Vivek Bhide, a coal activist’s story from Maharashtra

October 23, 2012 5:11 pm

Dr. Vivek Bhide is a mango and cashew grower and an amazing activist from the lush and beautiful coastal district of Ratnagiri in Maharashtra. Dr Bhide asks why, the Government wants to make the twin districts of Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg, a new power hub of the country. A dozen thermal power plants have been planned in these two districts – which would produce more than 30,000 MW in nearly a decade’s time,” says Dr. Bhide, who is spearheading a campaign against the power projects in the region.

With 90,000 hectares of mango, 1,75,000 hectares of cashew and a good catch of fish, there is nothing much for the locals to complain of a life before the power plants would come up.

Dr. Bhide, a medical professional who is the trustee of Sansthan Shreedev Ganpatipule and president of Ratnagiri Zilla Jagruk Manch, Gaints Charitable Trust & Shrimangoes Shetkari Mandal Malgund, points out that the aerial distance of Ratnagiri is nearly 167 kms while for Sindhudurg it is 128 kms. “After every 20 to 30 kms a power plant will be ercted. what would happen to touris?” he asks. Dr Bhide is also mango cultivator – and he does not hasten to point out: “In future, we would have to forget Alfonsos (a variety of mango)”

Four years ago, he also took on the role of environmental campaigner for his community when a company began building a thermal power plant nearby.Fearing that the plant’s emissions would reduce crop yields, Bhide wrote countless letters to officials, met with politicians and organized protests calling for the projects to be scrapped. When those efforts failed, he and his friends turned to one of the most powerful legal tools available to Indian citizens: they filed public interest litigations, forcing the project’s delay.

“I am an ordinary citizen. How do I resist decisions that are made at the top?” asked Bhide, 47. “The court is my only battleground.” In the past two decades, tens of thousands of public interest litigations have been filed against the Indian government and corporations on grounds that such mega-projects threaten livelihoods, land or the environment. These suits have led to landmark rulings on education, the environment and human rights in India.

Dr Bhide ultimately filed two petitions, in 2006 and 2008, against JSW Energy’s $130 million power plant project. In September 2009, the Delhi High Court told India’s Environment Ministry to “re-examine” the approval given to the thermal plant and ordered the factory to delay operating until the process was complete. But in June, an environment committee gave the plant the go-ahead. A company spokesman said the project follows all environmental guidelines but declined to comment on Bhide’s petitions. Bhide said he is preparing a petition asking the government to assess the environmental impact of several thermal power stations planned in the area.

“They say that India needs these power projects to reach heaven,” he said. “But what about the hell it will bring upon our environment?”

Dr. Bhide’s story is one amongst many of those activists who are dedicating their lives for what they believe is the right thing to do. Register yourself for an India beyond coal action and show your support for people like Dr. Bhide.

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