The Supreme Court’s verdict on Koodankulam in a public interest litigation rests on three highly contestable premises: the judges’ belief in the indispensability of nuclear energy for India’s progress, their faith in the country’s nuclear establishment despite its appalling past record, and the judges’ notion of the larger public interest, based on a trivialisation of the safety concerns of people about nuclear power. The judges have given judicial sanctity to these propositions while giving the go-ahead to the Koodankulam project.

It is unfortunate that the Court, far transgressing the actual prayers of the petition, has completely overlooked brazen violations of official safety norms by the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL), the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) and the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB).

The petitioners highlighted serious issues such as the recent scam involving Russian company ZiO-Podolsk’s supply of sub-standard equipment to Koodankulam, violation of the AERB’s reactor siting norms, undermining of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Coastal Regulatory Zone (CRZ) clearance processes, and flouting of the mandate for evacuation exercises and emergency preparedness drills. They also raised the issue of NPCIL’s non-compliance with the 17 post-Fukushima safety recommendations by a special AERB committee.

The DAE has abused its claimed hegemony on nuclear expertise in India and its proximity to the country’s top political leadership to mislead the Supreme Court. It has tried to pass off the safety codes it has evolved for Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors (PHWRs) as valid for the entirely different reactor design used at Koodankulam, based on Pressurised Water Reactors. The verdict also highlights the unfortunate extent to which our democratic institutions, including the judiciary, have come to unquestionably accept the GDP growth-centric model of ‘development’ which is contested by impoverished and marginalised sections of the people who bear its brunt.

The only positive feature of the judgment is a set of 15 cautionary guidelines. Although inadequate, these are welcome. We demand that NPCIL exercise maximum transparency and accountability in implementing the guidelines. The Court’s order to withdraw police cases against the agitators vindicates our position that the government used undemocratic and brutal repression to silence the peaceful protests in Koodankulam. We demand that the fabricated charges filed against the protesters be withdrawn and they be released at once.

Prashant Bhushan (Eminent Lawyer, Supreme Court of India)
Kumar Sundaram (Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace)
Praful Bidwai (Eminent Journalist and Environmentalist. Founding Member, CNDP)
Lalita Ramdas(Founding Member, CNDP)

[Statement issued in a press conference organised by the CNDP in New Delhi on May 21, 2013]

CNDP