Coal ash: ‘White prawns turned into ash prawns; fishers pushed into poverty’

In a webinar themed on the adverse effects of fossil fuels on the indigenous communities living around power plants, participants from various regions of India shared how both human health and livelihoods are impacted. They underlined that the communities must be at the focus of planning and decision making.

Pratyaksh Srivastava
| Updated: July 19th, 2021

Questions were raised about how the issue of coal mining and its effect on the indigenous communities are addressed. All photos by Amirtharaj Stephen

A representative from Tamil Nadu’s environment protection group Poovulagin Nanbargal shared today, on July 19, that coal ash from thermal power plants in Chennai’s Ennore has turned white prawns in the Ennore River into ash prawns.

“As a result of hydrocarbon exploration, coastal inland fishers living around thermal power plants in Ennore have been pushed into poverty. A community that was self-reliant has been forced to beg for jobs, as the industries have destroyed the ecology and biodiversity that sustained generations,” Sundarrajan said at the webinar.

G Sundarrajan shared the disastrous effect of hydrocarbons in a webinar aimed at highlighting the adverse effects of fossil fuels and their impact on the indigenous communities living in close proximity with the power plants, emphasis was laid on the need to consider energy needs from the viewpoint of the people who bear the brunt of an inconsiderately remorseless energy policy.

The webinar titled, ‘Indigenous Communities, Fossil Fuels and Health’ was jointly organised by Climate Action Network-South Asia (CANSA), a coalition of over 250 civil society organisations working in eight South Asian countries, and Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) — an international non-governmental organisation (NGO) today, on July 19. It was moderated by Shweta Narayan , a climate and and health Campaigner from the HCWH.

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Sundarrajan also pointed out that the Cauvery Delta — which is known as Tamil Nadu’s rice bowl, is under attack by the reckless industries.

Also Read: ‘Eight major coal ash breach accidents in past two years, penalties levied but not paid by coal-based power plants’

“The Cauvery Delta that supports millions of farmers is the epicentre of the hydrocarbon crisis. Thousands of acres of agricultural land has been destroyed due to hydrocarbon exploration,” the environmental activist added.

No climate justice without social justice

Rinchin, a Chhattisgarh-based writer and a social activist, stated in the webinar that people who are directly affected due to the generation of power from fossil fuels are not paid heed when energy policies are devised.

“The communities most impacted by the fossil fuel industry should be at the core of the planning process to move away from fossil fuel dependent energy for a just transition. There is no climate justice without social justice,” she said.

Also Read: 7 states, 17 major incidents of coal ash mismanagement in India in past one year: Report

The activist also raised questions about how the issue of coal mining and its effect on the indigenous communities are addressed.

“When we tell the courts that the particulate matter (PM 2.5) in areas around a coal mine are several times higher than in Delhi, they ask us to show any other coal mine that has a lower level of PM 2.5 than the one we are complaining about. This shouldn’t be the question we should be asking if we are to save these people from the devastation caused by fossil fuels,” Rinchin added. 

‘All is not well’

In the webinar, Sanjay Vashist, Director of the CANSA, stated that by only prioritising the economic aspect of the development, countries have opted for fossil fuels as a selfish means to secure energy needs. 

“But the climate consequences are enormous and clearly sends the message – All Is Not Well,” he said.

“We have to act now. Fossil fuel use, a major cause of climate change, is a weapon of mass destruction. There are no more excuses. We have an alternative – renewable energy is viable. It ensures growth on social and environmental parameters, ensures climate justice and equity,” Vashist added.

Also Read: The criminality of fly ash management

‘Climate crisis is a health crisis’

Emphasising that the cause of saving climate is all about saving the human race itself, Poornima Prabhakaran, Deputy Director, Center for Environmental Health, Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) highlighted that the climate crisis is a health crisis.

“Climate crisis is a health crisis, the science is out there, the evidence is out there. Climate change also increases the chances of vector-borne diseases. With India being host to 15 of 20 most polluted cities in the world, it is highly vulnerable to the bouquet of climate related diseases,” Prabhakaran said.

“Now is the time we put health in the centre of all conversations. The pandemic [COVID19] has shown us how critical health preparedness and health infrastructure is. Even as we phase out from fossil fuels, health professionals need to be prepared to handle the climate emergency,” she added.

‘Fossil fuel – a weapon of mass destruction’

Meanwhile, Tasneem Essop, Executive Director, Climate Action Network – International, stated that fossil fuels are a weapon of mass destruction.

“Shifting away from fossil fuels must be done through a just transition. However, it must be a process that must start from those who are most affected, most oppressed and most marginalised, especially those who bear the brunt of our present fossil fuel addiction,” she said in the closing remarks of the webinar.