected representatives. In a recent meeting with the agitators, the Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy sought refuge in an empowered committee that will examine the social, ecological and economic concerns of the affected community. However, the leader of the protest movement M R Hegde believes that this is simply a political ploy to delay the decision.
Another familiar and cruel joke: the proposed project seeks to generate employment for the poor by first destroying their existing livelihoods. The growing penchant for achieving economic growth for a few undermines all other considerations. This dangerous trade-off cannot be justified on economic grounds, given how often such projects have failed to deliver promised results.
While the government may seem better prepared to face the opposition this time, it is up against a combined force of religious heads, community leaders and local elected representatives.