Gond tribes protest against Chutka nuclear plant

Chutka Protest
Courtesy: THE HINDU

Riding boats across Narmada, dam evictees join stir ‘for future generations”

Gond tribals and anti-nuclear activists took out a celebratory rally here after a public hearing, scheduled for Friday, on the Chutka Nuclear Power Project was indefinitely postponed by the Mandla Collector. They had threatened to picket the hearing on the environment impact assessment report, as they had received copies in English, and not in Hindi as they demanded. The project, on the drawing board since the 1980s, has been planned in a 497.73-hectare area in Narayanganj tehsil, on the banks of the Narmada. The area falls in a “high damage risk” seismic zone.

Villagers of Chutka, Tatighat, Kunda and Manegaon, predominantly of the Gond Scheduled Tribe, have been protesting against the project since it was cleared by the Union government in 2009. Most of them were displaced by the Bargi Dam in 1984.

On Friday, scores of Gonds, all dam evictees, came to this the village in boats to support their tribesmen. They crossed over from Seoni district, across the Narmada, where they now eke out an existence as marginal peasants and labourers.

“It is mother Narmada’s will that the parmanu [nuclear plant] must go away. Otherwise we would have drowned. We came here to tell the bureaucrats not to take away the homes of our brethren again. I am so happy that they did not come. Even if I don’t have food today I can dance,” said 50-year-old Radhabai from Bakherimal in Seoni.

Ram Singh Uike, 70, said he had received Rs. 30,119 for his 19 acres in the 1980s. “I have faced more sorrows than any man should face. The money got over fast and we are like birds which fly from one place to another for food.”

His kinsman Raghuvir Narti said: “This is for our future generations. We have decided not to vote for any party that brings the plant and to support the party that stops the plant. If no party supports us, we will ensure poll boycott in 54 villages in the block during the Assembly elections.”

Activists of the CPI(ML)-K.N. Ramachandran group led the protest against the state and nuclear energy. Then came the rally by around 500 villagers along with members of the Chutka Parmanu Sangharsh Samiti, which has been spearheading the protests.

Uike’s boat group was led by former Gondwana Gantantra Party leader Mahatlal Barkade. He said the villagers would remain wary of not only the state but also activists.

Officials of the Madhya Pradesh Pollution Control Board, which had called the hearing, and the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited, which will run the project, were in the dark over reasons for the cancellation.

Soumya Dutta from Chutka

This is one small initial victory. We just got news that under the threat of strong resistance, the government has been forced to cancel the public hearing of the EIA of the proposed Chutka nuclear power plant in Mandla district of Madhya Pradesh. This decision was taken late last night – as reported.

Over the last couple of weeks, people in the adivaasi belt of Chutka-Kunda area where the Chutka Madhyapradesh Atomic Power Plant is (CMAPP) being proposed – have been mobilized to resist this strongly. The government was shamelessly engaged in a publicity blitz in favour of the NPP, and has been ‘bribing’ many newspapers by placing large advertisements singing praises about the ‘benefits’ of nuclear power. The recent campaign by the activists, with strong involvement of Gondwana party has been able to break the veil of secrecy and “stop-news” efforts of the govt.,

Collectively, we were able to create a public outreach, the TV channels picked up the danger aspects of a nuclear power plant (though over-dramatized them) and locating it in a high earthquake risk zone, and how the EIA report suppressed many of these vital facts. The press conferences and public meetings in Jabalpur also helped gather some local support and news outreach (this was an important aspect, as the govt had earlier blanked out any news of dissent /opposition). The nuclear establishment & NEERI also lost some credibility through these efforts.

The strong mobilization on the ground, with people ready to physically resist the PH, has unnerved the administartion, and they have decided to cancell the PH for now. We need to intensify the campaign now, and involve many other sections of MP people. The battle continues – but a small victory gives us more energy to fight.