A year ago, the Jaitapur-Madban area in Ratnagiri district of western Maharashtra turned into a hotbed of anger and protests when it became known that the area had been selected for the establishment of a massive nuclear power complex. The French company Areva is scheduled to develop six such reactors, each of 1,650 MW, which are to be operated by the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL). If the 'nuclear park' comes up in the area it will be the largest integrated nuclear power complex in the world.
From 2005 onwards the government of Maharashtra has been acquiring land for a nuclear power plant, the site having been identified for a plant as far back as the late 1990s. Yet, the people of the area still do not know how much land will be needed and how many thousand families will be displaced. So far nearly 2,335 farmers have lost their lands to the project, with 938.026 ha acquired mainly from Madban, Karel, Mithgavane and Niveli villages. Other than a small number, the landowners have refused to accept the compensation that has been offered to them.
The issue came to a boil in December when, on the eve of French President Sarkozy's visit to India, the NPCIL proposal was given a conditional environmental clearance. With landowners and villagers of the area taking to public protests, worried as they are about what the future is to bring, the government's response has been to resort to intimidation and repression and to belatedly organize a public meeting in, of all places, Mumbai (nearly 400 km away), to address the apprehensions of the people.
In the entire process the state government's role has been marked by a lack of transparency and increasingly by intolerance. The government has lathi (baton)-charged protestors, promulgated Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC, relating to unlawful assembly) and Section 37(3) (1) of the Bombay Police Act (prohibiting different kinds of assembly), slapped cases on the agitators, including for an attempt to murder, and intimidated the local people against expressing their anger.
To the villagers already incensed at the government's failure to address their anxieties about the project's impact on their livelihoods and the environment, the police repression is further proof that the government is dumping a harmful project on them. The pre-emptive action by the police has prevented them from even registering their protest on issues crucial to them. A number of leaders of the Konkan Bachao Samiti, the Konkan Vinashkari Prakalp Virodhi Samiti and the Janahit Seva Samiti have been arrested or simply prevented from entering the district. The 70-year-old former judge of the Mumbai High Court, B G Kolse-Patil, was jailed for defying prohibitory orders while former Supreme Court judge P B Sawant and retired chief of Naval Staff Admiral L Ramdas were prohibited from entering the district.
All the signs, as in a number of large 'development' projects elsewhere in the country, are of a rising tide of discontent in the area to which the government has no answer other than the use of force. Going by the number of charges slapped against the protestors and their leaders, the police intend to keep them 'busy' and ensure that there is hardly any time to plan, mobilize and participate in the movement. The villagers, aware that the government intends to wear down opposition by 'harassment', are prepared for a long battle. The police have gone to the absurd extent of informing the media that all agitations in the state are being monitored for 'possible links with Naxalites' and that the Jaitapur agitation is also being closely watched. (Naxalite is a generic term used to refer to militant Communist groups operating in different parts of India).
The state government is using another time-tested intimidatory tactic. Police presence in the area along with a large number of the force's vehicles is overwhelming. All this however has led to developments that perhaps the government did not envisage. Professionals who would not ordinarily have joined in the agitations have taken the initiative to do so. In Sindhudurg, appalled by the legal repression, 46 lawyers have signed a collective vakalatnama in favor of the protestors. Similarly, doctors, whose lands have been acquired, are supporting the agitation.
Envisaged as the centerpiece of Indo-French commercial cooperation in the 21st century, the Jaitapur nuclear park is instead fast becoming a symbol of people's anger against an infrastructure project.
Source: The Economic and Political Weekly, January 22, 2011
Contact: South Asians Against Nukes (SAAN)
Jaitapur nuclear park
The proposed nuclear 'park' at Jaitapur, with six reactors, each of 1,650 MW, made by the French company Areva, will displace thousands of people, affect thriving agriculture, fruit cultivation and fishing activities, and permanently harm the region's vulnerable ecosystem. Ratnagiri is home to the world's best-known mango, the delicate and rare Alphonso, and to cashew, jackfruit, coconut, arecanut and kokum. It lies in the Sahyadri mountains, one of India's biodiversity hot spots, with stunning lush natural beauty and stupendous plant and animal genetic resources. The Sahyadris are one of India's great water towers, the source of the Krishna and the Godavari and of streams vital to life in the surrounding valleys. The plateaus around Jaitapur are extremely biodiversity-rich. According to the Botanical Survey of India, they are, for their size, India's richest repository of endemic plant species. It would be criminal to destroy these in the name of 'development'.
The local people also know of the sad experience with rehabilitation faced by the repeatedly uprooted population of Tarapur, the site of India's first nuclear reactors, for which land was acquired in the early/mid-1960s. Tarapur is not far from Jaitapur, and there has been exchange of information between the people. Tarapur once had flourishing fisheries. Now, these are crisis-ridden because of a drop in the catch around the plant's hot-water outflow channel into the sea. Three fishing harbors have vanished altogether as have hundreds of livelihoods. Once prosperous farmers and fisherfolk around Tarapur have become casual menial laborers often tasked with hazardous jobs, such as removing leaked radioactive water from reactor buildings. The plant authorities claim to monitor the local people's health but refuse to give them their medical records.
The Jaitapur Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) prepared by the National Environment Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) is deeply flawed. It ignores the local ecosystem's unique specificities and carrying capacity, the vital issue of biodiversity, and the cumulative environmental impact. NEERI self-confessedly lacks the competence to assess radiological hazards and their impact. It does not even mention the crucial issue of storage and disposal of radioactive waste, which remains hazardous for centuries. Nor does it address the project's nuclear-specific safety issues. (This Column has repeatedly highlighted them, including nuclear reactors' unique potential for catastrophic core meltdowns.) The EIA also certifies that the temperature of the plant's discharge, which is 5° Celsius higher than the sea temperature, is safe. The claim has been convincingly demolished by the well-respected Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), which argues that even a 0.5°C rise would seriously harm marine life, including fish, mangroves and micro-organisms.
Praful Bidwai, Frontline Magazine,. 29 January 2011