The streets in Tigyit Village, Taung Gyi Township, in Southern Shan State, are very dusty as local residents walk up and down. However, they are really walking in ashes from the local coal-powered electrical generating station, which blanket the streets. These ashes are thought to be damaging to the environment and the health of local residents.
“The ashes make us feel itchy all over our bodies,” Khun Chan Ki, from the Pa-O Youth Organization, said.
“Sometimes the raw coal stored in the open air burns in the strong sunlight. It smells like burning rubber tires. The smell is very bad. When a coal-carrier crosses the street, the ashes and dust become air-borne. It causes air pollution. It’s not a very good environment for living and working. The factory is very noisy. And, bad smell and smoke have been causing health problems for the locals,” he said.
Tigyit is located thirty kilometers west of Inn-Lay lake in Taung Gyi Township and 35 kilometers south of Kalaw Town. The Tigyit mine is the biggest coal mine and the power station is the biggest coal-powered electrical generating facility in Burma, generating 600 gigawatts per year.
Electricity from the Tigyit power plant goes to Kalaw through the power grid. Sixty-five megawatts go to the Ping Pet Iron Refinery,near Ho Pon Town, and to the Tiger Head and Nagar (Dragon) cement factories near Tigyit.
Thar Yar Kon Village, on the outskirts of Tigyit, is also affected by the coal ashes from the electricity generating facility.
The Eden Company and Shan Yoma Nagar Company, both from Burma, have invested in the joint-venture with China National Heavy Machinery Corporation (CMHC) in the Tigyit coal mine and power plant projects.
Burma is a multi ethnic nation with an abundance of natural resources. A handful of Burmese companies with close ties to the top military generals, as well as foreign investors, have been working together to share the spoils from the exploitation of these resources.
However, they are not willing to share those spoils with local ethnic peoples.
The Burmese regime forced residents of Lai Kha Village, which had over 30 houses, and Taung Pola Village, which had over 20 houses, to relocate in 2003 when it confiscated over 500 acres of cultivated farmland for the construction of the Tigyit Electrical Generating Plant.
“They gave us new places to live but they did not give any compensation for our land. They only gave the cost of moving to the new place. It’s really difficult to build a house during the rainy season. We have to live in a hut,” a Lai Kha resident said.
Authorities gave 50,000 – 100,000 Kyat for moving their homes. However, villagers argue it was not enough to build a house in the new location.
The difficulties go beyond building a new house, however.
“Drinking water is difficult to get in the new place. As well, we have no fields for our animals to graze in. Almost all families have oxen in our village,” the resident said.
Losing their land means they suffer food shortages as well.
“When I had my paddy field, I didn’t need to worry about rice for a year. I could sell the rice, too. Now I have to work hard to get enough rice,” a local resident from Taung Lapo Village said.
This has created economic hardship for the villagers, which also means families cannot pay for their children’s education.
“Currently, there is no a grade 10 student in our village school. I have to go to forest and cut the fire wood and sell it. Some friends are vendors in the market. Most youths have become car spares (who has to assist the car driver) and help their parents. They have no education, so, it’s really difficult to find a job,” a youth, whose family was relocated, said.
Currently, some local people can grow rice in their paddy fields but it’s not clear what will happen in the future because the coal mine is encroaching on their paddy fields, so they won’t be permitted to grow rice any more.
Local farmers used to grow rice, potatoes, chilies, garlic, green tea leaf, and other vegetables. They irrigated their gardens with water from Beluchaung creek. However, waste water from the coal mine drains into the creek near the village, polluting it.
“Waste water has also drained into the paddy fields. So, we cannot grow rice in our paddy fields,” a Tigyit resident said in the recent interview.
Waste water from Tigyit Creek has also polluted Beluchaung and Inn Lay lakes. So, animals in Inn Lay Lake have been affected.
The Burmese regime did not officially announce the Tigyit coal mine project before construction started.
The company called a meeting with villagers through the Township Peace and Development Council and the Village/ward Peace and Development Council. All villagers, who attended the meeting, were told to sign the paper without being giving information about relocation. The papers, with the villager’s signatures, were attached to the agreement for relocating villages. It was made to look like the villagers agreed to relocate.
“Villagers are uneducated people. So, they signed it. Later on, some people cried when their farm land was confiscated. Some people are very angry about it. But, they are afraid to voice their opposition,” a local resident, who lost his paddy field, said.
Tremors caused by the explosions in the coal mine even collapsed an ancient pagoda in the Tigyit area.
“The pagoda existed when I was born. It was a heritage from our grandparents. Now it’s collapsed because of people’s greed. We maintained the pagoda for many years, but now it’s gone. I’m so upset,” a local eighty-three year-old grandma said.
Displaced villagers want the companies to pay compensation for their land and to take responsibility for damage to the environment and the health of the people in the Tigyit area.
As well, all villagers want the power plant to close.
The Burmese government and the companies involved are not considering the environmental impact and negative impact on the health of the local people. They are only considering the profits they are reaping.
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