A SCREENSHOT of the online rally.—White Star
A SCREENSHOT of the online rally.—White Star

KARACHI: A unique rally was organised and conducted by the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF) online via Zoom on Wednesday to raise awareness of the ‘Social, cultural and environmental impact of coal power plants in Tharparkar and the coastal belts of Sindh and Balochistan’.

Community stakeholders, lawyers and legal advisers and civil society activists all joined in from various stations. There were some with placards sitting around a conference table in the PFF office, some carrying banners on the ground in Ibrahim Hyderi while others joined in from their homes or offices. All raised their concerns about the coal power plants, demanding that the government think about the destruction to the environment because of the pollution from them. All chanted ‘Coal power and coal power plants are unacceptable!’ All chanted slogans to save nature and the environment, to save the natural beauty of Sindh and Balochistan. All chanted to have a heart, to save the flora and fauna of these places.

The struggle of the PFF with locals and activists was shown in a documentary. Their campaigning has been going on for the last three years now but their warnings have been falling on deaf ears as far as the corridors of power are concerned. It is a sad scenario where mining and extraction of coal, transportation of coal and burning of coal all have a devastating impact on not just the environment but also animals, marine life and humans.

PFF chairman Mohammad Ali Shah explained in detail about what has been destroyed already and what more is to come if coal power plants are allowed in this country. He said that in Pakistan coal is mined as well as imported. “Coal power plants [are] being established on the coastal belt of Sindh like the ones at Port Qasim. All these are running on imported coal, which comes here through the sea. These coastal power plants are a threat to marine ecology, which diversely affects creeks and our mangrove forests there,” he said.

‘Pakistan can generate 300,000 megawatt electricity through wind and thousands of megawatts through solar power’

Speaking about the mining side, he said that there are coal reserves of some 175 billion tonnes in Tharparkar. “Mining has been started there, which will have a negative impact on not just human beings but also the environment. The Gorano reservoir in Tharparkar has already displaced several people as their pathways and grasslands have been covered by the reservoir,” he said.

Mr Shah also said that out of the 13 blocks in Tharparkar, work is going on over three blocks where the people affected and displaced have not been compensated properly. “Meanwhile, the natural beauty of Thar is also being jeopardised,” he said.

He said coal power plants need plenty of water to run and water schemes are also being developed to provide water to these plants, which are also harming the people and the environment. “Two dams at Nabisar and Vejhiar have already been constructed to provide water to the power plants while two more dams are being developed in the area, which would be connected to each other through a 62-kilometre pipeline. According to the plan, water for these schemes would be taken from the Farsh Makhi Canal, which is the tail end of the Nara Canal. Hence the people of that area have also been deprived of water for agriculture, or for themselves or their livestock,” he said.

Mr Shah said they were not against coal power plants only; they want promotion of alternative and renewable energy. “Pakistan can generate 300,000 megawatt electricity through wind and thousands of megawatts through solar power. Then why hurt nature and the beauty of the Tharparkar desert?” he said.

Meanwhile, Karamat Ali of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research reminded of alternative methods of power generation. “Rather than go for dirty energy, this country can also generate power from alternative sources such as wind and the sun,” he said.

“Besides being clean energy, it is also more feasible.”

Published in Dawn, July 16th, 2020