abe-protest-collage-24Jan2014

Fierce protests in Jaitapur

The people of the Jaitapur region have put up brave resistance to the nuclear project right from the beginning. Initially, the opposition came only from Madban and other directly affected villages. But soon, fishing communities, mango traders, transporters and the civil society activists from the Ratnagiri District headquarters, and activists and environmentalists from Mumbai and other parts of India joined in. The state government and NPCIL have maligned the protests by attributing them to “outside elements”.

However, all the five panchayats (democratically elected local governing bodies) in the affected area have unanimously passed resolutions against the project. During our visit, we could see great indignation over the government pushing the project undemocratically, treating the villagers as fools and ignoramuses, and taking them for granted. .

The Central government and NPCIL are hell-bent on pushing the project through at any cost. NPCIL and the Department of Atomic Energy had decided and zeroed in on the Jaitapur site as early as 2003—even before Areva had designed the European Pressurised Reactor and an Indo-French framework agreement on reactor imports was signed.

The Maharashtra government is equally zealous about implementing the project in blatant disregard of its ecological and livelihood consequences. The state’s Chief Minister, Prithviraj Chavan, was the Union minister of state for atomic energy until November and is a dogmatic proponent of nuclear power. He regards its critics as uninformed, destructive, anti-development Luddites. The government has repeatedly stooped low in maligning the project’s critics.

The state government has unleashed savage repression on the local people for opposing the project. It routinely arrests and serves externment notices to peaceful protesters, and promulgates prohibitory orders under Sec 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code and the tough Sec 37 of the Bombay Police Act. An instance is a frail 70-year-old diabetic, falsely charged with pelting stones at the police—when he couldn’t have lifted a pebble. He was detained for 15 days. Others have had false charges framed against them, including attempt to murder. The higher judiciary, apparently afraid to question the Holy Cow of nuclear technology, has refused them anticipatory bail.

Eminent citizens who wanted to visit Jaitapur in solidarity with the protesters were banned. They include Communist Party of India general secretary AB Bardhan, former Chief of the Naval Staff L Ramdas, former Supreme Court judge and Press Council of India chairman PB Sawant, and outstanding ecologist Madhav Gadgil, chairman of the Western Ghats Ecology Experts’ Panel established by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF).

In December, former Bombay High Court judge BG Kolse-Patil was detained for five days and not even produced before a magistrate within 24 hours, as mandated by law. This unprecedented repression resembles the police raj in Maharashtra’s Naxalite-affected areas.

Grass-roots wisdom, especially of women, about their livelihoods and democratic entitlements is touching. Children and women shouted Anu Urja Nako (No to Nuclear Energy) to every passing vehicle. The entire area has learnt methods of peaceful non-cooperation and non-violent struggle against the administration.

People told us that when the   Commissioner of Ratnagiri visited the Jaitapur area with 20 police vans and an ambulance to hold a “peace meeting” with the villagers, nobody turned up. An old woman went to the venue and asked the Commissioner what he was afraid of, why he had brought so many armed men and vehicles for a “peace meeting”.

The people oppose the project because it will destroy their livelihoods, just as the Tarapur reactors nearby have done. The Jaitapur population is highly literate, and knows of the hazards of radiation and the DAE’s poor safety performance, including the exposure of hundreds of workers in Tarapur to radiation exceeding the permissible limits, genetic deformities from uranium mining in Jaduguda, and high incidence of cancers near reactors in different locations.

The people’s resolve to oppose the project is impressive, to put it mildly. More than 95 percent of those whose land was confiscated have refused to take the Rs 10 lakhs-an-acre compensation offered; most of those who did, we were told, are absentee landowners living in Mumbai.

The villagers, faced with repression, practise non-cooperation by refusing to sell food and other goods to state functionaries. When the government recently ordered teachers to brainwash pupils into believing that nuclear power is clean and green, people withdrew their children from school for a few days. Ten villages didn’t hoist the Tricolour on Republic Day.

 

The government is leaving no stone unturned in its efforts to smash Jaitapur’s anti-nuclear power movement and break the will and spirit of its cadres and leaders. To do this, it will have to, and will probably be tempted to, use diabolical divide-and-rule tactics, including fomenting tensions between Muslims (30 percent of the population) and Hindus; violence by agents provocateurs; and branding of all dissidents as Maoists/Naxalites, the latest lie being used to suppress popular movements. These methods must be exposed and resisted.

In the evening of January 7, at the central market place of Nate, a village of mainly Muslim fisher folk, about 1,000 people— children, men, and an almost equal number of women—had gathered to talk to us although it was getting dark and the evening prayers were about to start in the nearby mosque.

People from Tarapur—uprooted by India’s first two nuclear reactors and still fighting for proper compensation and rehabilitation—visited Nate that day just when the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was in Tarapur celebrating the opening of a reprocessing unit.[i] They narrated their experience of total ecological destruction and the ruin of a once-prosperous fisheries economy—leading to destitution in several villages nearby. An immensely engaging discussion followed, which further strengthened the resolve of the Nate’s villagers to resist the project.

An encouraging aspect of the struggle in Jaitapur is that its leadership is firmly in the hands of the local people, who have formed organisations like Madban Janahit Seva Smiti, Konkan Vinashkari Prakalp Virodhi Smiti and Konkan Bachao Samiti. The movement has also seen participation by civil society leaders of national stature like Medha Patkar. Leaders of political parties have also visited the area and expressed their solidarity with the people. Organisations like Anumukti and Lokayat have also played an important role in raising awareness in the area on the hazards of nuclear power.

The Jaitapur strugle could prove pivotal in halting the massive, wasteful and dangerous turn towards nuclear power that India’s energy policy is taking. It can provide a context for wider and democratic discussion on issues like the need for decentralised renewable energy generation; the imperative of taking communities and their livelihoods into account while planning and executing development projects; and democratisation of decision-making through the participation of local communities and grassroots organisations.

Political leaders of the area, although currently supportive of the movement, could prove unreliable. The local MLAs and MPs mostly belong to the right-wing chauvinist Shiv Sena. They have promised their parties’ support to the people’s struggle. However, the Shiv Sena reportedly approved the Jaitapur site when it was in power in Maharashtra.[ii] Other mainstream parties such as the Bharatiya Janata Party, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) etc. have also expressed their support, but the local people are wary of them.

Activists like Vaishali Patil also underline the need to be alert on the possible infusion of communal tension and conflict into the situation by the Shiv Sena-BJP combine. The police have deliberately not acted against the agitators in the Muslim-dominated fishing villages while arresting people from all other villages. This too could communalise the climate, if the latter cite differential treatment.

A brief timeline and description of the intense struggle over the past four years is given below:

  • January 2006 – A court case was filed by Janahit Seva Samiti, Madban in the Bombay High Court, which granted a stay on the project, but later lifted it.
  • 23 November 2009 – A huge meeting of people from nearby villages was held.
  • 29 December 2009, 12 January 2010 and 22 January 2010 – When government officials visited Madban for distribution of compensation for compulsory land acquisition, the villagers refused to accept the cheques. Officials were shown black flags and denied cooperation in carrying out their activities.
  • 22 January 2010 – Seventy-two people were arrested amidst protests against compulsory land acquisition.
  • 16 May 2010 – A public hearing on the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Report at the plant site. The public hearing became controversial as the EIA report had not been delivered to three of the four gram panchayats (local village bodies) a month in advance, as required by law.
  • 4 December, 2010 – Close to 6,000 protesters defied Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code on the day Sarkozy began his India visit. They formed a human chain, waved black flags and raised slogans such as “Sarkozy, Go Back” and “Areva, Go Back”. Around 1,500 people were detained, including environmentalists and local villagers.
  • Former Mumbai High Court Judge BG Kolse-Patil of the Janahit Seva Samiti and Madhu Mohite of the Konkan Bachao Samiti were detained. Admiral Ramdas was prevented from entering the area by the district administration.
  • 18 December 2010 – Irfan Yusuf Qazi, 40, of Nate village in Rajapur taluka was going to pick up his children from school when a police jeep hit his scooter.  He died as a consequence.
  • 11 January 2011 – Children in Jaitapur boycotted schools when the state government ordered teachers to brainwash them about the benefits of “green” and “clean” nuclear power. Over 2,500 students from 70 schools in the area did not attend classes in protest.
  • 18 January 2011- Seventy elected representatives (gram panchayat members) of 10 villages resigned en masse.
  • 18 January 2011 – Project-affected people from Jaitapur boycotted a meeting organised by Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan in Mumbai to clear “misconceptions” about the nuclear project.
  • 26 January 2011, People refused to hoist the National Flag on Republic Day in protest against the nuclear project and against state repression.

The Jaitapur project is only one among the many nuclear plants being planned in India. The massive nuclear expansion the country is embarking upon would involve building scores of foreign and indigenous reactors. This expansion would unleash displacement, ecological destruction, radiation risks and financial burden on a huge scale.

Protests in several parts of the country where nuclear reactors are planned—including Haripur (West Bengal), Kovvada and Kadapa (Andhra Pradesh), Koodankulam (Tamil Nadu), Mithi Virdi (Gujarat), Chutka (Madhya Pradesh) and Fatehabad (Haryana)—are already under way. As are movements against new uranium mining sites proposed in Domiasiat (Meghalaya) and Nalgonda (Andhra Pradesh) which would pose grave health risks to the local population. Popular protests are one of the main reasons the government is going slow on some of these projects.

Courtesy: CNDP Report on Jaitapur: http://www.cndpindia.org/download.php?view.66

 

Notes:

 

[i] “‘Mr PM, our families have grown in 17 yrs” Hindustan Times, Jan 05, 2011 http://www.hindustantimes.com/Mr-PM-our-families-have-grown-in-17-yrs/Article1-646496.aspx

[ii] Ghanekar, Nikhil, “The nuclear park at Jaitapur will be huge. So will the human cost”  Tehelka, Sept 18, 2010 http://www.tehelka.com/story_main46.asp?filename=Ne180910The_nuclear.asp