P K Sundaram
While the nuclear establishments in the entire world are known for going to any extent to deny attribution of every possible single case of death to their hazarduous wastes at every step of the nuclear fuel cycle, even in case of major accidents, the common people know their martyrs.
Even though the immediate cause of Ishwar Singh Siwach (62)’s death is heart-attack, people in his village – Gorakhpur (just around 210 kms from Delhi by road, in the state of Haryana), and those in the neighbouring villages made no mistakes – this is the third death in the 14 months long ongoing agitation against setting up of nuclear power plants in Fatehabad district. Denied of any political or administrative negotiation, the exhausting struggle has seen two such deaths earlier – Bhagu Ram and Ram Kumar.
Starting August 17 last year, farmers of the area have been continuing a sit-in protest in front of the mini-Secretariat office in Fatehabad town peacefully bearing rain, heat and cold. Needless to say, the ‘national media’ has given very little coverage to their agitation as it lacks the spectacle, celebrities and also the quick, harmless and formulaic solutions that can be offered on TV by anchors before going for a commercial break.
While the entire country is witnessing peasant struggles against land-acquisitions, the state of Haryana is considered comfortable by industrial mafia and the government as the farmers in the state have settled for better compensation packages in the past. But in the case of Fatehabad, people have gradually realized it is more about getting better paid for the land- it’s about their health, life and livelihood.
Ironically, the Chief Minister of the State was on a trip to Japan for wooing investment when Fatehabad villagers were on streets with Ishwar Singh’s dead body refusing to cremate it until their voice is heard.
On Wednesday this week (20th September 20011), the local community had organised a condolence meeting for Late Ishwar Singh which was attended by around 1000 people from the neighbouring villages. Although the atmosphere was grim, Ishwar Singh’s co-agitators, most of whom have been his close and old friends, turned this opportunity into an occasion of reiterating their pledge to fight their battle without compromises till the end. They also openly and honestly outlined the need to be more united in struggle. Representatives of almost all the political parties barring the ruling party and prominent social activists of the area, including leaders of farmers unions and the State Committee member of the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) also attended the meeting and expressed their support for the cause.
Ishwar Singh’s family – his wife, daughters and sons – have been unflinching in their support to the cause he lived and died for. When it came to demonstrating with his dead body, the family-members left the decision to the agitators committee (the Kisan Sangharsh Samiti).
The proposed Nuclear Power Project and its hazards
Gorakhpur Nuclear Power Project (GNPP) will create 4 heavy water nuclear power plants of indigenous design, with a capacity of 700 MWs each, two of which will be constructed in the first phase. These would be the biggest indigenous nuclear power plants so far built in the country and the NPCIL has no experience of running such huge reactors. The Project has raised concerns because of a number of reasons – displacement, land-acquisition, environmental damage, possibility of devastating accidents, and appropriation of valuable canal water essential for the thriving agriculture in the district.
A total of over 1500 Acres of land is being acquired from Gorakhpur, Badopal and Kajal Heri villages. Notification for this acquisition was issued last year the land – under ‘urgency clause’ (Section IV) of the archaic & colonial Land Acquisition Act 1894. The agitation in the area started soon after the villagers received this acquisition notice. Far from heeding to the farmers’ demand, the government sent another notice last month under Section 6 of the Act which is a step further and only asks if anyone has any objection to the compulsory land acquisition.
The area around Gorakhpur is densely populated. The village has a population of 25 thousands. A township for the GNPP will is planned in the neighbouring Badopal village, which already has a population of around 20 thousand people, violating Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB)’s own rules which says not the ‘sterile zone’ (a circle of 6.6 km radius around any reactor), not more than 10 thousand people should be living. Also, towns like Fatehabad, Ratiya and Tohana fall in close vicinity of the project and a big town like Hisar (population – 200, 000) is just 30 kms away. The fatehabad district has a total population of nearly 8,00,000. In case of a major Fukushima-like accident, the fallouts would engulf New Delhi also, which is at a ‘as-the-crow-flies’ distance of 150kms.
The proposed power plants would rely on the Bhakhra branch canal’s water. The reactors would suck up huge quantity of water even in their normal operation. And in case of a Fukushima-like accident, the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) has no plans as for the supply of large amount of water required for cooling.
The Bhakhra branch canal lifeline for the famers in the area and gives them better than national average output with three crops every year even when the average rainfall in the district is meagre. Majority of people in the district make their living out of agriculture-based trades and occupations – export, marketing and processing of agro-products, agro-chemical and agro-equipments business and transport required for all this. The farmers in the district and the State as a whole are relatively prosperous than their counterparts in other regions of India.
The Fatehabad district is home to rich bio-diversity. The lush-green landscape and the large number of birds and Black-bucks whom the local Bishnoi community reveres, are threatened by this project.