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Cheyyur Ultra Mega Power Plant - A Site Visit Report

Edition: January - March 2018


Cheyyur, in Kanchipuram district, has been proposed by the Government of India as one of the Ultra Mega Power Plant (UMPP) sites. The thermal power plant will function together with a captive port and jetty located on site for transportation of coal. In the public hearing meeting held on May 2010, in Cheyyur for the proposed UMPP, the people of Cheyyur had raised objections citing environmental ill effects, loss of livelihoods, and loss of ecosystem. Despite the significant concerns raised, the proponent, Coastal Tamil Nadu Power Ltd., a government constituted the body, decided to proceed with the plan, subsequently receiving environment clearance on September 30, 2013. There are also ancillary and ongoing court cases involving issues of land acquisition, such as resistance to the acquisition, provision of land equivalent to the acquired land and financial compensation. For some years in between, the project appeared to have gone dormant as there was no acquisition or building activity around the site. Recently though, work has revived, leaving residents in fear that the proposed development is imminent. The author’s site visit was planned to interact with locals, to gain knowledge about the area and observe on-going activities of the plant.


Cheyyur and the surrounding villages have a large agrarian economy. Water is available in abundance and together with ‘salt pans’, agriculture is one of the mainstays of livelihood here. The proposed UMPP site will sit directly on top of fertile farmlands. At the beginning of this sowing season, farmers were asked to not work their fields in anticipation of building works. It took much collective resistance from the local farming community to oppose the order and continue farming their fields.


Image: Pillars running through the farmlands where cultivation is being done

Mr. Shanmugam, who is a resident of Cheyyur, runs an NGO in Cheyyur called Village Education Health and Development Action Trust. Mr Shanmugam showed the author around the disputed area. He pointed out the pillars erected for fences (without barbed wires) and explained how these fencing pillars occupy prime farmland. He reported that building construction has been going on for three months now.


Image: Panoramic view of a location in Thaneer pandal village where the small pillars are being erected for fencing

Mr. Pandiyan, a retired headmaster of a government school shared his experience about the anticipated ill effects of thermal power plants based on his previous experience of living in the Ennore area. His farm, which grows coconut, mango, and cashew, is being surveyed and earmarked for construction of the conveyor belt from port to plant. He added that the Cheyyur and Edaikazhinadu areas of Kanchipuram have fertile soil and abundant water supply, placing them equivalent to the fertile, agricultural lands of Kerala. Edaikazhinadu has plantation and cash crops such as coconut, mango, cashew, and banana. There is a likelihood that pollutants released from the power plant will adversely affect vegetation here. He mentioned that the public hearing for the upcoming project was not widely advertised; consequently, he did attend the proceedings. He expressed serious concerns about erecting a large-scale plant in the middle of farmland and the disastrous legacy we will be leaving behind for future generations. 


Image: Mr. Pandiyan’s coconut farm where the conveyor belt will pass through

Mr. Sengeni, a farmer in the area for the past 30 years, explained that their sole source of income is agriculture. His lands, placed around Palaiyanur and Vedal have abundant fresh water supply. He told us that he had participated in the public hearing and had stormed the collector’s office to protest against the upcoming power plant; but also added that there were farmers in favour of the thermal plant.  

The author next visited Panaiyur village, which is a fishing hamlet selected for the captive port and coal dumping yard. Most of the fishing community is said to have been won over by the job offers made by the project proponent. However, there has so far been no building activity around this site. 

Odiyur lake which meets the Bay of Bengal has at one end mostly abandoned salt pans. The salt pan business was affected by the 2004 tsunami, but now is an important feeding ground for migratory pelicans and flamingos. The outlet from the thermal power plant will pass through the lake and finally mix in the Bay of Bengal. Mr. Shanmugam, who was the author’s guide for this area, explained that the survey underestimated the number of lakes and ponds as several water bodies could have been overlooked because they only hold water seasonally. He explained that the Odiyur salt pan was the site originally selected for the Cheyyur UMPP and that the lack of current information and technical guidance has been an obstacle to steering the protest. Several activists who had participated in the initial protest had also withdrawn, making the movement lose momentum. (The map of the area can be found here)


The curious case of Cheyyur UMPP had to be re-investigated independently. The people suspect there is suppression of information in the Environmental Impact Assessment report and report malpractices in the public hearing. They anticipate damage to the environment, water resources, and agricultural activities because of the power plant. Some people who support the power plant and port project might not be aware of the effects of the power plant; and those that fought it, have each presented a different picture of the what the consequences might be, further confusing locals. The proponent has started their activity now followed by a long period of dormancy following the environment clearance. The compliance of the proponent to the rules that exist now have to be analysed. Steps need to be taken to ensure that the proponent should be directed to comply with existing standards and regulations. The legal existence of the project, economic viability, and other details will be known after going through various reports released by the independent activists which would help augment the opposition against the plant.

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