Indian Insurrection: Thousands of Rural Protesters Revolt Against Threatened Wind Farm

Another day, another rural community revolts against industrial wind power. This time it’s thousands of Indian villagers fighting back to prevent the destruction of their precious forests and fertile farmlands.

In the absence of massive subsidies, the wind industry would pose no threat, to anyone, anywhere. But, for as long as governments dole out taxpayer and power consumers’ money in the form of endless subsidies, mandates and targets, wind power outfits will continue to ride roughshod over hard-working farmers and their families.

While the charge NIMBY is often levelled by wind industry rent-seekers at those protesting against the prospect of having 260m high monsters speared into their backyards, in STT’s view there is no place for industrial wind turbines, anywhere, ever. Our argument starts with the unassailable fact that weather-dependent wind power simply cannot deliver meaningful electricity on demand; never has, never will. Accordingly, wind power is, and will always be, an utterly pointless power source.

But, but for locals fighting for their lives and livelihoods, the brawl becomes more visceral and immediate: it’s about survival.  Here’s another example of just such a battle, in progress.

Kachchh villagers on vigil to save Sangnara forest from a windmill project
Gaon Connection
Shivani Gupta
7 August 2021

A tropical thorn forest in Kachchh district of Gujarat is under threat from windmills being erected by cutting down hundreds of trees, complain villagers. For the past two months, villagers are on a vigil to stop entry of equipment for the wind energy project. Yesterday, August 6, they launched a major protest to save their forest.

Wearing their traditional attire of bright and colourful chaniya-choli, a large number of women from villages in Kachchh district of Gujarat, gathered on the road leading to the Sangnara forest yesterday on August 6. “Jungle bachao” (save trees) read their placards as they marched to stop the construction of pawan chakki (wind mill) in their forest and on their common grazing land.

At least 1,000 villagers gathered in protest against the erection of the windmills that are expected to lead to the chopping down of hundreds of trees in the desert district of Gujarat.

“The pawan chakki (windmill) is being set up on a green area. Yeh hamari achi meethi jameen hai (the land is fertile and green),” 30-year-old Shilpa Limbani, a resident of Sangnara village, told Gaon Connection. She was part of the protest held yesterday. “We take our cows and camels for grazing in the forest. If this windmill is constructed here, we will lose the forest,” she added.

“These windmills should be set up in banjar (barren) lands but this one is being set up in gauchar jameen (grazing land). There are many banjar plots where the pawan chakki could be set up,” said the 30-year-old.

The Sangnara forest is a 500 square kilometre tropical thorn forest in Kachchh. It is home to a huge diversity of endangered flora and fauna. This includes chinkara, wolf, caracal, ratel, hyena, desert cat, Indian fox, spiny tailed lizard, desert monitor, white-naped tit, vultures, and many more. It is believed that the local communities have maintained and protected this forest for the past 500 years.

However, in the past six years, a number of windmills have come up in the area for the generation of ‘green’ power. Villagers are not against these windmills or the renewable energy projects, but claim they do not want such projects at the cost of their forest or their grazing land.

“Villagers here understand how important it is to save these trees. They want light (electricity) but not at the cost of trees,” Aruna, secretary of Kachchh Mahila Vikas Sangathan, a non-profit working for women rights, told Gaon Connection. She too participated in the protest yesterday. “A majority of women were part of the protest today [August 6]. Generally their voice is not heard, but today they stepped out of their homes to save their forest and their gauchar jameen,” said Aruna.

Most of the protesters were farmers, maldharis (tribal herdsmen)  and daily wage labourers. They were joined by several non-profit organisations including Sahjeevan Trust, Bali Vikas trust, Maldhari Sangathan, Sarpanch Sangathan, Kachchh Mahila Vikas Sangathan, and Let India Breathe.

How green is the ‘green’ power
Gujarat’s total wind power generation capacity is 7,542 megawatt (MW), which is the second-highest installed capacity in India after Tamil Nadu (9,304MW).

The first wind energy turbine was put up in Sangnara nearly five-six years ago in 2015-2016. Since then a number of windmills have come up in the area. These windmills have destroyed hundreds of trees, flattening hills to create access for the machinery, fans and transmission cables. Birds and wildlife have deserted because of the consistent noise of the fans and machinery.

A 2019 study titled ‘Avian Mortalities from Two Wind Farms at Kutch, Gujarat and Davangere, Karnataka, India’ by Mumbai-based Bombay Natural History Society and Coimbatore-based Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History showed that wind turbines were posing a threat to the lives of birds in their vicinity. Birds colliding with turbine blades were being killed.

As part of the study, 59 turbines of the Kachchh wind farms were studied. It found 47 carcasses of birds belonging to 11 species in Samakhiali, Kachchh in a radius of 130 metres from the turbines. The researchers found these were threatened species.

Distance from the turbine base at which carcasses were recorded in Samakhiali wind farm, Kutch, Gujarat.

The joint study found wind farm sites should be located away from bird habitations.

Long battle
For the past six years, villagers in Kachchh are fighting against the setting up of windmills at controversial locations.

In 2015, a windmill manufacturing company was allocated 11 sites in the Sangnara village to set up windmills for power generation, of which six have been completed. “Earlier many trees were cut because to carry windmill equipment and machinery, the area has to be cleared for the passage of trailers and trucks,” Nitin Limbani, a resident of Sangnara village, told Gaon Connection. At least three to four acres (approx. 1.5 hectare) of land is required for a windmill that is why they cut trees in the vicinity, he added.

Two months back, on June 18, villagers witnessed a renewed attempt by the windmill manufacturing company to put up two more windmills in the forest, which led to renewed protests in the area.

For the past two months, at least 50-60 villagers, including women and youth, have been regularly lingering near the village borders to keep a check on the entry of the windmill trucks.

“We will not let the windmill company come here. We are guarding our village boundary,” 55-year-old Shankarlal Gopalbhai Limbani, resident of Sangnara, told Gaon Connection. He is leading the protest to save the forest and the grazing land. “Taking tiffins, these villagers leave for the border every morning and stay there all day long to ensure windmill equipment does not enter the village,” he added.

“We will not let them come and destroy our forests,” the 55-year-old said emphatically.

During the protests yesterday, villagers blocked the roads to the Sangnara village. “Today [August 6] also they (representatives of the windmill manufacturing company) came. Their trucks are at the outskirts of the village. We blocked the road. If they come again, more and more villagers from across Kachchh will join in to stop the destruction of our ancestral forest,” said Limbani.

Meanwhile, the matter is already before the National Green Tribunal (NGT). In 2019, the villagers had moved the NGT to stop the construction of windmills. “Because of the COVID pandemic, there was no response so far but our next hearing is due next month. We will not let our forest be destroyed,” Shankarlal said.

Gaon Connection contacted District Magistrate Praveena DK’s office but she was unavailable to comment. The story would be updated once a response is received from the district magistrate and the Gujarat Energy Development Agency.
Gaon Connection

Residents of Gujarat village protest against windmills being set up on forestland
The Hindu
Mahesh Langa
7 August 2021

Sangnara, a small village in Kutch, has been trying to save its forests from wind energy companies for the past two years as windmills were being installed on forestland, depriving people of greenery and natural resources.

Kutch has been designated as an important wind energy exploitation zone, and in the past few years thousands of windmills have been put up by energy companies, leading to local conflicts in villages because the structures are eating up common forest and grazing lands critical for villagers.

In Sangnara, local communities raised their voice when they realised that their forestland rich in wildlife and local flora and fauna was being destroyed to pave the way for setting up giant wind turbines to generate clean energy in the region.

The Sangnara forest is part of a sacred grove that five villages consider a place of worship. This is a 500 sq km virgin tropical thorn forest, perhaps the best in Gujarat, with a huge diversity of endangered flora and fauna including Chinkara, Wolf, Caracal, Ratel, Hyena, Desert Cat, Indian Fox, Spiny Tailed Lizard, Desert Monitor, White Naped-Tit, vultures and more. The communities have maintained and protected this forest for the past 500 years.

The first wind energy turbine was set up in the forest five years ago by renewable energy company Suzlon, destroying hundreds of trees and flattening hills to create access for the machinery, fans and transmission cables. Birds and wildlife deserted the area, disturbed by the noise of fans and machinery.

Subsequently, more than 40 more windmills were approved by the local administration despite strong resistance from the village panchayat. The panchayat approached the Collector, informing him of the rich forest on revenue land.

However, when the administration did not heed their repeated pleas against allowing more turbines in the area, the villagers approached the National Green Tribunal, where their petition has been admitted.

Recently, the villagers saw a renewed attempt by Suzlon to put up two more windmills in the area, prompting communities to launch an agitation against the clean energy projects.

The local residents, including women and youth, have been stopping company vehicles from entering the forest. However, the companies resorted to heavy police protection to deforest and continue their operations to protect and install turbines after levelling the areas allotted to them by the administration.

On Friday, hundreds of people from the village held a protest march against setting up of green energy projects.
The Hindu

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August 17, 2021 at 02:33AM

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