Myanmar’s plans to increase electricity production through coal-fired power plants face strong public opposition. The case of the proposed 1,280 MW Inn Din (Andin) coal-power plant shows how a strong coalition of residents, monks, grassroots groups and civil society organizations succeeded to halt the expansion of dirty electricity .
Plans for the coal power plant were first formalized when a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the former Burma government and the company in 2012. The site for the plant was chosen in April 2014 just two kilometres away from Inn Din Village in Mon State, Myanmar. A Memorandum of Agreement followed, signed on April 9, 2015, by Toyo-Thai Public Co. Ltd (TTPCL) and the Ministry of Electric Power’s Department of Hydropower Planning. According to news articles, most of the produced electricity was planned to be sent to other areas. While the villagers of Inn Din would receive some of the electricity, they would have to carry most of the ecological burdens, residents and civil society groups complained [1,2,3].
Villagers have been living in the area for generations and feared the project would cause strong adverse impacts on their health and farming and fishing-based livelihoods. “We don’t want this project. We earn enough money from farming to feed our families and send our children to university,” told a villager to The Irrawaddy . Residents conducted their own economic survey , claiming the area earned about 5.8 million USD per year from farming and fishing . While the produced electricity would be “cheap”, the opponents denounced that the project calculations did not account for the resulting losses in fish production .
The region shows a unique biodiversity. A study conducted by Thai-based civil society group TERRA - who supported the villagers in their struggle against the project – identified many rare species depending on the unique ecosystem, including 26 plant species, 71 bird species, 138 fish species, 15 prawn species, and 7 crab species . Fears were voiced that pollution from the construction and operation of the coal power plant would substantially alter the biodiverse environment on which villagers’ livelihoods depend . Residents and opposition leaders also criticized the lack of transparency regarding consultation, project development and the impacts it would have [5,6].
Moreover, fears over social and cultural changes emerged when the company announced that thousands of foreign worker and technicians would come to construct the project . Tensions already arose when feasibility studies for a pontoon bridge were conducted in 2015 by foreign technicians . Several confrontations between company staff and the villagers followed. When in June 2015, 26 local opponents were arrested by the police over complaints of harassment, 350 more from Inn Din and neighbouring villages showed strong solidarity and drove to the police station to offer to be arrested too .
Mobilizations against the project, called by locals a “silent killer” , used a wide array of protest forms and involved many different actors. Monks, residents, political parties and local, national and international civil society organizations joined efforts to oppose the project. Offers by the company to improve the main village road were rejected by residents, who instead preferred to pay it with their own money . Over the course of the conflict petitions against the project were sent to several high ranking governmental agencies, such as the Myanmar Investment Commissions, the Minister of Electric Power, the Mon State government, as well as the Myanmar Human Rights Commission, and Japanese agencies JICA and JBIC supporting coal projects at the national level [4,7].
Following several discussions and meetings between the different stakeholders, the Mon State parliament instructed the company to temporarily suspend the project’s feasibility study on Sept 5, 2014 . On May 5, 2015, more than 5,000 villagers from seven villages rallied against the contentious project . Local political parties and civil society groups joined the demonstrations . Press conferences and campaigns against the project followed [7,8]. In November 2015, representatives from Inn Din and other communities in Myanmar where coal plants were proposed travelled to Japan to submit a letter to JICA and JBIC urging them to withdraw their support for coal power plants in Myanmar. The request letters were supported by 72 civil society organisations .
The coal power plant was finally suspended in January 2016 because of the large public opposition it provoked [2,7,8]. The deputy minister for electric power said the project and all ongoing impact studies would be postponed and could only start if the locals would agree on it , which they have not. According to The Irrawaddy, the company announced to their shareholders that the project was suspended in the 2017 annual report . Following the suspension of the Inn Din project, the same company then attempted to construct a similar coal power plant in Hpa-An village in Karen state. However, also there, social mobilizations emerged that were so strong that the Minister of Electricity and Energy announced that no permission would be granted. The Hpa-An power plant was cancelled too .