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Mainstream, Vol. XLVIII, No 33, August 7, 2010

Vijayagallu—A Rare Event In Troubled Times : People Celebrate a Victory

Monday 9 August 2010, by S G Vombatkere


In present times, barring ritual voting in elections, the will of We the People of the Republic of India rarely receives recognition. A people’s victory is rarer still in today’s dispensation by Central or State governments which are imposing on the people, a pattern of development that is increasingly being questioned. Thus, people’s victories, howsoever small or fleeting, need to be made known so that others who struggle to assert their rights may take courage and perhaps adapt the methods of the victorious struggle to their own circumstance. One such victory won by peaceful means was comemmorated on July 24, 2010, at Chamalapura, a village outside Mysore in Karnataka.

In 2007, the Government of Karnataka (GoK) announced its proposal to construct a Rs 5500 crores 1000 MW coal-fired thermal electric power generation plant (CFTPP) on 2000 acres of land centred at Chamalapura, a village 15 km from Mysore, 15 km from the Nagarahole Forest and 20 km from the KRS dam reservoir that supplies water to Mysore. The opposition to this project from the people was immediate and huge, and quite unexpectedly, from the directly affected population at and around Chamalapura and the indirectly affected populations in Mysore City and surrounding towns. Even more surprising was that while displacement of around 20,000 people was the fundamental issue, very closely competing issues were water shortage and pollution, environmental destruction (pre-construction and plant operation) and degradation, and threat to wildlife in the nearby forests. Technical and legal arguments opposing the CFTPP were also raised.

The agitations cut across socio-economic barriers and the urban-rural divide. Also, agitations were conducted independently by several civil society organisations at different levels, each according to its individual style and capability. There were 24x7 vigils at and around the proposed project site with village folk, including women, offering physical resistance to visitors in favour of the project, and street demonstrations and rasta roko in Mysore where peaceful protestors were beaten by police, arrested and charged under criminal law. There were lectures and seminars conducted in Mysore by intellectuals and activists, documentary films made by creative artists, students’ protests, meetings organised between village folk and city folk making common cause and explaining the environmental ill-effects of a mega power plant, and meetings to raise public awareness about the social and environmental ill-effects of the project. There were petitions to all levels of government, and a formal petition was made on October 19, 2007, to the Karnataka Electricity Regulatory Commission (KERC), cogently arguing that the project was quite unnecessary and undesirable. People lobbied with elected representatives, and delegations went to Bangalore to argue with government officials and political figures. A very significant event was a huge rally of around 5000 people at the Town Hall in Mysore city centre on September 12, 2007, with leaders of all political parties and groupings excepting, of course, the ruling party at that time, and many intellectuals. Even some religious leaders lent support to the agitation. And the local media covered all aspects of the agitations. An apolitical alliance of agitating organisations and individuals was formed and named as the Chamalapura Ushnavidyut Sthavara Virodhi Horata Samithi (CUSVHS).

The GoK, for its part, made the statement that the CFTPP was for development of the area by providing electric power, and that the proposed site was dryland, useless for agriculture. Not to be taken in, protestors noted that the generated power would be sent to Bangalore while all the social and environmental ill-effects would be left to the villages around Chamalapura, the KRS reservoir, Mysore and small towns around, all within a 20-km radius of the CFTPP, affecting around 20 lakhs of people and wildlife in the Nagarahole forest. The GoK did not send any officials to visit the proposed site which is not dryland, as claimed, but rich in natural vegetation with extensive and productive well-and tank-based traditional agriculture. However, the petition, argued before the KERC starting January 2008, caused the Chairman and a Member to visit the site on March 20, 2008 to meet the affected people. This resulted in the KERC issuing an advisory to the GoK to reconsider its decision to construct the CFTPP at Chamalapura. (

Continued public pressure and agitations following this advisory, caused the Karnataka Power Minister to announce in late 2008, that the power plant would not be constructed against the wishes of the people. While there has been no official statement withdrawing the project proposal, it is reliably understood that the Chamalapura site has been dropped.

This victory of the people was confirmed when the CUSVHS decided to erect a granite stone tablet (Vijayagallu) on July 24, 2010, next to a Malleshwara temple on a hill very near to Chamalapura. The 150 plus people, who gathered for the simple ceremony under a cloudy sky threatening to rain, were village folk and city folk, women, old people and students, organic farmers, intellectuals and activists, and repre-sentatives of farmers’ and Dalit organisations. A students’ group sang songs about nature and the environment, and the stone tablet was inaugurated by a four-year-old girl placing a simple garland on the stone, a symbolism for Earth belonging to the coming generation. The lettering on the tablet speaks of nature’s bounty, its life forms, forest wealth, wildlife and the environment in the same breath as it mentions people. This is especially significant in present times when these are under government-corporate assault nationwide. In a significant display of people’s power, the stone also very simply warns “any government of the future” not to undertake such destructive, anti-people projects. A translation of the words on the Victory Stone is below:

Victory Stone

THE Chamalapura Ushnavidyut Sthavara Virodhi Horata Samithi (Forum for Opposing the Chamalapura Thermal Power Plant) has placed this commemorative stone as a symbol of people’s victory against the Karnataka Government’s proposed Chamalapura Thermal Power Plant Project (2007-2008) that would have completely destroyed nature’s life forms, forest wealth, wildlife, environment and people’s lives and livelihoods.

All the people who participated in the movement against the Chamalapura Thermal Power Plant hereby warn any government that may come in the future, not to undertake such destructive, anti-people projects.

Save the Environment; Protect Nature’s Abundance.

Major General S.G. Vombatkere retired as the Additional Director General, Discipline & Vigilance in Army HQ, New Delhi, in 1996 after 35 years in the Indian Army with combat, staff and technical experience. He holds a Ph.D degree in Structural Dynamics from the IIT, Madras, and the President of India awarded him the Visishta Seva Medal in 1993 for distinguished service rendered in Ladakh. Since retirement, he is engaged in voluntary work with the Mysore Grahakara Parishat, and is a member of the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) and People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL). He coordinates and lectures a Course on Science, Technology and Sustainable Development for undergraduate students of University of Iowa, USA, and two universities of Canada, who spend a semester at Mysore as part of their Studies Abroad in South India. He is Adjunct Associate Professor of the University of Iowa, USA.

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