Chutka Nuclear Project: Former CM Digvijay Singh Voices Opposition, Will India’s Political Class Wake Up?

Kumar Sundaram

Kumar Sundaram is the Editor of DiaNuke.org. He can be reached at editor@dianuke.org

The former Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh and senior leader of the opposition Congress party has written a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, urging him to rethink the Chutka nuclear power project proposed in the state. Mr. Singh has been traveling across Madhya Pradesh recently, as part of his Narmada Parikrama. Mr. Singh has raised some crucial and urgent questions, that the local communities have been voicing ever since they received the notice for land-acquisition for the Chutka project.

Flagging the crucial issue of hazardous misuse of Narmada water, Mr. Singh’s letter says – “Since the last four months of my Narmada Parikrama (circumambulation), I found that the river area is shrinking and getting polluted. In such situation, establishing a nuclear power plant would not only destroy bio-diversity of the Narmada river, but would also prove disastrous for this water body”. Independent experts and activists have been demanding a comprehensive and long-term assessment of the impacts of the project, particularly in the context of climate change. Nuking Narmada is a recipe for disaster – already fast depleting water will be inadequate in case of a future accident and with passing time, communities and industries will scramble for water. The 2800Megawatt project, consisting of 4 heavy-water reactors of 700 MW capacity each,  has been a tale of inefficiency, risks, deceptions and contempt for the local communities.

These questions regarding the Chutka nuclear project were raised internationally during the COP23 meeting in Bonn, where DiaNuke.org released an Issue Brief highlighting the compounding climate change impacts of nuclear projects in India, as part of the Don’t Nuke The Climate campaign.

Speaking to DiaNuke.org, key local activist Rajkumar Sinha said, “we welcome political leaders from all parties as long as they consistently extend us issue-based support. The local movement in Chutka is spontaneous and we have a struggle committee steered by the local community, without any external interference.” Madhya Pradesh is a power-surplus state and setting up reactors in this ecologically fragile area is absurd, he added.

Pointing at the plight of Gond adivasi communities whose livelihoods are threatened by the project, Digvijay Singh points out that more than 600 families will be immediately displaced by the project – “despite being classified as per the fifth schedule of the Constitution under which Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act 1996 is applicable, they are being forcibly displaced”. “Despite their (Gram Sabhas’) protests, compensation amount was deliberately deposited in the accounts of affected persons in a bid to carry out the project’s work forward,” the Congress leader claimed.

Digvijay Singh speaking to activists in Chutka

We can only hope that the political class, across the spectrum, will care to listen to these concerns. Even if Mr. Singh’s articulations have come in the wake of upcoming elections in the state, they deserve attention. It is the absence of real issues in the electoral politics that has led to disillusionment of common people, which was at display on the Republic Day this January when people in Chutka boycotted local elections. They were outraged at the forcible manner in which the environmental clearance for the project was granted, by reducing the public hearing into a farce carried out at gun-point.

The proposal for Chutka project has been on the anvil for decades, including the years when Mr. Singh was state’s Chief Minister. He should also send a copy of this letter to his own party President, as this nucelar obsession was reinvigorated by the previous government, in complete denial of the 2011 nuclear accident in Fukushima.

The letter from Digvijay Singh (in Hindi), can be seen below:

 

 

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