Monday, September 26, 2011

India: Clean Energy, Unclean Means

As India struggles to decrease its dependence on coal based power (currently, 73%  power comes from coal) and find alternative energy sources, the need to produce renewable power is greater than ever before. The government is doing all it can: calling on investors, liberalizing policies, simplifying processes. In short, our industries have never had it so smooth. Yet, there has been a lot of foul play on the part of the industries. This week alone has seen unearthing of at least 2 such instances.

The first incident took place in Palakkad district of Kerala – a state in south of India. Here, the power major Suzlon had set up two wind mills. Now, it has come to the notice that most of the land acquired by Suzlon is actually land forcibly taken from the local tribal communities. The massive encroachment (85.21 acres)has embarrassed the government which has now ordered taking back of the land from Suzlon.

According to the Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, the government would take the land in its possession and return it to the tribals, with the title deeds and other documents.

Moving from Kerala to neighboring Karnataka, the state Forest Department this week slapped an eviction notice on Limbavali Mini Hydel Project – a privately owned project. The government says that the project violated all forest norms and that the project site itself is inside a reserve forest range.The hydel project, owned by a former minister called Arvind Limbavali also encroached an elephant corridor.

All the other infrastructure of the project including penstock, power house and transmission lines have been also established in thick forest areas under the elephant corridor.

Unfortunate, but at least these two cases show some positive action taken by the government. However, there are cases where it seems unwilling to act, despite strong demand and proof of foul play. Take Orissa  for example.
In a recent expose by Transparency International – a global anti-corruption group, 32 mini hydel power projects came up in the state in last eight years flouting all official rules and procedure. No tender was called, no adverts were issued in newspapers, as is the norm of Orissa Renewable Energy Development Agency (OREDA). 

Also, a few weeks ago, thousands of locals in Kullu of Himachal Pradesh protested on street against the Water Miller Hydro Company – a mini hydel project. The locals say that the project is coming up over a waterfall (Jogni) which they consider their patron deity.(Yes, no illegality here, but cultural and religious sentiments also count, don’t they? Isn’t that the main issue with Niyamgiri hills?) The community is asking for a total scrapping of the project, which, anyway, isn’t going to produce more than 1 megawatt of power.

The question that naturally rises, is, what prompts the industry owners to rush like that, without caring to go through even the basic process? One answer is this: all renewable energy projects get exemption from income tax for the first 15 years of operation and subsidies from the central government. Obviously, there is a huge opportunity to make a lot of money.

Making money isn’t bad. And we need clean power like never before. But if it creates conflicts unnecessarily, displaces thousands and makes a joke of the law of the land, the cost  becomes too high to afford.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Our lives are creating externalities we cannot avoid to care anymore. When corruption becomes the foundation stone of industry, it is not progress we are looking at but retrogade.