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Over 5,000 people from three villages in Andhra Pradesh’s West Godavari district will begin a relay hunger strike on Friday against an aqua food park, which they say will destroy a fragile eco-system and ruin water bodies. The Andhra Pradesh government has nominated Godavari Mega Aqua Food Park Limited’s owner and Ananda Group Companies’ chairman, UKV Raju, for a task force on Vision-2020 from fisheries. It is keen on promoting mega food parks to attract investments and generate employment.
The villagers said that they do not want industries amid their fields, where they grow crops including paddy and maize. The food park is coming up over 100 acres in Tunduru, Jonnalagaruv and Kamsalibethapudi. “It is very fertile land. Any industry coming up here will draw excessive ground water, cause pollution and release waste which will spoil the groundwater table and lakes and ponds here,’’ said Y Arun Kumar, a farmer. “We do not want this food park. We do not want the jobs they may offer.’’ Another farmer, Y Srinivasulu, said that pollution was their main worry. “Shrimp farms are known to ruin fertile lands around them. This Godavari delta has fragile eco-systems which can be easily destroyed by any industry.’’
R Vasu, a farmer, accused the government of misleading the villagers. “An NRI, who owned 30 acres, sold his land to Ananda Group in 2010. After the government gave permission to them to set up the food park, they slowly acquired another 70 acres from small farmers and have started construction without holding talks with the villagers opposed to it.’’ He said that they will continue the fast until the government cancels the licence.
The Ananda Group is setting up a 16,000-tonne capacity fish and prawn processing unit as a joint venture with the Union food processing industries ministry, which had sanctioned it in 2014 to promote organic shrimp farming and create 2,000 jobs. Residents of 23 other villages have also joined the protest.
“The Gontheru Canal, which is the lifeline of this area, would be polluted… The canal sustains over 30,000 fishermen,’’ said Democratic Youth Federation of India’s Y Trimurtulu, who is leading the agitation. “There are several lakes in Narsapuram, Bhima-varam and Mogalturu mandals. All these would be polluted by the food processing.’’ Trimurtulu said that the Ananda Group has another unit in Mogalturu, where villagers allege that untreated waste is often released into canals and water bodies. “Five youth, who were cleaning a chemical tank there, died last month due to negligence of the company. How can we allow such a company to set up another unit here?’’
Ruling Telugu Desam Party (TDP) MLA Bandaru Madhava Naidu had initially supported the villagers. But he changed his tune after Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu said that the food park would create job opportunities and would not cause pollution. Another TDP MLA, P Ramanjaneyulu, who backed the villagers initially, backed out.
Ananda chairman Raju accused “some local leaders of instigating the villagers”. “We will follow all environmental laws and norms strictly.’’ He said that they will provide facilities like cold storage that fishermen and shrimp farmers can use. “If the villagers are willing to sit and talk to clarify any doubts they have, we are willing to do so,’’ Raju said.