Does People’s Life Matter to You, Dr. Kalam?

Sethu Nezeer |

The commissioning of the Koodankulam Nuclear Plant seems imminent. The mainstream media will be soon seen lauding and licking the sweet development dessert made from the crushed pulp of mass protest. The persecuted fisher folks of the koodankulam village will bite the silver bullet and bleed to silence. Dr.Kalam has always been vocal about his dreams of a young India equipped with state of the art space technology, building a synthetic nation where rocketry and space missions shall build a gateway to elevate India into the league of the invincible global powers; The gateway of dreams which denies entry to 80% of Indians languishing in the peripheries of our development.

Dr.Kalam vouched for the safety of nuclear energy in a special essay in the op-ed page of The Hindu on Nov-6, 2011-‘Nuclear power is our gateway to a prosperous future’. The article throws light on the economic, social and environmental concerns that rely on both factual and mythical doctrines on the safety, inevitability and feasibility of nuclear energy and its reactors. In most part of the essay he highlight the energy guzzling development agenda for the Neo- India and further substantiated the urgency to meet the soaring energy demand by skillfully aligning retrospect events of trial and error and meticulously stating comparative advantages of incremental risks of nuclear accident to that of non-nuclear ones. The nuclear accidents in Fukushima and Chernobyl are quoted by him as a ‘’Mishandled’’ and “Mismanaged’’ disasters that were “Unfortunate”. Lives lost, environment devastated, possible hazard to posterity –and he comfortably trivialize it as ‘mismanaged’, ‘mishandled’. I would call the statement grossly ‘misappropriate’. And his claim that there is no substantiated study to prove the pernicious corollaries of a nuclear accident is like farming on a mine laden field and hoping to not step on one. All the much promulgated facts about nuclear energy and the holy healing effect it has on the energy depleting economy are globally disputed propositions.

The disclosure by a Norwegian group doing informed and authentic activism of a special report from nuclear safety experts from Russia reveals 31 grievous flaws of the VVER-TYPE reactor, to our dismay is the same installed in koodamkulam.

The unpreparedness of these reactors to handle both man-made and natural disasters is traumatizing and shall evoke certain dire repercussions if anything is to go wrong. Optimism evades my comprehension as we begin our nuclear endeavor in the wrong footing. The agitators are enraged because they fear that their land, their air, their sea, their biodiversity and their life itself is at stake for a dream that was never theirs. I couldn’t resist myself from quoting these lines from Atharva veda that kalamji has so passionately inscribed in his autobiography ‘wings of fire’.

“This Earth is His, to Him belong those vast and boundless skies; both seas within Him rest, and yet in that small pool He lies.” This verse fits perfectly into our context. The people who are rightful heir of all natural resources watches in despair as their voice is being gang raped by the new urban shouts.

In the light of Dr.Abdul Kalams visit to Koodamkulam let’s try and air the million dollar questions:

• Why have we failed miserably to initiative informed public consultation and convince the villagers who are certain to be displaced and dispossessed?

• Why are the dalits, the tribal’s, the fisher folks, the poor and deprived always the ones who mostly end up paying a huge price for development- by foregoing their land, livelihood and their democratic right to know and dissent-the benefits of which seldom trickle down to them?

• Who shall take the onus if anything was to go wrong? What is the rational estimated “opportunity cost” that we are ready to forego for this ambitious suicidal experiment? Will a few million lives and a devastated biodiversity suffice?

Kalam’s visit to Koodakulam was looked at with great hope by the protestors; for they believed that he himself being from a socially humble background from the island town of Rameshwaram would give a fair hear to their grievance. Sadly Dr.Kalam played the prosaic technocrat rushing through a scant 20minute deceptive jugglery with numbers and nomenclatures while vouching for the safety of these nuclear reactors to the press and evaded his accountability of deliberating with the hundreds of agitators eagerly awaiting his …… This impropriety from a person who ignited the dreams of millions of young India, including me, made me muse with remorse.

Our governments over the years have meticulously woven the whole agenda of manufacturing mass consent by roping in the best of their prodigious and eloquent spokespersons, and thus pervading and imposing their armchair policies through concentrated and media induced propaganda. The fight against endosulphan was clamped down by the same narcissistic and obfuscating attitude of the government till their so called foolproof safety measures were refuted by inimical ground realities. When the tragedy occurred, the government establishments demanded more than just a few villages where people were mutated and crippled by the spraying of this toxicant. They demanded ironclad scientific and empirical report! Elite mockery of miseries!

The global players, post Fukushima has decided to put nuclear dream in cold storage; France, which extracts its 75% energy needs from nuclear plants have decided to cut down its reliance on nuclear energy by 25% ,In June 2011, Germany decided to decommission and phase out all 17 of its nuclear power stations (28 reactors) by 2021/22,germany was the first to call out for a total phase out by 2022 and Japan decided to go zero nuke by 2040.All that the government repressive measures to dilute and debilitate the protests in koodankulam has done is it took the life of a villager and evoked widespread public backlash. The villagers are forced to fight against the so called ‘progress’ of which they have never been a part of. Their perception of progress and their vision of development have always been undermined. The daydreaming, arm chair visionaries and policy makers need to remember that the marginalized, disposed, displaced, unemployed and famished India is living behind your mansions and below it, look around you before you dig any deeper. They are fickle and feeble, but united. Construction of dams, canals, thermal plants, defense installations, mining and all other mega –development projects over the years has forcefully displaced land, resources and livelihoods of millions.

The government’s rehabilitation and compensation policy, the avowed alms for the sacrifices made by the victims, has either being grossly undervalued, misappropriated or as in most cases it remains a lip service. Even the revered Supreme Court of India has asserted that public safety should supersede the benefits of a project.

‘Kalamian dream syndrome’ that gauges the development merely on the number of scientific projects initiated and not on the welfare and rights of the people shall give rise to more incidents of public uproar and mass protests. They might be’ poor and illiterate’, but they are people Mr.Kalam, the same people, your esoteric development has failed, whom your military and rocketing projects have failed, the same people who doesn’t picture in your visions Mr.Kalam. The same people who carry the yoke of democracy in despair in the hope that the mantle of a prosperous tomorrow is safe in the hands of people like you. Haven’t you noticed the 7year olds, 15year olds, 24year olds shouting slogans against your nuclear dream? Development shouldn’t be on duress, it should be inclusive and consensual. Not projects, but, people matter Mr.Kalam.

Sethu Nezeer is young journalist from Kerala. He can be reached at




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