Turbulence and opposition marked the public hearing for a 1300 MW thermal power plant by Sindya Power Generating Company Private Limited here at Perunthottam village in Sirkazhi taluk on Friday. The project envisages a 660x2 MW thermal power plant and a captive jetty at an estimated cost of Rs.7,000 crore.

The hearing commenced with the Pollution Control Board district officer reading out from a list, allegedly prepared by Sindya Power, of persons who wanted to record their support for the project. The first hour rolled by with the microphone circulated amongst project supporters. Upset by this, others protested and the Collector intervened to have the mike passed on to opposing villagers.

Jesurethinam of Coastal Action Network, an NGO, called for a status report on thermal power plants commissioned in the State and their cost-benefit analysis. The transmission losses, as per Central Electricity Authority, was 35 per cent as of 2010 and this had to be addressed.

According to her, a scientific evaluation of the benefits as well as social and environmental costs was needed.

Project opposition by locals was pitched around what was called the ‘myth of power shortage and of employment.' According to Jeevanantham, the long hours of load shedding in all districts except Chennai was to create anxiety and push for thermal plants along the coasts. He also alleged that there were barely any local employees in the existing PPN power plant that came up on similar promise and that employment generation was a myth.

According to Dhanam, a fisherwoman, over six villages in the surrounding areas thrived on fishing for livelihood and this would be lost to siltation by the captive jetty and contamination by the thermal plant.

Other locals pledged their support for the project, citing their hopes of development and potential employment from the project. Of the 64 voices recorded at the hearing, over 40 people recorded their dissent with the PCB. Even as a strong police force was stationed in the area, the company engaged a private security service to regiment public movement within the site, angering some.

Over 11 thermal plants with captive jetties have been proposed and are under various stages of consideration here along the coast. Environmental groups have been demanding a cumulative carrying capacity study in order to arrive at a comprehensive assessment of their impact on the coastal ecology.

In related information obtained by The Hindu, the forest department has dismissed the submission made by Sindya Power on the project's impact on marine diversity. The department had contested the Environmental Impact Assessment, which held that there were no endangered or threatened species on the project area. The company had submitted that there was no recorded migratory route for Olive Ridley nesting, and it was only a sporadic phenomenon. Also, the company had submitted that they would establish adequate hatcheries for their protection.

Dismissing the company's submission, the department has stated that Olive Ridleys do not have a particular place of habitation and they were by nature migratory along their chosen coastal nesting sites. Further, dismissing the company's case for establishing hatcheries as part of coastal habitat management, the department has said that Olive Ridleys are not reared in captivity and there was no point in hatcheries after destruction of their nesting sites. The proposed site for laying of pipe lines and a conveyor system from the captive jetty to the plant passes through hatching areas.

The GPS coordinates of the project site were different from those of the area studied and submitted by the project proponent, the forest department has recorded.

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