Alphonso farmer Uday Jog’s produce is down 75% this year after November showers and an unusually warm winter battered the Konkan coast, where orchards nestle between pristine beaches and rolling hills.
But that does not worry him. Mango farms along the lush coast of India’s most industrialized state are on the thresh-hold of unprecedented opportunity, global and local, fuelled by deregulated markets in Japan and the US and by the agricultural boom powered by Indian retail companies such as Reliance Retail, Bharti Enterprises and Pantaloon Retail.
What does worry Jog is the effect a proposed 1,200 megawatt (MW) thermal power plant—it will burn 4.1 million tonnes (mt) of coal each year—just outside his village Nandivde, 290km south of Mumbai—will have on his 250 mango trees.
“Mango trees flower just once a year, and the crop is very delicate,” said Jog. “The changes in temperature, the emission of fly-ash over a 20km radius will make the dew acidic… will all this not damage my trees?”
The plan for the plant being set up by JSW Energy Ltd (formerly Jindal Thermal Power Company) and spread over 1,025 acres, comes with a port attached, which will come in handy to import coal. It is currently before a central committee seeking environmental clearance. “The plant will be functional 27 months after work on it begins,” said Raaj Kumar, CEO JSW Energy. (Graphic)
In the mango country along the Konkan coast, JSW’s is one of the six planned coal-fired power plants that could help end the growing state of darkness in Maharashtra. The state’s power shortfall is 5,500MW and growing, even as the government makes frantic efforts to buy or generate more energy to feed industries, malls, homes and booming small towns.
From this week, power cuts in Mumbai’s eastern suburbs and Navi Mumbai will increase by an hour or two from the daily four-and-half-hours. In other parts of the state, the power will now stay off for more than 15 hours a day.
Farmers produce 2,00,000 tonnes of the lucrative mango each year and farmer groups said they would like a cumulative assessment of how these projects might impact the region’s environment, and agriculture. Their fears come at a time when mango-growers are looking at an unprecedented opportunity for their fruit to travel the world.
The US and Japan have lifted decades-old bans on the import of Indian mangoes. Until now, Konkan mangoes were largely sold within the state and exported mostly to West Asia.
Jog’s farm proudly displays a Euro certification that he secured last year, which means that his mangoes meet more than 300 stringent quality norms and can hit supermarkets shelves across Europe.
Agriculture experts said it’s too early to say if the new power plants could kill the Konkan mango farmer’s aspirations but opposition to the plants has already resulted in the Maharashtra government deciding not to locate a planned ultra mega power plant at Girye. It is now looking for alternative sites and the Central Electricity Authority has given it till the end of the month to find one. If it can’t, the state loses the plant.
On 13 April, the region’s largest agricultural university, the Konkan Krishi Vidyapeeth, signed an agreement with JSW to conduct a Rs2.5 crore three-year-long study to assess the environmental impact of the power plant on the mango crop.
“We will be simulating atmospheric conditions of higher sulphur and nitrogen dioxide akin to that when the power plant is functional, and looking at its impact on mango plants of various ages,” said the university’s vice-chancellor Vijay Mehata. “The college of fisheries will study the impact on fishing incomes. We should be able to have definite conclusions at the end of the three-year study.”
The locals are not satisfied, and protesting farmers have formed the Ratnagiri Zilla Jagruk Manch (Ratnagiri district awareness forum) and moved the Bombay high court on what they say is a faulty Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report and public hearing process. The court will hear them on 19 April. “The local ecology is far more delicate and complex than depicted in the EIA report,” said Manch head and mango farmer Vivek Bhide of Malgund village. “We would like an independent panel of five-six experts to conduct the study and the government to fund it. What use is a three-year-study if plants have already been cleared. ”
Locals point out that the Konkan is one of Maharashtra’s rare areas where farmers can still make a decent living from agriculture. They refer to Vidarbha, the state’s Punjab-sized northern region, where cotton farmers regularly commit suicide with the cotton economy slowly collapsing around them. “Farming gives us work 365 days a year,” said Jog. “Does the government want to send us the Vidarbha way?”