Why Andhra Villagers Are up Against Godavari Mega Aqua Food Park

The movement started in three directly affected villages as Anti-Food Park Struggle but now spread to 40 villages.

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The aqua food park has seen a fair amount of resistance from the locals for the last three years. (Photo: Rahul Maganti)

“The canal is a lifeline for farmers and fishermen across 9 mandals, and is used to cultivate 40,000 acres of agriculture, 15,000 acres of aquaculture. 50,000 fishermen directly earn their livelihood from the water," says Trimurthulu, as he looks at the Gontheru canal in Andhra's West Godavari District.

Trimurthulu was recently released after he spent 53 days in prison, leaving behind a newly-married wife, and his one-month-old son.

"It provides drinking water to more than 2 lakh people in Bhimavaram and Narsapuram mandals. They want to deprive one lakh people of their livelihoods, and create a mere 1,350 jobs, and pollute our lands, environment and health. How is it fair?” he asks.

Trimurthulu, a leader of the Anti-Food Park Struggle Committee, who has been opposing the Godavari Mega Aqua Food Park owned by the Ananda Group of Industries. The Food park is coming up in between the villages of Tundurru, K Bethapudi and Jonnalagaruvu, and has seen a fair amount of resistance from the locals over the past three years.

Along with Trimurthulu, Vasu, who is the convener of the committee, also spent 53 days in jail.

The state’s own reports say that the Food Park needs 1.43 lakh litres of water per day. Where will the industry get so much of water from? They either have to use ground water or the Gontheru canal. The same reports also say that the output per day is 1.05 lakh litres. Where will the industry release this highly poisonous water into? They have no other option but Gontheru.
Vasu

A catchy slogan that Andhra Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu and the TDP coined in the run-up to the 2014 Assembly elections was ‘Babu vaste, jabu vastadi’, which translates to 'if Chandrababu comes, jobs will come'.

However, in this bid to create jobs by ‘industrialising’ the state, locals say that he has been taking away farm lands and the common resources of the people in the name of ‘development’.

An all-party delegation expressing solidarity with the struggle of the villagers. (Photo: Rahul Maganti)
An all-party delegation expressing solidarity with the struggle of the villagers. (Photo: Rahul Maganti)
The movement, which started in three directly affected villages under the name Anti-Food Park Struggle Committee, has since spread to 40 villages in the catchment area of Gontheru, under the name Gontheru Parirakshana (Conservation) Committee. The government, on its part, has promised to construct a 27-km-long pipeline from the industry to the sea, to discharge the waste and other poisonous chemicals.
Why does the state want to construct a pipeline now, when it initially claimed that the Food Park was pollution free? It’s because such a statement will neutralise and dilute the resistance from the rest of the villages. People have seen how dangerous these industries can be when five workers were murdered by the same Ananda Group of Industries after they inhaled poisonous gas last month.
Trimurthulu, who is also an activist with the CPI(M)

Where did it all start?

Gontheru canal has 7 tributaries, which provide irrigation water to over 40,000 acres. (Photo: Rahul Maganti)
Gontheru canal has 7 tributaries, which provide irrigation water to over 40,000 acres. (Photo: Rahul Maganti)

In 2013, the Ananda Group reportedly bought 30 acres of land on the pretext of cultivating fish tanks from a landlord who lived in America. This forced small and marginal farmers in the area to sell their land, fearing loss in soil fertility and contamination of the water due to fish tanks.

Within a few months, the company reportedly owned 63 acres. All this land is just 50 metres away from the drinking water ponds of Tundurru and Bethapudi, and within 300 metres of the Jonnalagaruvu habitation.

Locals also allege that the company used some dubious methods to convert the land from an agricultural land to industrial land.

The setting up of the Food Park is expected to cost Rs 122.5 crore, with the Andhra government bearing Rs 50 crore, and the Ananda Group bearing the rest. 
The Food Park got the clearance from our side in May 2014. They have a good Effluent Treatment Plant with the required technology. Most of the wastage is biodegradable
Venkateswarlu, Executive Engineer, Pollution Control Board

However, Vasu does not buy this. “How did five people die in a similar industry owned by the same group of people? The Mega Food Park is 10 times more dangerous. This is a complete processing unit while the earlier industry just removed the heads of the sea products. Yes, prawns and shrimps are biodegradable. Are the 570 odd chemicals used in the process biodegradable too?” he asks.

The locals say that no public hearing was ever held even the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report was not made accessible to them.

Since then, 16 villages, including Tundurru, Bethapudi and Jonnalagaruvu, passed Gram Sabha resolutions against the construction of the Food Park. However, the state allegedly didn’t take any of them into confidence, and proceeded ahead with the construction which led to a massive movement.

Police Repression

The day was 8 March 2017, International Women’s Day, and local women, who have participated equally, if not more than their male counterparts in the movement, decided to take the centre stage.

Around 1,000 women led by All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA) leaders D Kalyani and P Poorna came onto the streets and began protesting against the construction of the food park.

In retaliation, 1,800 policemen allegedly attacked the gathering and arrested 130 women.

Local women say that many male police officers dragged and beat them up since there weren’t enough women officers to handle the crowd. After the women were arrested, as a mark of solidarity, their children came onto the streets and protested. 12-year-old Jyotsna, daughter of Mahalakshmi, who got arrested, was the first to come onto the streets and mobilise her friends and classmates. 

When this reporter asked her why she did so, she says, “We don’t need money or jobs or properties. We want good health and a clean environment.”

What is even more troubling is that Section 144 was brought into effect on 9 September 2016, and is still being enforced today.

Temporary police stations, in the name of pickets, have come up in all these villages, and a minimum of 200-300 policemen patrol these villages, with 50 of them near the site of the industry. A total of 20 cases have been filed against over 300 villagers, with some of them on serious charges like 'attempt to murder policemen'.

Activists say that the accused column in most of these FIR’s read ‘X + others’, which is a license for the policemen to arrest any person at any time.

On 21 April, in a bid to accentuate the struggle against the proposed food park, 10 activists, including two women, started an indefinite hunger strike.

In response, the police allegedly arrested five people and ransacked the stage set for the hunger strike. Despite this, the protest forced the Sub-Collector of Narsapuram to concede to their demands of releasing the arrested persons as well as permission for starting the indefinite hunger strike.

However, despite getting permission, the policemen allegedly lifted all the hunger-strikers in the evening of 22 April.

Pollution

Even before the 'mega' food park arrives, locals say they are already witnessing the pollution of ground water and irrigation canals in the region, due to fish tanks and aqua industries.

For almost a year, the drinking water that we get from panchayat taps has been green is colour. We buy drinking water from Tundurru by spending Rs 30 on a 5-litre tin.
Koyya Keerthana from a Dalit hamlet Jonnalagaruvu
 Koyya Keerthana showing the colour of drinking water in Jonnalagaruvu. (Photo: Rahul Maganti)
Koyya Keerthana showing the colour of drinking water in Jonnalagaruvu. (Photo: Rahul Maganti)

Drinking water is a problem in almost all the surrounding villages where aquaculture is deeply entrenched since the early 1990’s.

We use to drink water from Yanamadurru canal and Gosthani river till 1980's. They used to irrigate thousands of acres and also provide a livelihood to fishermen. However, the factories and industries changed the canal into a drain on official records, which gives them legal permission to release their waste into it. Now, you can’t even stand close to them. It reeks of a pungent smell.
Sekar, Serayapalem
A dead turtle on the banks of Gontheru. (Photo: Rahul Maganti)
A dead turtle on the banks of Gontheru. (Photo: Rahul Maganti)

“Delta Sugars, Paper mills and other such factories owned by politicians, including Gokaraju Gangaraju, BJP MP from Narsapur, are responsible for the loss of livelihood across 58 fishermen villages and thousands of farmers,” says Govindaswamy from Tokatippa.

The people in the villages of the catchment area of the Yanamadurru canal and Gosthani river have complained that their vessels turned black and that lung-related ailment are now common. They say that the banks of these canals are filled with dead turtles and fishes.

“We have already lost Yanamadurru and Gosthani to industrial pollution. We don’t want the same to happen to Gontheru,” says Vasu.

(This story was originally published in The News Minute)

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