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Human Rights Abuses underway in South India

 

The State Cabinet of the southern-most state of Tamil Nadu in India today gave clearance for the commissioning of the first unit of the Koodankulam nuclear power plant.  The start-up of the reactors was held back by strong peaceful resistance at the grassroots for last 8 months.

SENATOR LUDLAM of Australia has given notice that on the next day of sitting he will move the Senate with the following notes to be further amended with the latest updates:

a) A crack down on nonviolent anti-nuclear power protesters , including arrests for sedition and the prohibition on people congregating, has occurred at the construction site of a nuclear reactor near the fishing village of Koodankulam in south India on 19 and 20 March 2012;

b) Fifteen people are on an indefinite hunger strike until the nonviolent protesters are released;

c) A growing mass movement in India opposed to nuclear power include protests in Jaitapur, Maharashtra and Gorakhpur, Haryana;

d) The proposed new regulator in India, the Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority, is not structured to be sufficiently independent or effectively separate from the nuclear establishment;

e) the sale of uranium to India while that country refuses to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty would be illegal under Treaty of Rarotonga, signed by the Australian government in 1985;

f) The 1998 Security Council resolution 1172 “encourages all States to prevent the export of equipment, materials or technology that could in any way assist programmes in India or Pakistan for nuclear weapons or for ballistic missiles capable of delivering such weapons, and welcomes national policies adopted and declared in this respect.”

Calls on the government to utilise all diplomatic channels to:

a) Protest the Indian government’s unprecedented deployment of police around Koodankulam and the harassment of peaceful protesters as inconsistent with the democratic right to peaceful protest;

b) Caution the Indian government against loading uranium fuel rods into the reactor at Koodankulam without conducting any safety or evacuation drills, mandatory exercises under the Indian Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) rules;

c) Promote the independence of nuclear regulators from industry and government as best international practice;

d) not sell uranium to countries that stand outside the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and its associated safeguards system.

Soon after the state government’s announcements, 6,000 armed policemen have surrounded the villages in the vicinity of Koodankulam reactor while 20,000 people have still managed to reach at the gates of the nuclear power station. Tamil Nadu’s Additional Director General of Police (ADGP), 3 DIGs (Deputy Inspector Generals) and 10 SPs (Superintendents of Police) are present at Koodankulam presiding over this naked repression of people’s democratic dissent.

 

  • 16 people including 7 women on an indefinite hunger strike.
  • Police and para-military forces is terrrorising people by marching into the village every two hours and then withdrawing. They are threatened.
  • The Idinthakarai village that is just 2-kilometers from the reactor, is at the forefront of the protests. 
  • Idinthakarai has a total population of around 12,000, more than half of which are young children.  The police have blockaded the villages and cut off the water supplies today to this and other surrounding villages. It can turn out to be a state-sponsored carnage of its own civilians opposing nuclear energy who are forced to live next door to it.
  • The closest home to the reactors is only 500 meters. These homes were constructed in 2006 for tsunami affected villagers, four years after the reactors were commissioned. Added to which are approximately 3 million people living in the 30 kilometers zone around the plant defying international stipulations and making the nuclear development technically illegal.
  • A senior minister in the Union Government earlier this week had said that the anti-nuclear protestors should be dealt with an “iron fist”.  
  • Mainstream media are providing misinformation such as the anti-nuclear movement has fizzled out when in fact it has not. (see Daily News Analysis, 19th March 2012).
  • Blockades are placed all round the nuclear power plant and villages making it impossible for independent observers or media to see the arrests or any other untowards action to its citizens
  • Women and children are involved in the agitation to the nuclear power station gates. In a previous confrontation at the gates in September 2011, women were harassed and charged with batons by police.

 

Further updates will be provided tomorrow but time is of the essence and immediate international and national attention needs to be given to this situation as village residents have already pledged a non-violent struggle to their death.

Please could you highlight this emergency and the draconian state measures against the quest for the right to a healthy life in a so-called democratic society.

 

Background to the nuclear project and the protests:

The protest against the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant started as soon as the project was commenced in 2002.  The agreement for the reactors was inked in 1988 by the then Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Michael Gorbachev, the President of USSR.  More than 15,000 people gathered to protest in the neighbouring town of Kanyakumari in 1989 when the police opened fire indiscriminately, injuring several people.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the project itself went in a limbo, to be resumed after a decade in 1998. The people around the area have been protesting against the project ever since: court cases, petitions, letters to political leaders and policy makers and demonstrations

The nuclear accident in Fukushima in March 2011 and the ensuing downturn in public opinion about nuclear energy unleashed a new life to the Koodankulam protests. In August 2011, the people of Idinthakarai and other surrounding villages started agitations afresh: 125 people sat on hunger strike for 12 days while tens of thousands gathered in their support.

For the past 8 months after August 2011, people in Koodankulam have been protesting peacefully and non-violently for the right to a healthy life, consultation and transparency in government conduct.

The Government’s attempts for dialogues: half-hearted, contemptuous and undemocratic

While the Indian Prime Minister claimed on-board his trip to Russia in December last year that the protests in  Koodankulam are “overdone” and the government went ” out of its way” to convince people about the safety of Koodankulam reactors, the activists have an entirely different story. After a 12-day hunger strike by more than 125 people in Idinthakarai in August 2011, when the Central Government agreed to respect Tamil Nadu State Cabinet’s resolution to stop the construction and start dialogue with people, the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE) requested an open and democratic discussion between the 15-member Expert Committee appointed by the Indian Government and the 24-member independent Expert Panel organised by the movement. When the governmentt refused it, the PMANE asked for some 50 essential documents pertaining to the safety, environmental impacts, emergency preparations and costs of the reactor to enable the agitating people to have an informed debate. The Central government declined to share these documents and has declared the hastily drafted report of its own Expert Committee as the final word. Obviously, people remain unconvinced.

Throughout the process of this dialogue between the PMANE and the Central Government’s Expert Committee, the authorities kept building up cases against the activists, including charges of sedition and “war against the Indian state”. The government’s supportive media indulged in worst kinds of malicious reporting about the Koodankulam activists, questioning their religious backgrounds and practically inciting violence against them by publicizing their mobile numbers and contact details in the Tamil language Dinamalar newspaper in November 2011. When the leading activists of Koodankulam Satyagraha complained about receiving obscene and threatening calls, the newspaper backtracked. Meanwhile, the workers of the Congress party, ruling at the Centre, repeatedly indulged in violence against activists and even attacked women and children. The struggling people stuck to their non-violent principles and did not provide any pretext to the government for crackdown.