Anamika Badal

Bhavnagar city in Gujarat experienced one of the most widely attended non-political event on April 26th 2013 when over 1500 people from about 125 villages falling within the 30km danger zone of the proposed nuclear power project at Mithivirdi about 50 km away from the city.

The event comprised of a panel discussion followed by a protest rally and culminated in handing over a memorandum to the Bhavnagar Collectors office which would be forwarded to the Governor of Gujarat. Eminent citizens and experts spoke at the event regarding the flawed Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report released by NPCIL during its failed public hearing held in March earlier in the year. The villagers had then staged a silent and non-violent walk-out to protest the arbitrary manner in which the report was put together and the failure to adhere to legal requirements during the hearing.

The event also included a public dialog regarding the new draconian Irrigation (water) laws being implemented across Gujarat. The laws will put immense pressure on ordinary and marginal farmers and starve them of both drinking water as well as water needed for irrigation purposes. The new laws have essentially been framed keeping in mind the needs (and pressures) of well-connected rich farmers and for the industry.

Protest meeting was attended by more than 1500 people

Protest meeting was attended by more than 1500 people

The anti-nuclear debate has been simmering at Mithivirdi and the surrounding villages from where land is sought to be acquired for this project. While the EIA claims that the land is non-agricultural barren land, there is documented photographic evidence showing that the region is fertile with huge fruit orchids and vegetable farms. The villagers whose land is sought to be acquired in fact lead a good quality of life and economically well-off. They are totally opposed to this project which will entail them to relocate to some other regions and start lives afresh. Besides this simmering anger at being asked to part with lands which they have nurtured to fertility, there is a palpable sense of fear because of the nuclear plants in this region.

Apart from the technical, environmental, human rights and safety issues, the villagers are extremely dissatisfied about the fact that NPCIL never actually carried out any survey as it is claiming now and that NPCIL never took the loacls into confidence about the project and its implications.

As it has turned out, this high handedness of the government has backfired and the villagers have decided not to part with any land, however high the compensation may be. They have studied the issues in depth and understand all the aspects of the proposed project, its long term implications and the disaster that will befall their lands.

Experts from Ahemdabad, Surat, Vadodra and Mumbai spoke at the event and appraised the locals about the water bill as well as the nuclear issue and assured them of continued support in the agitations. The event was well attended by the media which carried the news prominently in the evening editions indicating that even the media is willing to support this fight against state sponsored land and water grabbing and pushing the local villagers toward becoming marginal, landless labourers. That would indeed be a pity for these dignified farmers from Jaspara, Mithivirdi, Mandwa and other villages proposed to be acquired by NPCIL.