Sompeta: Shame on Brutal Bloodshed,

Hail the Peasants' Resistance and Victory !


Once again, we have been witness to an unequal battle – thousands of women and men, defending their land and livelihood against corporate land grab armed with nothing but sticks and chilli powder facing a thousands-strong police platoon armed with batons and guns. Sompeta in Srikakulam district of Andhra Pradesh is the latest to enact this heroic scene of resistance – seen earlier at Kalinganagar, Singur, Nandigram, Dadri, Jagatsinghpur and many other places. Four fishermen were killed in the police firing while over 60, including many women, were reportedly severely injured in the brutal lathicharge.  
At Sompeta, rural poor, mainly fisher-people were protesting the setting up of a thermal power plant by NCC Power Projects Limited (NCCPPL), a subsidiary of a real estate company, the Nagarjuna Construction Company (NCC). The power plant had been granted Environmental Clearance in spite of the fact that it would have destroyed the fragile ecosystem of the Beela wetlands in the area, thereby also devastating the livelihoods of the fisher-people.
Just a week ago, the Union Minister for Environment and Forests, Jairam Ramesh, had visited Sompeta and assured villagers that their concerns would be examined sympathetically. The power plant's environmental clearance had been challenged, and the decision of the National Environment Appellate Authority (NEAA) was awaited. The plant was yet to get clearance from the State Pollution Control Board. Yet, in spite of the fact that so many issues were pending, why did the Congress State Government not only allow the NCC to go ahead with its plans to erect a boundary wall, but even back up the company with a police force of 2000? In full view of the police, the NCC had further amassed private goons in the guise of 'construction workers', and these goons joined the police in beating up the protesting villagers.         

CPI(ML) Team Visits Sompeta

[A fact-finding team of the CPI(ML) comprising CC Members Comrades Kshitish Biswal, B. Bangar Rao, and M. Malleswar Rao, as well as AP State Committee member Murali Rao, Sanyasi Rao, 5 comrades of Srikakulam and some other comrades visited Sompeta after the firing. The team met with the bereaved families and also the injured in the hospitals. The team then visited the site allocated to the Nagarjuna Construction Company for the thermal power plant. M Malleswar Rao reports. – Ed/-]   
The proposed site is full of coconut trees, cashew gardens, paddy and vegetable fields. The site has two big natural water bodies (wetlands), called bheela in the local language. The water of a small river, the Mahendra Tanaya, flows into the bheelas. The larger wetland called ‘Pedda Bheela’ covers 972 acres of surface area and the other one, called ‘Chinna Bheela’ covers 750 acres. The water from these bodies supplies irrigation for 5000 acres of farmland in 8 panchayats. The fishermen, who have formed a society since 1957, fish in these wetlands.
The Government, by agreeing to the construction of a thermal power plant, was planning to hand over these water bodies to the NCC for dumping ash; and was further handing over large tracts of the ecologically rich wetlands including agricultural lands to the company. If the plant were to come up, it would dump a huge amount of pollutants in the sea (which is 2 km away from the plant site), thereby destyoying marine life and affecting the livelihood of the community of two lakh fisher people.
In 2008 February the YSR Government of AP declared its intention to establish a power plant in this area. After the 2009 Assembly elections officials and agents of the political leaders visited the villages and began propagating that these villages would be developed and jobs generated. The fact, however, is that the power plant would adversely affect the health and livelihood of 3 lakh people in 36 villages directly, while many more would be indirectly affected by health complications caused by pollution. Further, the Sompeta power plant is no isolated one: the Government is planning to establish a thermal power corridor from from Ichapuram to Srikakulam, with 6 thermal power and 2 nuclear power plants with a total planned capacity of 10000 MW within a radius of 90 kms. If all these plants are established there will be evictions in a big way, jeopardising people’s land and livelihood, as well as health and safety.
Gradually the issue gained momentum and local people cutting across party lines joined the struggle, participating in signature campaigns, demonstrations, bandhs. They undertook a relay hunger strike which is continuing till today (at the time of writing this hunger strike has entered its 228th day.) Our Party as well as CPI, CPIM and all other ML factions participated in the hunger strike. People from different villages who are organised on a broader platform called the Committee for the Protection of Environment also participated.
The Firing
On 13 July, all of a sudden police came in vehicles to the affected villages making an announcement on loudspeakers warning people not to go to the site. After that a flag march of the police was conducted around the site area. On 14 July some 3000 police were mobilised. As some people gathered in protest, the company hired some 250 persons from outside who threatened them. When people refused to disperse, the police and hired goons alike started to lathicharge. People ran towards the sea. There the fishermen joined them. They repulsed the police. In the meantime the police fired on some protestors who were approaching from the western side. Two persons named Gunna Irga Rao and Gonapa Krishnamurthy were killed. Another got bullet injuries. After that the police entered the villages and started beating the women, children, old men indiscriminately.
Srikakulam's History of Peasant Movement
The Sompeta struggle drew upon people's legacy of historic land struggles in the region. In the 1940s, this area has been witness to an anti-zamindari movement under the banner of the Rytu Sangham under the Congress led by N G Ranga which organised a padayatra  from Ichapuram to Tada. Bendalam Gavarayya of Sompeta, Marpu Padmananbhan of Mandasa, Ganti Rajeswar Rao of Bareva, Pullela Shyam Sundar Rao of Ichapuram were the leaders of that movement at that time. Defying the practice of the Mandsa zamindar to collect tax for firewood collection, poor peasants entered the forests and gathered firewood. The Mandasa king sent his soldiers to attack these people, who resisted. Four people were killed including a woman named Gunnamma, popular in the area as Veera Gunnamma. The leaders mentioned above were also arrested and sent to Cuddalore jail in Tamilnadu district, where they met AK Gopalan and under his influence turned communists, forming the first unit of the communist party in the area in 1952 after coming out of jail.
From that period onward, the communist movement developed in different talukas of the Srikakulam district – Parvatipuram, Palakonda, Pathapatnam, and Salur talukas witnessed intense class struggle, while Sompeta, Warasanapetta, Tekkali, and Cheepurapalli saw democratic agitations led by communists. As is well known, Srikakulam was a major centre of the Naxalbari agitation that spread in the wake of 1967.

There is ample evidence of the close collusion of the Congress Government of AP with private corporations and the NCC power plant project in particular. The revenue minister of AP is a share holder in the project. The CM must take responsibility for the police firing and must resign, and the heroic struggle of the people of Sompeta will inspire people all over the State to intensify the struggle against corporate land grab and SEZs.

On the day that the boundary wall of the thermal plant was to be constructed, people of 24 affected villages gathered to protest. The police (and NCC's private goons) chased and rained baton blows and eventually bullets on the protestors who offered a brave resistance. Later in the day, the police continued their terror spree, raiding villages and thrashing villagers. The police even attacked a hospital run by a well-known local environmentalist, beating him up as well as villagers being treated at the hospital.
At the cost of their lives however, the villagers of Sompeta did win a victory. The National Environment Appellate Authority (NEAA), following the firing, quashed the environment clearance which had previously been granted by the Ministry of Environment and Forests to the NCC. Acting on appeals by environmental activists and concerned citizens against the clearance, the NEAA had sent a team in June itself, which had submitted a report. The report categorically found that the clearance was based on false information by the MoEF's appraisal committee; the latter had indulged in “concealment of information” regarding the ecological importance of the wetlands area proposed for the power plant. The NEAA has further ordered that “no new power project be approved in the State of Andhra Pradesh till a survey of all wetlands is completed”.  
It is telling however that it took a militant protest by thousands of villagers and the death of four in police firing to force the NEAA to act on the report submitted by its own team! Also, it must be asked, who will take responsibility for the clearance granted by MoEF which smacked blatantly of bias in favour of the private company in flagrant violation of all environmental norms?  
In Andhra Pradesh, successive Congress Governments have unleashed repression – at Mudigonda, Gangavaram and now Sompeta – on the rural poor when they protest against land grab or demand their right to homestead land. Meanwhile the same Governments have turned a blind eye to corporate land grab and illegal mining by private corporations like Satyam-Maytas or NCC in blatant violation of the laws of the land. Alongside the issue of the Sompeta firing, allegations of large scale illegal mining against the son-in-law of former Chief Minister YSR Reddy are also rocking Andhra Pradesh. In neighbouring Karnataka, too, the BJP Government has given a clean chit to its two mining mafia MLAs, the Bellary brothers, despite overwhelming evidence of their being implicated in illegal mining.

Clearly, across the political spectrum, the ruling class is committed to ensuring full freedom to private corporations to loot and scoot, even at the cost of the livelihood and lives of our country's people. It is only the determined and heroic resistance struggles of the people in the face of the most brutal repression that offers any challenge to corporate loot and land grab – and any hope of saving the country's land, livelihood, environment and resources.