Gujarat farmers rise against nuclear project as Manmohan heads to the US

At least 5 thousand farmers – men, women and children – are marching today from Mithi Virdi to Bhavnagar in Gujarat demanding scrapping of the proposed nuclear project in their backyard. spoke to Krishna Kant, a key activist in the Mithi Virdi struggle. He is a mmber of Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti group working on issues of industrial pollution in Gujarat.

Protesting farmers during the public hearing held earlier this year - Photo courtesy Indian Express

Protesting farmers during the public hearing held earlier this year – Photo courtesy Indian Express

Manmohan Singh has sought to exempt Westinghouse from nuclear liability. What is your reaction?

This is very unfortunate. The government and the nuclear establishments and authorities have all the while been claiming to follow a scientific and transparent approach. Also among the various claims is their constant rhetoric of Nuclear Power being the safest mode of generating power. Such claims fly in the face of the Indian Govt and its various departments practice of exempting big corporations of
the legitimate responsibility that they should own up. This step of diluting / absolving the liability of the Nuclear Suppliers amounts to ‘surrendering our sovereignty’.Tragically it is corpoarations that have been dictating Govt. policy & law in the last couple of decades.

What is the progress on the ground, do you think the govt has shown hurry in finalising the agreement with Westinghouse?

The stiff resistance and resolve of the villagers of Mithivirdi, Jasapara, Mandva, Khadarpar and other surrounding villages has not allowed NPCIL to do any work on the ground. Even the studies submitted in the EIA report for the project are questionable. Also documents procured under RTI reveal that there has been no independent study conducted by Indian Nuclear establishment to verify the various claims by Westinghouse about it AP1000 reactors.

Then why such hurry? The cost benefit section of the EIA submitted by NPCIL is just few paragraph, indicating the non-serious, non-scientific approach and submissive approach of NPCIL and Indian Government towards the US giant corporations.

Why do you think the Manmohan Singh government is doing this?

The most generous explanation is that policy makes today genuinely believe (in spite of ample evidence to the contrary) that it is big corporations that will solve our problems and serve national interest. The more likely explanation is that these decision-makers are agents of corpoartions and they knowingly serve their interests in total disregard of public interest. The NDA Govt. wore the Vajpayee-mask, UPA is wearing the Manmohan-mask.

What are the main concerns about the Mithi Virdi project?

The area around Mithivirdi is blessed with alluvial soil and beautiful weather. The rich farming activity of the area supplies fruits, vegetables and grains all year round to the nearby urban centers of Bhavnagar and Talaja. Also Bhavnagar district is highest producer of onions in India only after Nashik and villages to be affected by the NPP grow onions on large scale. Even some proponents of nuclear power honestly believe that nuclear energy is essential to the country but no such project should be set up in this area. So it is kind of battle between power security and food sovereignty, and corporate profit v/s livelihood.

The much touted Kalpasar project of the government of Gujarat is also proposed in close proximity to  the proposed NPP. The largest ship breaking yard of Alang is situated adjacent to the proposed site. According to the documents of Atomic department Alang ship breaking yard would be affected by the NPP, which means thousands losing their jobs and loss of revenue for the country.

What about the environmental clearance to the project?

The EIA report submitted by NPCIL, was prepared by Engineers India Limited (EIL). EIL is not accredited by MOEF to do EIA’s for Nuclear Power Plants. Thus NPCIL has choose to blatantly ignore and disrespect environmental laws.

A cursory look at the EIA report also reveals the incompetence of the agency. The document of the EIA is nothing short of an unedited compilation of various piecemeal reports subcontracted to various
different agencies. The report also fall flats on basic demographic and environmental details that a layman can verify on ground.

The sections on cost benefit analysis, disaster management, alternatives, etc are dealt with in just few paragraph. Maybe NPCIL was more concerned about saving the environment and their own efforts by devoting few pages to such important aspects of the report.

How strong is the movement on the ground? How will the people take forward the struggle in the face of such adverse government policy?

The villagers of Mithivirdi, Jaspara, Khadarpar and Mandva have been resisting the proposed NPP here since 2007. Various protests, rallies and public meetings have been organised since then. The villagers have twice thwarted governments and NPCIL effort for land survey.

Regular village level meetings are organised in and around Mithi Virdi. The movement has been quick to respond to issues arising from the Indo-US Nuclear deal and Liability Laws in India. On 23rd of September 2013 a huge tractor rally has been organised from Jaspara-Mithivirdi village to Bhavnagar the district headquarters and an important city of Saurashtra. Villagers from more than 50 villages would be part of the rally. The affected villages who would be losing their lands and also those who are dependent on the village commons have submitted affidavits expressing their protest to not allow the project here.

Conventions and Seminars have been organised in Ahmedabad and Bhavnagar. The Mithi Virdi resistance has also been actively participating in other Anti-NPP movements in India like the Jaitapur.

The movement has also built alliances across various issues of land acquisition, SIR projects in Gujarat, etc. The movement is also part of National Alliance of People’s Movement (NAPM) and National Alliance of Anti-Nuclear Movements (NAAM) at the national level.

Do you think Modi will be of any help to your cause?

Till date Mr. Modi (PM in Hurry) has given no statement on the issue even while the Indo-US deal was being signed or now when the UPA government has decided to surrender the sovereignty of the country by diluting the Liability laws to facilitate US nuclear suppliers. In fact it seems he has been facilitating the process in the state. It is noteworthy that Gujarat has excess power production which it is unable to sell sometimes.

The major opposition party BJP and its declared PM candidate are silent on this crucial issue. They should take a clear stand on the issue as any agreements between the present UPA government and US or US companies would have future consequences.







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