This is the third part of Admiral Ramdas and Lalita Ramdas’ diary after their recent visit to Koodankulam. Besides underlining the strengths and resilience of the movement on the ground, this diary has also highlighted the larger questions of sustainability, livelihood and dignity that the struggle in Koodankulam has come to symbolize.

Readers of DiaNuke.org can also access the PART-I and Part-II of the diary. Lalita Ramdas has also shared some really good pictures with us from their visit. Readers can access them below this article as a slideshow.
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In Parts I and II we have covered different aspects and impressions of our two day stay in Idinthakarai, especially the participation of women, and the management and organisation of the campaign by a group of committed leaders.

We intend, in this third and concluding section of our Koodankulam Diary, to talk about some of the important debates, continuing questions, and lessons learned which this sustained movement has surfaced – both for the atomic energy establishment, the government, the media and the activists and people’s movements.

But we will begin with a brief account of a special journey we undertook early on the morning of Dec 7 2011…..

We both love watching the sun rise,.and what better location than virtually at the tip of our beautiful Indian Peninsula…..And having returned to the Koodankulam area after a gap of some five years, we also very much wanted to get an updated view from seaward and a better sense of the location of the plant in relation to the sea, and the nearby human habitations, including the Tsunami Village as it is known here – where the survivors of the 2004 Tsunami from other parts of coastal Tamil Nadu were rehabilitated.

The Admiral with his crew

Our plan was to walk along the beach, or what remained of it after the Tsunami . But as we hit the shoreline, we were pleasantly surprised by an offer from the local fishermen to take us out in their boat to have a closer look at the plant and it’s surroundings. They had sized up quite quickly that this budda-buddi might not be able to make it on foot, given the erosion and uneven terrain.

Our Wonderful Bowman!

This was too good an offer to turn down, and soon enough they rigged the ‘Yamaha’ outboard motor, and we jumped in after wading through knee deep water, with an energetic strong coxswain, and a 65 year old bowman, who made up the crew.

After deft handling of the boat riding the strong surf , we came into calmer waters. Barely had we negotiated the waves and, KKNPP came into full view – the boundary of which was virtually touching the sea. Our crew proudly informed us that just recently they were part of an over 1000 strong Armada of fishing boats which was a spectacular demonstration of their continuing protest against the nuclear plant held on National Fishermans’ Day- 21st November 2011.

A picture of concentration and confidence

Jutting out from the plant into the sea was a long Jetty , presumably built for supplies and other needs for the plant from Seaward. Our crew were especially keen that we observe the water discharge from the power plant. They are all deeply concerned about the fact that there will be continuous discharges into the sea from the plant. This in turn is likely to raise the sea temperature by approx 7 degrees Celsius causing an adverse impact on the Marine environment, marine life, and thus directly affect their life and livelihood. Our host, Jaya Augustin and his comrades had given us detailed inputs on the pattern of fish movements, currents, temperatures and their impact and much more till late into the wee hours of the previous night.

The sea was blue when we visited 4 years ago

We were struck by their levels of information and knowledge about the hazards posed by climate change, unregulated chemical and other effluents from factories further along the coast, and now from nuclear power plants .  Of course, the ability to communicate with them in Tamil was an added advantage in enabling a better appreciation of their own analysis of threats to the ecological , environmental and livelihood related issues. It is a pity that media reports and experts alike tend to be so dismissive about seemingly simple fisherfolk and farmers, who bring with them the experience and expertise of many generations of knowledge in their profession. This also explains the passion and determination of their opposition.

After being out at sea for an hour, we returned to the beach to disembark. Watching their efforts to haul the boat back on shore, made the former Naval person suggest to an interested audience, setting up a simple labour saving device like a winch and pulley system, which could save a lot of physical effort. This could even be financed by the community in the absence of any state support. Repeatedly we were told that it is this kind of advice, help and assistance that was required to upgrade their traditional livelihoods by communities, rather than being told that if they stopped protesting the nuclear plant, they could look forward to a four lane high way, special schools and multi specialty hospitals!

And the final wry comment was left to one of the women – lamenting that the former President of India, himself a Tamil, and moreover from a background similar to their own from a coastal community, having visited the power plant next door, did not, or could not, find a few minutes to sit and talk to them and listen to their point of view.

How is wide and large is the disconnect from the Rajas and the Prajas in this our largest democracy!

There is much we could write – but suffice it to say that the struggle in Koodankulam, regardless of its short term impact, success or failure, has many lessons for us all.

And it is these that we would like to flag in conclusion of a brief, intensive time spent with some amazing people who taught us so much:

LESSONS FROM KOODANKULAM

  • There is a deep divide, infact a chasm, around the question of nuclear power in general and the Koodankulam power plant in particular. The chief protagonists are the Government and the Atomic Energy establishment ; the local residents, those most likely to be worst affected and live in the vicinity of the plant ; and a broad range of the citizens from across the country, reflecting a wide spectrum of opinion in between.
  • These opinions range from the classic position that sees as un-negotiable, the given proposition that India desperately needs power; and that nuclear energy is the only source that can provide this; to those [and there are many] who are not against nuclear power per se, but feel strongly about the rush to invest in imported technology rather than develop our indigenous expertise and the tried and tested products of this.
  • Then there are those who genuinely believe that we cannot allow an investment of some Rs 14000 crores to be wasted, and that the KKNPP should at least be allowed to come on line and produce the electricity it was built to provide to the suffering people of the state of TNadu and other parts of the country.
  • The members of the Expert committee set up by the Koodankulam Peoples Movement against Nuclear Energy [PMANE], have worked hard to produce an outstanding report which has raised several important concerns. Competent members of this group, scientists and engineers from the power and other sectors, have also made some recommendations. In this the possibility of a fuel change/switch from nuclear to gas at the KKNPP has been examined and mooted at some length – precisely to address the valid question about whether this country can afford to let such a vast amount of public investment go waste. And they have quoted from past precedents in the USA – for eg at Shoreham.
  • And then again there are serious, technically competent and equally patriotic citizens, who are arguing for a pause in order to rigorously examine the kind of implications of the recent lessons from Fukushima and the twists and turns of the GOI around the core issue of the Nuclear Liability Bill and the recently promulgated Rules that from all evidence goes totally against the spirit of the original legislation.
  • Others genuinely believe that there is an urgent need to review India’s entire energy road map in its entirety –and this is the best time to do so – before embarking on the humungously expensive and some would say `suicidal’ path of importing equipment from France, the USA and elsewhere.
  • This is an imperative in light of the massive and mounting evidence pointing to the inbuilt dangers of nuclear technology, as witnessed in the major global nuclear accidents, and a large number of less lethal accidents both in India and abroad. This is also an imperative in view of the dizzying and astronomical costs of nuclear energy, and critically, this is an imperative in the face of overwhelming data and statistics as to the potential of renewable energy – especially solar and wind – when viewed through the prism of both safety, and costs, as well as availability.
  • The fact that people have been able to sustain a peaceful, non-violent, and articulate opposition is a powerful indicator of the growing ability and desire of people to be included in decision making regarding their own future.
  • Growing demand for participation in decision making – hall mark of Democracy? This is true equally of Koodankulam, as it is of other protest movements across the country. And indeed this affects not merely Nuclear concerns, but almost every major policy imperative affecting energy, agriculture, livelihoods, forests, health, or education., where people are seeing an increasing willingness on the part of our government, to sacrifice the long term interests and well being of the people at the altar of expediency and the dictates of the neo liberal paradigm driven by external forces, both government and corporate.
  • The visit reconfirmed the continuing efforts by the state to divide and disrupt peoples’ movements and to project those perceived to be against the decisions taken by the system, as being either foreign funded, seditious or against the national interest.
  • WHO FUNDS? From our conversations and observations in the course of our visit it was certainly clear that almost every single group of participants – be they fishermens’ organisations , women beedi workers, the Mandir, the Masjid or the Church, each one has contributed daily wages, weekly income, in rotation, in order to sustain the struggle. There is certainly no evidence of large scale inflows of huge moneys and lavish propaganda displays. Even those going to participate in rallies and meetings, are paying for themselves; as indeed are most of us who have travelled long distances to visit the area, talk to the people, and learn from what has become an iconic symbol of democratic dissent and participation. Let us remember that many members of fishing communities are reasonably well to do – as was visible during our stay in Idinthakarai.
  • There is also a clear and powerful message to our national and state elected representatives, that what does need to be reviewed are the very instruments processes and mechanisms of democracy and social justice itself – together with our policies on energy, natural resources and food security.
  • And more than anything else, once again we were made aware of the power of the media – and the often ambivalent or blatantly partisan role played by the print and electronic media – be it national or local, English or vernacular.
  • What we are hearing the people saying loud and clear to our leaders is very simply this : If we are not with you, it does not mean that we are against you. It does however mean that we want you to listen, to consult with us the people who elected you, and not with the foreign, (highly paid!!) consultants and experts and government representatives who, from our perspective, most often represent one or other powerful vested interest.

HAVE THEY GONE TOO FAR ? IS THE AGITATION OVERDONE? ARE THEY UNYIELDING?

Finally allow us to share impressions of the breadth of vision and perspective of the leadership and the participants of the Koodankulam `agitation’ – who have been dismissed in a newspaper report today as `having gone too far’ and it is overdone!!!!!

A local senior citizen from the Koodankulam area, (we forget his name) held forth for about an hour during the morning session on Dec 7th, before an enthralled audience of old, young, women, men, kids, explaining to them the basic principles of how power is generated; what are the various sources of driving Turbines – and providing a simple but comprehensive overview of renewable sources such as solar and wind……This was continuing education in the best sense of the word and the responses from the audience were immediate and intelligent ——“Thannin kodhiga vekkarathakul anu shakthi daan thevaya? “[Do we really need atomic energy in order to boil water?]

Perhaps it will be some of these long forgotten but necessary processes of creating an alert and informed public opinion that might ultimately build a more meaningful democratic process?

SO – ARE WE OBSTRUCTIONIST?

The women of Koodankulam would be the first to challenge any allegation that they were obstructing development and progress for the country by opposing this nuclear power plant. They were unambiguous on the need for electricity and no more power cuts. But, and on this there was total clarity, they did not believe that the power should only go to industry as at present – but that their villages, small towns, fields, plants should also receive their fair share of electricity. And after reading and hearing about many projects utilising decentralized, solar power systems they want to learn more and implement solar energy in their villages and towns.

Our readers will have to decide for themselves whether the slogans below are seditious or visionary?

VAINDAAM, VAINDAAM, ANU ULAI VAINDAAM (No No to Nuclear Energy)

VAINDUM, VAINDUM, SURYA ULAI VAINDUM (Yes, yes, to Solar Power)

 

See the pictures below in full size. To browse, click on NEXT

 

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Admiral (Retd.) Laxminarayan Ramdas
with Lalita Ramdas

Admiral L Ramdas served as Chief of Naval Staff of the Indian navy taking the reins on November 30, 1990. Vir Chakra, Param Vishisht Seva Medal, Admiral Ramdas was warded Vishisht Seva Medal and the Vishisht Seva Medal during his time in the Indian Navy.

In 2004, he was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Awards for peace for his efforts in trying to demilitarise and denuclearize South Asia. Admiral Ramdas is a leading voice of the growing people’s resistance against nuclear energy projects in India.

 

Lalita Ramdas has been an educator and activist with a broad and varied experience spanning a professional life.

She has been involved into examining national and global economic, social and ecological trends and developments within a human rights framework – especially looking at the connectivities with gender, minority and indigenous communities and policy formation. Lalita Ramdas is a national co-ordination committee member of the Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace.

Admiral Ramdas and Lalita Ramdas can be contacted at:
LARA – Ramu Farm
Bhaimala Gaon – PO Kamarle
Alibag 402209 – Raigad Dist
Maharashtra- India