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How this 68-year-old retired scientist is helping India fight climate change

Hema Vaishnavi
23rd Feb 2017
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Dr Babu Rao Kalapala, a retired senior scientist, is helping rural India fight climate change by empowering them with information.

Often when thermal power plants and big industries are setup in rural areas, it causes more harm to the people around it than help them.

The local villages are left with the industrial effluents and pollution after the production process. The effect on the lives and the health of the local population is an untold misery.

The tremendous effect of these plants and factories is disrupting the lives of rural people like never before and is becoming increasingly significant. Support and information to these people in fighting them are certainly the need of the hour. Dr Babu Rao Kalapala, a retired senior scientist who is deeply concerned about this cause, is helping local people from being displaced. He is also helping them avert all the damages caused once the power plants or the industries are established by help stopping the projects in their initial stages.

Environmental Impact Assessment

Babu Rao's first fight for the environment began in 2003, when a public hearing was held for the construction of the Hyderabad international airport. Babu Rao, who had no prior exposure to environmental fights, was contacted by a friend, Prof. MV Naidu, a member of Forum for better Hyderabad.

MV Naidu brought with him an EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) report, which was supposed to give an insight into the impact on the surrounding villages if the airport were to be constructed. After having studied it and coming to an understanding, Babu Rao prepared his own EIA report on various environmental pollution, water consumption, waste treatment, and construction standards for constructing an airport.

“Back then, I had no idea what EIA report could do or its significance. Either way, I collected all the data and prepared the report. I then understood that the EIA report given by the authorities had a lot of missing components. I wrote an analysis and went to the public hearing for the very first time. There was a tense atmosphere as the people were demanding a fair pay for their land. So, the police told me ‘Sir, the public will not allow you to talk now and the situation can turn worse anytime, can you leave and escorted me to the vehicle’. And there began my journey,” say 68-year-old Babu Rao.

Since then Babu Rao has been working on various issues on safeguarding the environment. With an aim to spread knowledge and equip people with the know-how to fight injustice, Babu Rao has worked with rural people in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana in fighting against factories and plants that have potential to cause great damage to the lives of the local people.

“Most of the times, when factories are set up, the immediate effects of the air pollution are seen in the respiratory problems of children below 10 years and the reproductive systems of both women and men are severely affected,” says Babu Rao. The contribution of these factories and thermal power plants to the global warming effect is also very significant. Apart from this, the local livelihoods, culture, and traditions are some of the things which are nearly impossible to get back once lost.

The air pollution often hits the crop yield within a 50km radius, which results in huge economic losses for the farmers over years. With due course of time, the groundwater and nearby water sources are also contaminated due to untreated effluents being released into the water.

Climate change protection

Babu Rao’s major fight has been against climate change, with a special focus on stopping coal power plants from exploiting the environment.

India’s coal rush has triggered climate change fears for a few decades now. India is the world’s third largest producer of greenhouse gases and to meet growing energy needs, the government is planning to double its coal production in the coming years. Babu Rao points to the catastrophic effect of burning more coal, on the country and the world alike.

“Very few people’s movements have stopped the setting up of thermal power plants. Within the law what we can do is to question the mistakes in EIA report and by that, we are also telling the local people the need to oppose this plant,” says Babu Rao.

Local people who are conscious of this effect often try to get help and reach out to Babu Rao for help. Most of Babu Rao’s campaigns began with people reaching out to him. He starts off with studying the existing EIA report, pointing out the flaws in the report, and correcting them with the facts. He understands the ground reality by interacting with the local community member, the stakeholders, and the authorities. Babu Rao shares his critique on the EIA report local and informs them and spreads awareness of the potential risk to their lives.

So far, Babu Rao has been involved in campaigns against the Shale oil exploration in three districts of Andhra Pradesh, Krishna, East and West Godavari. He was also part of the campaign against the setting up of ACC cement factory in Kadapa district of Andhra Pradesh, where he mobilised local people for the public hearing and opposed the setting up of the plant.

Babu Rao was also part of the campaign against setting up of a landfill in the Kakkireni village of the Nalagonda district, Telangana, where Babu Rao put in efforts to make the local people understand the first-hand effects of a landfill by having people interact with people in affected areas.

“Most of my time I spend in preparing a critique and understanding new subjects as new technologies are emerging. And my efforts with rural communities mostly involve in suggesting them to stop the public hearing from taking place, as once the hearing is done, permissions are automatically given,” says Babu Rao.

Babu is presently working on various campaigns against uranium exploration and setting up of nuclear power plants.

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