People agitating since 74 days demanding cancellation of consent given to Somani group

A light drizzle the other day at the coal storage and screening yard of M/s Mechel Somani Carbon Private Limited at Appannapalem in Kothavalasa mandal has left a trail of black mark on the soil.

“What happens if it rains heavily and the coal dust flows into the Raavi minor irrigation tank, a few metres from the coal yard?” asks G. Ramakrishna, convenor of the Boggu Yard Vyatirekha Porata Committee. A number of women were found staging a dharna near the coal yard on Thursday. But no official was present to hear them. Barring two security guards there was no activity at all inside the yard where huge mounds of coal and a grading machine were found.

The tank irrigates 113 acres of land all through the year and about 130 small farmers of Nimmalapalem are dependent on it. After meeting the needs of farmers at Karri Chinnayyapalem, Tummikapalli, Nimmalapalem, and Addurupalem villages, water enters Kothavalasa gedda and flows into the Meghadrigedda reservoir in Visakhapatnam, says president of the Water Users’ Association Bobba Appala Naidu.

All the small farmers as well as people from 10 surrounding villages have been agitating for the last 74 days demanding that the district administration cancel the consent order issued to the Somani group of Delhi for establishment of the Rs. 3.8-crore coal (334TPD) storage and crushing yard. The villagers came to know about the activities at the yard only after a coal-laden truck overturned.

When the MPDO and special officer of Appannapalem conducted a grama sabha on January 23, the villagers opposed it vehemently on the ground that coal dust would affect their lives. Coal is shipped to Visakhapatnam Port from Russia and stored at the site for crushing to 6mm-30mm size and supplying the same to ferro alloys units, thermal power plants, etc in the coastal districts.

Meanwhile, the Somani group completed construction of 10-15-foot-high compound wall around the allotted 7.94acres of land and dumped mounds of coal inside. While the yard is located on an elevated land on the east side abutting the Visakhapatnam-Araku Road, the irrigation tank in an area of 30 acres is on the west side of the road. The distance between the yard and the tank is not more than 50 metres. The residential area is on the south and Jindal Steels to the north of the yard. “As the yard is on an elevated land rainwater is sure to enter the irrigation tank and chances of polluting it is high,” says WUA president. Former vice MPP of Appannapalem Tikkana China Demudu and 92-year-old Gumpa Sriramulu Naidu, who was sarpanch of Nimmalapalem for 45 years, said Transport Minister Botcha Satyanarayana, who stopped at the protest camp a couple of months ago, invited them to his house for talks. He discussed the matter with the Collector over phone. But, nothing had happened so far, they lamented.

Following prolonged agitation, G. Raja Kumari, Revenue Divisional Officer, Vizianagaram, asked Agriculture, Irrigation, Ground Water, I&CAD, Animal Husbandry, DM & HO to submit a report on the ill-effects. The DM & HO has sent a team of doctors of Andhra Medical College, Visakhapatnam, to conduct a study. The team in its report said crushing of coal would cause air and water pollution and would pose health hazards like respiratory and skin diseases. Joint Director (Animal Husbandry) J.S.S.M. Sreedhar Kumar said: “Anthracosis (accumulation of carbon particles in lungs) will cause respiratory diseases and affect production.”

Joint Director (Agriculture) G.S.N.S. Leelavathi said: “Coal dust deposits on plants will reduce crop yield and if mixed with water it will turn acidic and unfit for irrigation.” Other department officials too have submitted similar reports. In turn, the RDO submitted a comprehensive report to Collector M. Veerabrahmaiah on March 18. But till date there has been no visible action.