Koodankulam Struggle: A Chronology (Part II)

Compiled by S. P. Udayakumar

Events in the 2nd Half of 2008

[1] August 16-17, 2008 at Koodankulam
Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace (CNDP)’s National Coordinating Committee (NCC) Meeting

The first day meeting began at 10:10 am with a welcome Speech by Dr. S. P. Udayakumar. Mrs. Lalita Ramdas was elected to chair the proceedings. Prof. Achin Vanaik suggested that the meeting should begin with a discussion on the Press Release followed by a discussion on the CNDP Charter of Demands. Finally, it was decided that the Charter of demands would be addressed first. Prof. Vanaik started the discussion with the following input.

The Charter should include at least three aspects: viz., the Nuclear Deal, Indo-Iran Relations, and the question of Koodankulam. There are 3 aspects of the deal: Strategic-Political Dimension and the question of Indo-US Partnership, Weapons, and Energy. With respect to the three above noted aspects there are 3 major positions.

The first is the dominant position. From this position the view of the three above noted aspects are as follows. Strategic: The deal will strengthen India’s relations with the United States. This is good. Weapons: This will lend legitimacy to India as a nuclear weapons possessing power and allow access to uranium that may be used for weapons production; good again. Energy: And thirdly the deal will help the expansion of civilian nuclear power. And this is of course highly desirable. Whatever price we have to pay in terms of some amount of international monitoring etc. is insignificant as compared to the gains.

The second position, held by many, e.g. that of the BJP, is as follows. The deal helps to improve relations with the US. That is good. But we could have got a better bargain and there was no need to go to the US with a cap in hand. Nuclear weapons are quite desirable but this deal does not permit nuclear testing. The deal does not give us equality with other nuclear weapons possessing powers. All this is bad. That the deal helps the expansion of civilian nuclear energy use is good. But nuclear energy is not going to be of great value in any future energy scenario for India therefore this aspect of the deal is not of much significance. This is essentially the” carrot” to the “stick” of the deal.

The third position is that of the mainstream left parties. The deal is bad. Because: Close strategic-political relationship with the US is bad. There is general silence on the issue of nuclear weapons. The aspect of nuclear power is of little significance as it is not a highly desirable energy source.

Fourth position is held by some of us in CNDP. The deal is bad on all the above counts. Close strategic relations with the US is bad. The deal opens the way to nuclear proliferation; that is bad. And it eases the way to expansion of nuclear power. That too is bad.

Sukla Sen noted, “There has emerged a frightening consensus within the mainstream political establishment. This is the consensus on the theme that considerations of so-called sovereignty and strategic autonomy have absolute priority over everything else. Thus while the government speaks of the deal in no way curtailing our right to conduct nuclear weapons tests, the mainstream opposition of the Deal criticizes the Deal for the restrictions on nuclear testing that the deal will impose. There has even been talk of the desirability of the hydrogen bomb and the testing thereof. What is alarming is that the mainstream Left Parties are also couching their criticism in terms of sovereignty, strategic autonomy and restrictions on nuclear testing. This line of argument constituted a frontal assault on non-proliferation and global disarmament. We, in contrast, must speak of South Asia free of nuclear weapons.”

Admiral Ramdas said that in discussing the Deal we should attend to the following: “We have strategic partnerships with various countries. How does the deal impact on these? The Deal and issues of weapons and energy security: Discuss. The specific points of rejection and/or addition in the Charter of Demands and the Press Release need to be addressed.”

Lalmohan from Nagercoil said: “There are two issues here. The first is the short term issue of meeting energy needs. The second is the long term issue of whether in the name of addressing energy needs through nuclear power we are walking into a trap. Nuclear power is a trap for India because, first, this source of power is unsafe on account of radioactive hazards and secondly, as India has little uranium this source of power is unsustainable for India. Therefore with nuclear power India will, on the one hand, be confronted with the problem of disposal of nuclear waste and on the other, will become dependent on countries with uranium. Moreover the strategic alliance with the US will be too costly for India as India will become economically dependent on the US.”

Admiral Ramdas said: “We are here in Koodankulam. So we should try to get maximum mileage of this fact. Nuclear plants have far reaching implications and we should stand unambiguously against them. We must strive to dispel the brainwashing that has taken place. In this Deal trading is the paramount interest of the US. What is being sold to us is very bad and on the other hand insignificant in terms of our growing energy demands. We are planning to invest colossal amounts in order to get only a meagre proportion of our future energy demands. Nuclear power plants are biggest guzzlers of water and they will have gravely deleterious effects on coastal ecology and environment.”

Praful Bidwai said: “There is a great deal of rubbish being propagated about the deal. One of them is that national sovereignty is being threatened. This is simply not true. There is genuine concern over India’s misuse of fissionable material to conduct tests. One must remember that India has already done so once in 1974, when she reneged on her ‘civilian use’ promise regarding CIRUS and produced plutonium for making the bomb. Incidentally, while we lack the uranium for all our power reactors, we have sufficient uranium for all the military plutonium that we are ever going to need. Nuclear power has proved to be unsafe and undesirable as an energy source. On the other hand we have wind power dramatically surging ahead both at the global level and in India. Investments in nuclear power in India have proved to be expensive and unrewarding and the thorium reactor has proved to be a fiasco. Nuclear power is now being proposed as the solution to climate change on the ground that it is emission-free. However, the term ‘emission-free’ only applies to the last stage of the nuclear fuel cycle, nuclear fission within the reactors. Everything else, from the mining of fissionable material to its transport and enrichment calls for large-scale energy use leading to the emission of greenhouse gases. Then the Press Release was discussed in great detail and approved unanimously (Please see attachment).

Debasis gave an account of the people’s struggle at Haripur in West Bengal against setting up of nuclear power plants. The struggle was initiated sometime in May 2006, when it became clear that the government had surveyed the coastal area in Haripur and was proposing to set up a nuclear cluster in that area. The struggle peaked on 17-18 November 2006 when the NPCIL team was prevented from entering the area. Thereafter for many months there were ceaseless meetings, rallies and group discussions. Thereafter the government seems to have beaten a temporary retreat and there is a lull. But we are on alert. Santanu said: “The battle was won at that point but the war is far from over.”

Achin Vanaik brought the discussion back to the question of having a Convention on Potential and Actual Radiation Victims and asks whether the members were at least prepared to envisage having a preparatory meeting aimed at the Convention. Santanu responded by saying, “If we aim to create a Network on radiation hazards, then that network would need a punchline, a position on which to develop campaign. And that could be ‘There are no safe levels of ionizing radiation’. It is on this basis that a network, aiming to address issues of radiation hazards ranging from dental X-Rays to nuclear power plants, could be formed. In such a network physicians would have to play an important role and indeed the issue of ionizing radiation would likely to have the greatest appeal to the more conscious members of the medical community. However, we must remember that radiation in general terms is likely to have less popular and emotive appeal than the question of nuclear power.”

At 3:30 pm a Press Conference was conducted at the venue and several reporters from local newspapers and TV networks attended [and the event was widely reported in the local press the following day]. At 6:00 pm a massive public meeting was held in the west bazaar of Koodankulam Besides the local people, several van loads of people from Kanyakumari, Tirunelveli and Thoothukudi districts came and attended the public meeting. Rev. M. P. Jesuraj presided over the meeting. S. P. Udayakumar introduced the national guests who were going to address the people. Rajalingam of Koodankulam welcomed everyone. Mrs. Lalita Ramdas, Praful Bidwai, Sukla Sen, Anton Gomez, C. Boaz, Initha, Helen Mary, R. S. Lal Mohan, Sandal Muthuraj and many others spoke. A. S. Ravi offered vote of thanks. The meeting came to an end at around 9 pm.

On the second day, the session began at 10:00 am. The “Demand of Charter” was discussed clause by clause; some changes were made and it was decided that the final draft would be distributed soon. Sukla Sen, Praful Bidwai, Lalita Ramdas, and S. P. Udayakumar will work on the changes and prepare the final draft.

As regards declaring Nepal as a nuclear-free nation, Admiral Ramdas asked why an Indian NGO should go and meet the neighboring countries’ government leaders. Anil Chaudhry described the background of the decision and pointed out the new openings in Nepal and Bangladesh. It was decided that the CNDP should meet the foreign leaders when they came to India. Admiral Ramdas suggested meeting Indian leaders. The NCC mandated the CNDP to explore possibilities of dialogue in collaborating with local groups and political parties including the ‘Communist Party of Nepal’ in Nepal in the context of promoting peace and nuclear disarmament.

Achin Vanaik, Dalia, Sukla Sen, Adv. Rajendran from Chittoor, Lal Mohan from Nagercoil, S. P. Udayakumar from Nagercoil, Gabriella Dietrich from NAPM, A. S. Ravi from Koodankulam and Bharathidasan from Idinthakarai reported on various anti-nuclear activities that were held in their areas/states etc.

Many organizational matters were discussed and decided upon. The CNDP website was to be upgraded and redesigned. A pamphlet on Indo-US nuclear deal was planned. Praful Bidwai and Lalita Ramdas would explore ideas for preparing comic books on nuclear power and the Deal. Collin Gonsalvez of Human Rights Law Network could work with us and Praful Bidwai would facilitate that. Adv. Rajendran, M. V. Ramana and S. P. Udayakumar would head the nuclear law study group. And the next NCC meeting of CNDP would be held on December 13-14, 2008 at Kolkata and Wilfred would explore the modalities. The meeting was concluded around lunch time with national anthem.

[2] September 22, 2008 at Nagercoil

The People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy organized a one-day hunger strike in front of the Kanyakumari District Administrator’s office at Nagercoil on September 22, 2008 with the three demands that the Koodankulam nuclear power project that was threatening the people of Kanyakumari, Tirunelveli and Thoothukudi districts must be stopped immediately, that the nuclear agreements India had signed with the US, Russia and France scrapped, and that the nuclear weapons program of India wrapped up completely. Sr. Assuntha presided over the event and flagged off the hunger strike. Tamil Nadu Fishworkers’ Union president Peter Dhas, Human Rights Protection Movement president Gunaseelan, Tamil Nadu-Pondicherry Consumer Federation president Navaneetham, Create Trust president Ponnambalam, Koodankulam panchayat union councilor Sandal Muthuraj, Land Protection Sangam president Padmadhas, social activist Samji, Helen Mary, C. Boaz, Voice from the Margins convener S. M. Prithviraj, P. Saravanabhavan, R. Ariharasuthan, S. P. Udayakumar, S. Lidwin, Philomena, Joyce, Adv. Sivasubramanian, Fr. Jesuraj, and many others spoke at the event. S. Lidwin concluded the hunger strike in the evening. Some of the strikers handed a memorandum to the Kanyakumari District Administrator, B. Jothi Nirmala, that demanded immediate closure of the Koodankulam plants. Several activists sang thought-provoking songs throughout the day.

[3] September 29, 2008 at Nagercoil

Scores of school children from all over Kanyakumari district, who are members of the Children’s Panchayat, made a representation to the Kanyakumari District Administrator on September 29, 2008. They expressed their fear that the Koodankulam nuclear plant would give rise to dangerous radiation that will spread through air and water and damage the health and well-being of all the people, especially the young children and their futures. They were concerned that the additional four plants at Koodankulam would further damage their futures and hence demanded that electricity be produced through alternative means. They wanted the Kanyakumari District Administrator to stop the Koodankulam nuclear power project immediately.

[4] October 11, 2008 at Alatthankarai (Near Rajakkamangalam, Kanyakumari District)

The People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy organized a one-day hunger strike from 10 am to 5 pm at Alatthankarai village near Rajakkamangalam on October 11, 2008 with the three demands that the Koodankulam nuclear power project that is threatening the people of southern Tamil Nadu and southern Kerala must be scrapped immediately, that the nuclear agreements India has signed with the US, Russia and France rescinded totally, and that the nuclear weapons program of India abandoned completely. Mr. Chellappan, Elluvilai panchayat councilor, presided over the event in the presence of Vellimalai panchayat councilor Mrs. Thangaleela. Mr. Vijayaraghavan, Alatthankarai community president, flagged off the hunger strike. Social activists Samji, C. Boaz, P. Saravanabhavan, R. Ariharasuthan, S. P. Udayakumar and S. Lidwin, the convenor of the Campaign Against Violence on Women spoke at the event.

[5] October 25-28, 2008; Cancer and Alternative Energy Awareness Campaign in Kanyakumari District

A four-day awareness-raising tour was organized to educate the people of Kanyakumari district coastal villages about the harms of nuclear power plants, cancer disease and alternative sources of energy generation. The vehicle tour began at 9 am on October 25, 2008 at Neerodi village with some 25 participants. Social activist Berlin flagged off the tour. Traversing through some 46 coastal villages across the Kanyakumari district and traveling almost 150 kms distance, the tour met with approximately 15,000 men, women and children. When we entered a coastal village, a few of us addressed the people through the public address system explaining the goals of the tour, general information about nuclear power plants, the high cancer incidence in our area, the possibility of getting even more cancer cases because of the upcoming nuclear power plants at Koodankulam, the alternative and renewable sources of electricity generation. As the speakers spoke, several of us walked through the villages, distributed different fliers and booklets, talked to people, collected their signatures in a petition to the government to stop the Koodankulam nuclear power projects.

The villages were so enthusiastic about our awareness-raising tour that they offered breakfast, lunch, tea and snacks and dinner wherever we went. The tour came to a close on October 28, 2008 evening at Kanyakumari, the southernmost tip of India, with a cultural program and series of speeches. The tour demanded that a well-equipped and appropriately staffed cancer hospital be established in Kanyakumari district that has been affected by high natural radiation and higher incidence of cancer. The campaign also asked for a cancer research center in the district. It was further demanded that an insurance scheme to help the cancer victims and their families be instituted.

[6] November 4, 2008 at Thoothukudi

A one-day hunger strike had been planned in front of the Thoothukudi District Administrator’s office on November 4, 2008. However, the local police informed the organizer just the previous day that we were not granted the necessary police permission to carry out the protest event. We were also threatened with “legal consequences” if we chose to ignore the notice and went ahead with the hunger strike. So the organizer, Sr. Assuntha, approached the High Court bench at Madurai to grant us the necessary permission to organize the hunger strike.

As the High Court was hearing our petition on November 4, 2008 at Madurai, three CID intelligence officers asked us not to gather there and to leave the place. We told them that we had to be there to share the news with our comrades who were coming from other parts of Tamil Nadu. Some 75 of us had gathered in front of the Thoothukudi District Administrator’s office; we exchanged news and views with each other, distributed leaflets to the general public, organized an impromptu press meet, and announced our decision to organize a bigger event at a later date. By the time we were about to disperse, we received a word from the Court that they had ordered the DSP to give us a fresh date to organize the hunger strike. We decided to have the hunger strike on November 24, 2008.

[7] November 13, 2008 at Marthandam, Kanyakumari District

The People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE) organized a one-day hunger strike from 10 am to 5 pm at Marthandam, Kanyakumari district on November 13, 2008 with the three demands that the Koodankulam nuclear power project that is threatening the people of southern Tamil Nadu and southern Kerala must be scrapped immediately, that the nuclear agreements India has signed with the US, Russia and France rescinded totally, and that the nuclear weapons program of India abandoned completely. S. P. Udayakumar, coordinator of the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy, presided over the hunger strike in the presence of C. Boaz and others. Sakuntala inaugurated the program; Samji, Santhi, Mary Joyce, Flori, Sivasubramanian, Mathias, Venice, Anthony Dasan, and others spoke at the event. Sowmini, Venice and others sang songs. P. Saravanabhavan offered vote of thanks and concluded the strike. Thousands of handbills on the purposes of the hunger strike, cancer, alternative ways of producing electricity, and a Q&A on the Koodankulam nuclear power project were distributed to the shopkeepers in the area, pedestrians, bus passengers, students, and the general public. The people listened to the speeches attentively, read the leaflets carefully and encouraged the hunger strikers with much enthusiasm and warmth. Two CID intelligence officers were with us throughout the day and took elaborate notes on our speeches, and the day’s proceedings. There were several policemen posted around the strike site.

[8] November 21, 2008; Thoothukudi Hunger Strike

The People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy organized a one-day hunger strike in front of the Thoothukudi District Administrator’s office on November 24, 2008 with the three demands that the Koodankulam nuclear power project that is threatening the people of southern Tamil Nadu and southern Kerala be scrapped immediately, that the nuclear agreements India has signed with the US, Russia and France rescinded totally, and that the nuclear weapons program of India abandoned completely. Advocate S. Sivasubramanian welcomed the hunger strikers. Sr. Assuntha presided over the program in the presence of Dr. S. P. Udayakumar. Professor M. S. M. Sahubar Hussain, Mr. George Gomez, Ms. Rosemarie, Mr. Anthony Dasan, Mr. Venice, Mr. Amaladhas and many others spoke at the strike. The Thoothukudi district unit of the DMDK had sent a party delegation to felicitate the hunger strike and the group included the district secretary Mr. Gomathi Ganesan, district deputy secretary Mr. Arumuga Nainar, and the Thoothukudi town secretary Mr. N. Shanmugaraja. This is the first time a major Tamil political party had shown interest in the issue. The hunger strike was widely reported in the media.

[9] November 25, 2008 to December 10, 2008
Organization Against Violence on Women

A fourteen-day awareness-raising tour was organized by the Organization Against Violence on Women to educate the people of Kanyakumari district about the physical, psychological, cultural and structural violence that are inflicted upon women in the Indian society. Besides political, economic, social and cultural violences, the government also inflicts violence on women in the form of so-called development projects. The event was organized in various towns across the Kanyakumari district for almost 3 hours every single day. The women and men volunteers gave speeches, sang songs and played musical instruments to educate the public. Many of them pointed out that the “development” project such as the Koodankulam nuclear power plant would cause so much violence on women in the form of radiation illnesses, abortion, cancer, birth of deformed and mentally-retarded children and so forth. All the speakers focused on the information that is available about the Kalpakkam projects to warn the public about the upcoming Koodankulam projects. The speakers included Lidwin, Joyce, Philo, Usha, Angel, Boaz, Anthony Dasan, Venice and S. P. Udayakumar. Many local people, shopkeepers, bystanders, and others attended the events with enthusiasm. The tour was concluded on the Human Rights Day at Kanyakumari. The following was the schedule of the two-week tour:

November 25: Nagercoil (Ponnappar Thidal)
November 26: Marthandam (Gandhi Maidanam)
November 27: Karungal (Bus Stand)
November 28: Mulagumoodu (Junction)
November 29: Thuckalai (Thasildar Office Junction)
November 30: Colachel (Bus Stand)
December 01: Monday Market (Bus Stand)
December 02: Manavalakurichi (Bus Stand)
December 03: Rajakkamangalam (Bus Stand)
December 04: Parvathipuram (Bus Stand)
December 05: Ramanputhoor (Bus Stand)
December 06: Marungoor (Bus Stand)
December 07: Aralvaimozhi (Bus Stand)
December 08: Nagercoil (Stadium)
December 09: Mylaudi (Bus Stand)
December 10: Kanyakumari (Near Gandhi Mandapam)




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