In Protest Against Nuclear Power Project in Chutka, People Boycott Local Elections.

Silence on polling booth as people boycott elections [local TV news in Madhya Pradesh]

Communities in central India’s Mandla district, especially Gond adivasi tribes, have been vociferously agitating against the Chutka nuclear reactor project proposed in their region. Villagers in Chutka and Tatighat, who will be immediately affected due to the project by losing their land and livelihoods, boycotted the local elections of gram-sabha(village-level self-governing bodies). In the Polling Booth No. 2 under the Narayanganj Development Block, no votes were registered in the elections held on 17th January 2018.

Speaking to DiaNuke.org, Rajkumar Sinha, Gandhian activist associated with the National Alliance of People’s Movement(NAPM), said – villages in this part of Narmada valley have repeatedly opposed the nuclear project through their collective and unanimous resolutions. Appalled by their democratic voices going unheard, they decided to boycott the elections this time. In a potent protest, huge gatherings were organised in the two villages where people assembled and declared this boycott. The government tried to coerce government employees in the village to cast their votes, but even they told the media later that they had to go for polling under pressure.

When the villagers decided to boycott, the government officials tried persuading them to use the ‘Non Of The Above(NOTA)’ option in the voting machine. However, people in the village insisted that they want to register their protest in form of a complete boycott of elections. People in Kunda, the third village which will be immediately displaced once the construction of nuclear plant starts, had a shared polling booth with other nearby villages so they passed a collective resolution against the project.


Photos: memorandum submitted to local authorities. People who cannot write have marked their thumbnails as signature.

Recently, people of Chutka and surrounding villages organised a 2-months long intensive campaign in the form of anti-nuclear yatra from 2 October to 12 December 2017. Through this yatra, they traveled to 275 villages in the surrounding area which have been marked for emergency evacuation in the Environmental Impact Assessment conducted by the government. “Despite the government announcing compensation and forcibly depositing the amounts in our bank accounts, most people have not touched the money. We know that our losses – land, trees, water, livelihoods, cultural connections, and social fabric – which will be destroyed due to evacuation can never be compensated by money.”, says Navratan Dubey, Convenor of the Chutka Parmanu Sangharsh Samiti(Chutka Anti-Nuclear Struggle Committee). Mr. Dubey and hundreds of other families are among the people who were forcibly dislocated in the same manner in early 1990s when the Bargi dam was constructed in their area. “We know the reality of government’s promises of ‘development’, it means destruction for us. We have seen it once and we cannot be fooled twice.” he adds.

Dadulal Kudape, who has been leading the movement along with Dubey, submitted a 26-point memorandum to the local authorities, demanding an immediate stop on the survey work for the nuclear power project and proper implementation of the Forest Rights Act 2006, which mandates for the consent of forest-dwelling communities before any land acquisition. When the villagers went to the district headquarters, the authorities refused to accept their memorandum, then they submitted it to the nearby police station at Tikariya. The other points in the memorandum include long-standing demands for building roads, hospital and installing hand-pumps in the village. The villagers have announced that they will not touch the Electronic Voting Machines(EVMs) until the government fulfills their 26 demands. The local media, both print and electronic, covered this unprecedented non-violent boycott of elections. Mohanlal, who is a government servant in Chutka village, was pressured by his seniors to vote in the elections at the polling booth. He said that school teachers, anganvadi(govt-operated day care centre for children) staff and other government employees from the village were strongly pressured by the Deputy Inspector of the state police to participate in voting process.

Speaking to the questions of journalists, however, Sampatiya Uike who is a BJP politician from the region and a member of the Rajya Sabha(upper house) of the Indian parliament, alleged that the villagers boycotted elections in return for booze and other incitations by the opposition parties.

Dadulal Kudape responded by saying that these allegations as malicious and contemptuous of people of his village. He said – “we have been fighting since 2009 and have tried every opportunity that democracy provides us. When the public hearing on the Environmental Impact Assessment(EIA), mandatory under the law, was turned into a cruel joke by the authorities, we marched to the state capital Bhopal and finally to New Delhi in 2014 to register our protest. After being canceled twice in 2013 due to fierce local agitation, the public hearing was conducted at the gunpoint and consent was declared without consulting actual people. Since then, the administration and media have been spreading rumors that the farmers have taken compensation and the movement is over. But that is not the reality. A lot of people have not touched the compensation amount which was forcibly deposited in their bank accounts. We continue to resist and have raised our objections to the banks for accepting compensation despite our refusal. The election boycott was spontaneously decided by people and in fact we did not get enough time to prepare for publicizing it better. This should send a clear message that people of the area will also boycott the state-level elections to be held later in 2018. We do not want the Chutka nuclear power project.”

The people to be potentially affected by the proposed nuclear plant are adivasi communities of Chutka and Seoni districts of Madhya Pradesh and this will be their second displacement. 162 villages were displaced for the Bargi dam on Narmada in 1990s and thousands are people are still struggling to find proper rehabilitation and starting a new life.

A recent protest-march in Chutka