DiaNuke.org Correspondents

The Public Hearing (PH) on the potential environmental impacts of the upcoming nuclear reactors in Haryana has come under severe criticism from several corners.

Proposed on 17th July 2012, this public hearing is meant to be an opportunity where project affected people (PAP) can raise their objections and concerns related to the nuclear power project.  According to the rules, the local people should be given the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report 1 month prior to the public hearing. The EIA report should be translated in the local language and must be distributed freely to the village bodies and concerned individuals of the area.

In case of the proposed Gorakhpur Nuclear Power Project (GNPP) in Haryana’s Fatehabad district, these rules are being blatantly violated at every level. While the notice for the EIA hearing was sent to the village panchayats (elected local governance bodies) on June 16th, 2012, the EIA report was made available by the Haryana State Pollution Control Board’s regional office to the District Collector (DC) of Fatehabad only on 6th July!  The officials claim that the report was posted to the villages on the same day. To some social activists and concerned individuals, soft-copies of a 14-page executive summary (Download) of the report was provided, only in English.

Tale of another public hearing

 

Another public hearing was conducted in Rajasthan last week, on the proposed Nuclear Fuel Cycle in Rawatbhata. Rawatbhata Atomic Power Station (RAPS) houses 6 pressurized heavy water reactors and the local people gathered in large numbers to express their anguish and complaints. Dr. Surendra Gadekar and Dr. Sanghamitra Desai, whose extensive health survey in the adjoining villages 20 years ago has revealed alarming increase in incidences of cancer, lukemia and other diseases, were also present on 11th July for the public hearing.

In Rawatbhata, the villagers were provided with only partial information – just the summary of the EIA report – in Hindi. The full report of more than 1300 pages was in English and was made available only to 2-3 people.

While the independent experts and the activists of the local group called Paramanu Pradushan Sangharsh Samiti raised several objections on the superficial and hastily-completed EIA report, people in large numbers from surrounding villages traveled upto the hearing venue inside the RAPS premises to voice the apathy of the nuclear authorities and their deception on the developmental promises offered to the local communities at the time when RAPS was being started. While hundreds of villagers came to register their protest, the RAPS authorities had planted their own confidants as speakers in the event – mostly the ex-employees who have now turned into contractor/suppliers of the project and stay in the vicinity of the RAPS. So, despite the massive protest at the event, the authorities concluded that out of 24 people who spoke at the public hearing, 6 opposed the NFC and rest of them supported it while demanding better facilities and jobs.

More than 15 thousand people came on the streets to protest against the RAPS authorities on June 15th, 2012 (see video)

[See a report on this public hearing by THE HINDU here: Proposed Nuclear Fuel Complex in Rajasthan faces public anger]

Keeping communities in dark

None of the 6 panchayats going to be affected by the project have received the 1000+ pages of the report so far. Not even the Gorakhpur panchayat, the village with a huge population that will be displaced entirely, has got this document. The villagers are supposed to learn English, educate themselves in the technical details of the EIA, decipher the concealing and misleading tactics invariably adopted in such reports and raise their objections – all on the same day! Evidently, this hearing is being conducted in total violation of the ruled stipulated by the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) and general norms of democracy and transparency.

The Gorakhpur nuclear project is proposed in a densely populated district with majority for the population dependent on agriculture. The local people have been staging a sit-in protest in front of the Fatehabad mini-secretariat relentlessly. August 17th will mark the 2 years of this ongoing protest in which at least 3 farmers have lost their lives braving the heat, rain and cold, sitting in protest on an open road.

Kisan Sangharsh Samity & other activists sitting in protest in front of mini-secretariat

Intimidating people

While the authorities did not have time to make the enabling report available to the village community, the local administration has done elaborate security arrangements for July 17th. ML Kaushik, the local Deputy Commissioner has assured of heavy police and paramilitary presence. “We will have three layers of security, one at the project site, second in the periphery of 1 km from the site and the third layer 5 km away from the site, to check all vehicles going towards the village” The DC has been quoted as saying.

Dr. Rajendra Sharma, a resident of nearby town of Hisar and a social activist says: the people of this area have always been taken for a ride. The farmers are not ready to give up as everything that they have – their highly fertile land, the canal water, the endangered blackbuck deers worshiped and treasured by them, their safety and lives – is at stake. (see a detailed report)

A public insult, not a consultation

On paper, there are wonderful laws to protect the lives, livelihood and the constitutional right to lead a safe life in India. Such laws were passed after much deliberations and public pressure, notwithstanding the attempts by bureaucrats and industrial lobbies to dilute them . But however good the law, if the implementation is not in the spirit of law, such laws become a tool in the hands of unscrupulous governments and businesses backed by it.

The nuclear establishment has pitched a media campaign recently, painting this upcoming hearing as a great way to take people into confidence. While the NPCIL’s Chief Project Engineer has described the event as if there is some kind of verdict on nuclear energy going to be given on that day, the truth is, these EIA reports DO NOT look into radiation hazards and confine themselves with environmental affects of the project. In the past, the EIA report on Jaitapur Nuclear Power Project conducted by the Nagpur-based National Environmental and Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) has come under criticism of independent environmental institutions like the Centre for Science and Environment (see the technical assessment). While NEERI is a government-supported institute and has been notorious for giving green certification to a number of dubious projects, Jairam Ramesh the then Union minister for environment and forests himself admitted that out of the “four crucial factors” — economic growth, fuel mix diversification, strategic diplomacy and environment protection —  environment was their last concern. Green signal to this project was given on the eve of the French President’s visit to New Delhi.