KARACHI: Participants in a conference on ‘Air pollution and ground water’, organised by the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF) at Ibrahim Hyderi on Saturday, agreed to widen their campaign against coal power plants if these power plants are not stopped.

They also rejected the Thar coal water schemes, saying they were meant to displace local people and pollute their drinking water resources besides affecting the environment.

These participants were mostly people affected by the Thar Coal Power Plant, the Port Qasim Coal Power Plant and the Hub Power Plant in Balochistan.

All sat at a distance of six feet from one another as standard operating procedures in a Covid-19 pandemic were strictly maintained.

PFF chairman Mohammad Ali Shah said that the coal power plants on the coastal belt here have blocked the creeks, making life difficult for fishermen besides polluting marine resources.

He said Pakistan is going after coal power projects at the time when the world is giving them up on them. “Even China, who have developed the coal power plants and have brought them here to Pakistan, have given up on at least 145 coal-based industries. Coal is the dirtiest form of energy,” he said, adding that the energy from these coal plants is provided to those who already have access to the energy.

Mr Shah also said that while drinking water was not available to the people of Thar, the water for irrigation there would also be diverted to these coal power plants. “There is already water scarcity in Thar. Coal mining will also affect the ground water resources there,” he pointed out.

He said 75 per cent land of Thar would be used in various schemes for Thar coal while the indigenous people will be displaced. The natural beauty of Thar will also be affected. “There are other better environment-friendly energy resources to consider but the government does not seem interested in developing them,” he said.

Advocate Leela Ram from the Gorano Dam area in Thar presented his case. He said that Thar was providing light to the country but it itself was going into the darkness. “We refuse to accept any development project that removes land from under your feet. Here grazing lands are being destroyed and people are being affected with the natural beauty of Thar in the name of development,” he said.

“Where the world is reaping the benefits of renewable wind and solar energy and our government is busy developing coal power plants,” he said, adding that in order to provide water to the Thar coal mines, the Vejhiar Dam was developed two years ago without any proper approval from anywhere.

Taj Muhammad Soomro, an affected person from Vejhiar, where this dam has been constructed, said that the Tharis are only being told positive things about generating energy. “Nobody is ready to listen to our grievances, and this includes our elected representatives,” he said.

He also said that the government has taken more land than was actually needed for the dam. “They told us they need 40 acres but they have occupied 80 acres of land,” he said. He also informed them that the government has no plan for their resettlement.

Earlier, PFF General Secretary Saeed Baloch welcomed the guests. He said that coal was not gold. “It is destruction, not development,” he said.

Published in Dawn, July 27th, 2020