March 22, 2011

One Standard Everywhere: CPI(M)’s “No” To Jaitapur Should Also Mean “No” To Haripur

Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity (PBKMS) welcomes the CPI(M)’s unequivocal opposition to the proposed Jaitapur nuclear plant and asks for a similar stand on the plans for a nuclear park in Haripur. We demand from the CPI(M) a statement that says that they do not want to put lives of the people of South Bengal and the livelihoods of the people of Haripur at risk with a nuclear plant in a seaside area where the risk of a tsunami is there and which falls within Zone IV of seismic activity. (http://downtoearth.org.in/dte/userfiles/images/Earth_quake_map.jpg.) We demand that the rejection of the Haripur nuclear plant be made part of the Left Front manifesto.

On March 12th 2011, Suhashini Ali, ex- MP and renowned trade union leader from Uttar Pradesh and Khagen Das , MP from Tripura went as a members of a two member CPI(M) delegation to visit Jaitapur. A report of their visit has appeared in the People’s Democracy dated March 20, 2011. (http://pd.cpim.org/2011/0320_pd/03202011_13.html)

Not surprisingly, their report echoes our experiences in Nandigram, Singur and Haripur. We quote below :-

“People are not opposed to development. They said – there is not a single college or hospital in this area. We would contribute to the government building colleges, universities and hospitals but there is no talk of these things. They are opposed to a project that they know, despite all the lies and prevarications that the government is resorting to, will displace them and destroy their livelihoods.”

“The ‘affected’ areas that we visited are extremely prosperous. The farmers and fisherfolk produce the best mangoes and also the best fish and sea food in the region. They are responsible for exports running into crores every year. They employ more than 12,000 migrant workers all year round and their villages exude prosperity and hard work. The landscape around is lush and the waters sparkle. The attachment of the people to their land and to their professions is extremely strong and it is this that explains their determined resistance and willingness to sacrifice. “

“Majid Gowalkar told us, “ I employ 11 people. The government says that they will give us jobs after the project comes. But we are already giving more than 10,000 people from outside work at 250-300 rupees a day. And we are feeding our own families. So why should we accept ruination and then beg for jobs that we will never get.”

“Only 112 persons (out of 2000) who owned only 2 per cent of the total land in Mithgavane have accepted compensation from the state government. None of them reside in the area. Even after minister Narayan Rane announced an enhanced compensation of 10 lakh rupees per acre, not a single person has come forward to accept it.”

“No gathering of more than five people was permitted in the affected area and that, not only would two policemen accompany us throughout our visit but police and administrative officers would be keeping a close watch on our movements to ensure that the prohibitory orders were complied with!”

“The government has responded with repression, arrests, unaffordable bail bonds, threats and externment orders that are being processed.”

“An order(has been given to an activist) by the district collector by sms, informing him that his presence in the district had been banned for a week”;

The report at the end states clearly the demands of this two member team

“1) Cancel the Jaitapur Nuclear Project, 2) Return the lands which have been forcibly acquired and 3) Withdraw all police cases filed against the movement activists and also the ban orders and create a suitable environment for dialogue.”

Dr Anil Sadagopal, eminent educationist and scientist, as a response to the report has asked the CPI(M) three questions, which we give below and which we would like to reiterate:-

1. “Would CPI (M) now endorse your demands and take the Jaitapur people’s battle unflinchingly into the Parliament, insisting on cancellation of the Jaitapur nuclear power plant project irrespective of the Government’s claims of the so-called ‘safety reviews’ and ‘increased’ safety measures?

2. Have the CPI (M)-led governments in West Bengal and Kerala closed the doors of their respective states to moves by the centre to establish nuclear power plants therein? If the answer is in the affirmative, would your party declare this as its continuing stand in the party manifestos in the forthcoming assembly election?

3. Would your party now declare its unambiguous commitment to a national policy of promoting renewable and sustainable energy resources (solar, wind, bio-mass and others) for power production in place of the proposed nuclear power all over the country and raise people’s political consciousness in support of this rational stand?”

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No To Nuclear Energy

Statement released by Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity (PBKMS)

March 14, 2011

After the Fukushima nuclear plant accident in Japan, Paschim Banga Khet Majur Samity once again demands the withdrawal of the nuclear plant in Haripur. We repeat “No Nuclear Plant In Haripur; No Nuclear Plant Anywhere.”

It is time that planners in our country stopped playing God with other people’s lives. The accident at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan has once again drawn attention to the limitations of technology and the greed of the powerful. In its eagerness to promote the profits of nuclear industry of Russia , France and America, the Indian government is endangering the lives of its many citizens who live near various nuclear sites. Haripur is a prime example of this.

The Fukushima accident has shown clearly that even a rich, technologically advanced country like Japan is unable to predict nature’s fury. In Fukushima, in simple layman’s terms, the cooling system at the plant collapsed, with first electricity failing, then fall back diesel generators packing up, and finally even battery operated back up collapsing. With levels of incompetence much higher in India, this does not seem an impossible scenario in our country. S K Malhotra, who heads the public awareness division of the Department of Atomic Energy has said that in case of an accident or a disaster, the design of the plants is made such “that the reactor automatically goes into safe mode, switches itself off but continues cooling the plant”. However, after Fukushima, atomic scientist Dr Gopalakrishnan warns that nuclear safety in India is compromised by the lack of independence in the functioning of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB).

TV coverage tells us that Japan has sensors in the ocean floor to predict earthquakes and tsunami, that all the people in the area affected by the nuclear plant explosion are being tested for radio activity. Can we imagine this level of caring for people’s needs and competence in a country which falters after 64 years of independence in dealing with diarrohea outbreaks and chronic hunger? Can this Government actually promise the security of the people of Haripur, Junput, Contai and surrounding villages?

While working on the Haripur issue, we have seen that Government agencies have in fact tried to trivialise people’s threat perceptions. To deal with problems of displacement and discontent arising from that, we have seen that the Government has over time reduced the buffer zone from its original radius of 16.5 kms, and has told people that it does not need so much of land for a nuclear plant, as safety standards have now improved considerably. There has been an impression created that life in Contai town will not be disturbed and only 9 villages will lose their land. On the other hand, in Fukushima , the Japanese Prime Minister has asked for evacuation of people within 20 kms of the plant. If indeed nuclear power is so safe, why do people within 20 kms of the plant have to be evacuated? News reports tell us that “radiation levels after the explosion reached the equivalent of what a human being is normally allowed to be exposed to over the course of an entire year. Three workers were being treated for severe radiation exposure. Although experts insisted that there was no risk to the wider public, health officials were distributing potassium iodine tablets to residents who, while awaiting evacuation, were told to turn off air-conditioners, stay indoors and not to drink tap water. People leaving their homes were warned to avoid exposing their skin and to cover their faces with masks and wet towels.”

Unlike Jaitapur in Mahrashtra , Haripur is not in the middle of a seismic zone prone to earthquakes. However, it is on the shore of the Bay of Bengal. As the past decade has shown, tsunamis are becoming more and more unpredictable. Even if we do believe that human error will be avoided, in terms of using technology in efficient ways for the good of the people of the area, what about unpredictable natural phenomenon, beyond what technologists and scientists account for? What is to prevent Haripur from being overrun by a huge wave from the ocean at some point in the future- a wave that is beyond the calculations of the scientists? After all scientists are still not Gods who can totally control or even totally understand nature.

What makes the whole thing worse is that the people of Haripur-Junput do not at all want this bitter dose of “development”. Surveys, discussions, television interviews have all shown that the people are refusing to give their land for the nuclear plant. While their fears of safety are one part of it, the other part is that they are not willing to disrupt their lives which are culturally and economically rich. One wonders why the planners, if they are so convinced about the safety of the technology do not use a site closer to home- for example the lawns of Lutyens Delhi?

Despite the TMC’s stated opposition to a nuclear plant at Haripur, the UPA is obviously going full steam ahead with its plans. SK Jain, chairman and managing director of NPCIL stated on March 3 2011 that the environmental evaluation process is expected to be over by 2012, to be followed by land acquisition. The first phase of the project will start within the 12th Five Year Plan Period, probably by 2014. On February 23rd 2011, Minister of State in the PMO V Narayanasamy said in the Lok Sabha that the Government has not decided to shift the location of a proposed nuclear power plant from Haripur in West Bengal.

While the 2011 elections make the TMC Congress alliance seem inevitable, one wonders, when it comes to Haripur, whether the alliance will prevail or whether the people’s voices will prevail.

 

Source: http://sanhati.com/articles/3318/