Mundra Ultra Mega Power Project, India

By Peter Liao, SFSU, 2017

About 1/3 of India’s population lives without electricity[1]. In 2005-06, the Indian Ministry of Power proposed developing coal-powered Ultra Mega Power Projects (UMPP) to generate large amounts of low cost electricity[2]. The first UMPP to be commissioned was the Mundra UMPP on the Gulf of Kutch in Mundra in the state of Gujarat[3]. The Mundra UMPP was built on the coast for two reasons: to utilize seawater for cooling, and for better access to cheap coal from Indonesia[4]. Since the beginning of its construction in 2007, the Mundra UMPP has damaged the Kutch coast[5]. I will show that there are energy injustices at Mundra that arose through intentional neglect caused by discrimination.

Image: Tata Mundra UMPP. Joe Athialy, August 18, 2011. 

How has the Mundra UMPP affected the local environment and people?

  • Construction for the UMPP destroyed mangroves, dredged streams, and dumped waste[6], which has contaminated local groundwater with saltwater[7]
  • Imported coal travels from the port to the UMPP on a nine-mile conveyor belt, which spreads coal dust along its path[8]
  • During power production, the UMPP dumps hot water into the sea and emits high amounts of sulfur[9].

The destruction and pollution caused by the UMPP has affected farmers, salt-panners, and fishers[10]. One group of Kutch fishers impacted are the Waghers.

The Waghers are a Muslim minority who have lived on the coast of Gujarat for about 200 years[11]. Every year, they migrate to the Gulf of Kutch for 8 months, starting in summer, to catch fish to make their livings[12]. However, the Waghers have had to adapt to the destruction caused by the Mundra UMPP. From 2009 to 2012, damage to mangroves and creeks decreased fish catch in Mundra by 75% [13]. More recently, one Wagher fisherman said it takes 15 days to make the same catch that was once possible in one day[14].

The Wagher’s traditional practice of pagadiya (literally, “foot-fishing”) has been increasingly replaced by boat fishing; they now travel as far as the open sea, where they have no experience fishing, since thermal pollution has driven fish away[15]. The Waghers bear the environmental burdens of the Mundra UMPP and are losing their traditional lifestyle, despite that an Indian government report claimed fishers would only suffer “minor and non-consequential” impacts, so the Mundra UMPP is a clear case of energy injustice[16].

What is the energy injustice associated with the Mundra UMPP?

Part of the energy injustice from the Mundra UMPP is that its electricity is inaccessible. Soumya Dutta, an activist who campaigned against the UMPP, notes that its electricity is expensive due to rising coal prices and mostly goes to big towns[17]. The Waghers are also denied access to this electricity because the government claims they have no legal right to the land they migrate to[18].

The Waghers were also not involved in decision-making on the Mundra UMPP. One investigation into Mundra found that Tata, the private company that constructed the UMPP, had held public meetings to discuss the plant but no one “could remember any material being distributed … in any languages they understand”[19]. One Wagher elder said “we didn’t know the meaning of ‘public hearing’ back in those days, so we didn’t go”[20].

The Mundra UMPP was a $4.1 billion project, so Tata requested assistance from the International Finance Corporation (IFC)[21]. The August 2013 audit report on Mundra by the CAO, the IFC’s accountability mechanism[22], stated that there were no “effective or timely” consultations with fishers even though they were expected to be “physically and economically” displaced by the UMPP, and that the Waghers were “statutorily recognized as educationally and socially disadvantaged and acknowledged by IFC to be vulnerable”[23]. In effect, the Waghers did not have a fair chance to speak against the UMPP and were forced to bear its environmental burdens.

Why was there energy injustice at Mundra?

One possible cause for the energy injustice at Mundra is discrimination towards the Wagher. The Waghers are a minority in that they are Muslim and that they eat fish, which some Hindus, like the Waghers’ neighbors, look down upon[24]. The Indian government has called them “a socially and educationally backward caste”[25] and requires them to get security clearance permits to fish[26].

The Indian government’s open discrimination towards the Wagher suggests that the cause of energy injustice at Mundra could be explained by the theory of environmental racism. Robert Bullard defines environmental racism as “any policy, practice, or directive that differentially affects or disadvantages (whether intentionally or not) individuals, groups, or communities based on race or color…to provide benefits for whites while shifting costs to people of color”[27]. Similarly, the government, Tata, and the IFC funded and built the UMPP, which disadvantaged the Waghers. Most of the UMPP’s benefits went to big towns with higher class citizens and the costs were shifted onto a minority that is openly discriminated against.


REFERENCES

[1] Yeoman, B. (2015). The Uncounted. Retrieved from http://projects.huffingtonpost.com/worldbank-evicted-abandoned/india-uncounted.

[2] Power Finance Corporation. (2017). Ultra Mega Power Projects. Retrieved from http://www.pfcindia.com/Home/VS/22.

[3] Yeoman (2015).

[4] Bank Information Center. (2013). Activist Q&A: Meet Soumya Dutta. Retrieved from http://www.bankinformationcenter.org/activist-qa-meet-soumya-dutta/.

[5] Bank Information Center (2013).

[6] Bank Information Center (2013).

[7] EarthRights International. (2017). Tata Mundra Coal Power Plant. Retrieved from https://www.earthrights.org/legal/tata-mundra-coal-power-plant.

[8] EarthRights International (2017).

[9] Bank Information Center (2013).

[10] Bank Information Center (2013).

[11] Yeoman (2015).

[12] Yeoman (2015).

[13] Saikia, S. P. (2012). Tata Power’s Mundra project has violated social, eco norms: Report. Retrieved from http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/companies/tata-powers-mundra-project-has-violated-social-eco-norms-report/article3601646.ece.

[14] Yeoman (2015).

[15] Yeoman (2015).

[16] Yeoman (2015).

[17] Bank Information Center (2013).

[18] Bank Information Center (2013).

[19] Yeoman (2015).

[20] Yeoman (2015).

[21] Yeoman (2015).

[22] EarthRights International (2017).

[23] Yeoman (2015).

[24] Yeoman (2015).

[25] Pegg, D. (2015). Why the Mundra power plant has given Tata a mega headache. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2015/apr/16/why-the-mundra-power-plant-has-given-tata-a-mega-headache.

[26] Yeoman (2015).

[27] Bullard, R. D. (2002). Confronting Global Environmental Racism in the Twenty-First Century. UNRISD News No. 25., 89-95.

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