Demanding immediate employment and rehabilitation, residents of five villages in Vemula mandal, of Kadapa district – Velpula, Mabbuchintalapalli, Rachakuntlapalle, Bhumiya Garipalli and KK Kotala – which will be affected by Uranium Corporation of India’s (UCIL) expansion, have gone on an indefinite strike. They also threatened to disrupt the public hearing regarding the plant’s expansion, which is scheduled to take place in January. All stakeholders are set to participate in it.
The protestors, under the banner of “Uranium Affected Villages” sat in protest on Thursday. They have planned for a sustained campaign in which each day, the affected villages on a rotational basis will hold a protest in their respective villages.
Opposing the plant’s expansion, the protestors have put a charter of eight demands including immediate employment, rehabilitation, compensation. They alleged that UCIL did not honour their contract of providing employment, fair compensation and rehabilitation, which it had assured them in 2006.
With the expansion, the project aims to increase its production from 9 lakh tonnes per annum to 13.5 lakh tonnes per annum. The proposed expansion will include the limits of nine villages — Medipentla, Velpula Mabbuchintalapalli, Rachakuntlapalle, Bhumiya Garipalli, Kanumalavaripalli, KK Kotala, Tummalapalle and Bhumayagaripalle of Vemula mandal.
The protestors demanded that besides UCIL, other companies which are part of the Uranium mining project should provide employment to the farmers who lost their lands. They also demanded UCIL buy lands of other farmers in the village and provide them compensation. They said that due to lapses in the construction of the tailing pond, the waste from the plant has seeped underground which has not just affected the main crop of bananas, but all others too.
“Farmers are unable to recover their losses. The government should compensate these farmers and take strict measures to prevent water pollution,” said Maraka Sivaramakrishna Reddy, YSRCP state joint secretary, who is also the leader of the UCIL Workers’ Union.
Reddy said that the protest will continue as long as the farmers do not get justice.
The notification for the public hearing was released by the Pollution Control Board earlier this month.
K Jayashree, Vice President of Human Rights Forum (HRF), a movement-based organisation, said that the government should first disclose the reports about the effects of the plant on the health of people in the region before going ahead with the public hearing. Locals allege that the plant has severely polluted the underground water leading to skin diseases, among other illnesses.
Environmental activists protesting the UCIL’s expansion allege that the chemical sludge is directly being released into the ground, affecting health and destroying agriculture in the region.