This is part four of a multipart series reported in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.
MUNDRA, India —
The Tata group, one of India’s largest conglomerates, promised to be a good neighbor when it took on the job of building the nation’s first “ultra mega” coal-fired power plant.
The plan was to build the plant along the Gulf of Kutch, an inlet of the Arabian Sea that provides a living for fishing clans that harvest the coast’s rich marine life. Tata assured the World Bank Group, which was putting up $450 million to help finance the project, that there was little reason to worry about the giant plant’s impact on people living and working nearby.
Tata reported that “the fishing potential of the Gulf of Kutch is significant,” but there were “no local fishing activities in the coastal waters fronting the project.” The “nearest small fishing community,” it said, was located “outside the project area.”
This came as a surprise to Budha Ismail Jam.
Yunus Suleman Gadh stands in the hut that serves as his home for eight months a year. Photo: Sami Siva/ICIJ.
Jam spends most of the year living in a one-room hut on Tragadi Bandar, a makeshift fishing settlement that borders the Tata Mundra Ultra Mega Power Project in the western state of Gujarat, 100 miles south of India’s border with Pakistan. All that separates the settlement from the Tata plant, completed in 2012, is a man-made channel that releases heated wastewater from the 4,150-megawatt operation. The channel was cut from land where, until recently, fishing families lived. Beyond it rises the plant’s twin red-and-white striped smokestacks, visible for miles across the flat landscape.
Jam belongs to a Muslim minority group called the Waghers, whose history on the coastline dates back 200 years, according to their fishing association. Every summer, about 1,000 Wagher families — as many as 10,000 men, women and children — load their possessions onto rented trucks and migrate from their inland villages to the sandy fishing grounds along the gulf. They rebuild their settlements from scratch, framing huts from wooden branches and covering them with burlap walls, and live there for eight months without electrical connections or running water. The men haul in the daily catch. The women sort the fish and hang the most pungent species, Bombay duck, on bamboo trellises to dry. Much of the product gets shipped across India and to Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal.
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