Koodankulam Struggle: A Chronology (Part III)

Compiled by S. P. Udayakumar

Key Events in 2007

[1] February 14, 2007
Aborted Public Hearing II

Alarmed by the plan of the Koodankulam authorities to take water from the Pechiparai irrigation dam in Kanyakumari district, several farmers’ organizations and fisherpeople’s associations started organizing against that dangerous move. This dam water plan was recorded in the official EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) report that the Koodankulam authorities had prepared for the additional four nuclear power plants they were planning at Koodankulam.

Several meetings were organized in October 2006 to plan the centenary celebrations of the Pechiparai Dam and to think about the ways and means of preventing the Koodankulam authorities from usurping the irrigation water from us to use it in the wasteful and dangerous nuclear programs. The newly set up “Kanyakumari District Water Resources Protection Federation” organized a massive public meeting on November 4, 2006 at Thuckalay to discuss the threats to our water resources from various quarters, including the nuclear dragon. The Koodankulam authorities cunningly ducked and conveniently claimed that they were setting up desalination plants with Israeli technology and hence they were not going to take Pechiparai dam water. When we pointed out their claim in the official EIA report and in a recent journal article written by a senior nuclear official, they claimed that they were all mistakes. Typical nuclear behaviour!

The TNPCB (Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board) was going to hold the postponed public hearing for the Koodankulam nuclear power plants III, IV, V and VI on January 31, 2007 at 10:30 am at Koodankulam. The newspaper ads said that the hearing would be held at the town hall at Koodankulam but later we found out that the public hearing would be held at one of their own meeting halls in the nuclear power project township itself.

The public hearing announcement indicated that the possible issue of displacement of the local people would also be dealt with in the meeting. This last straw broke the proverbial camel’s back for the Koodankulam public. They were already deeply disturbed by the facts that the promised 10,000 jobs never came and the proclaimed economic boom never happened. When they were also going to be kicked out of their village, the Koodankulam people said `enough is enough’, founded the “People’s Rights Movement” and organized protest marches, fasting, road blocks and so forth on three consecutive days in late January 2007.

Seeing the latest developments in Koodankulam, the neighboring fishing and farming villages also rose up with fresh energy and enthusiasm. None of them want to have four more additional nuclear power plants in their midst and they also want to stop the construction of the first two plants.

Taken aback by this popular upsurge and groundswell, the authorities quietly postponed the public hearing once again. The nuclear authorities from the topmost boss to the bottommost peon tried in vain to reassure the people that nobody would be displaced. Typical nuclear behaviour! They came up with all kinds of ridiculous ground plans to explain that they could have upto eight plants on the existing land. Our most decent, most democratic and most lameduck Prime Minister (White)Manmohan Singh signed the deal for the four additional nuclear plants at Koodankulam with the Russian President Putin on January 27, 2007 even before the public hearing was held for the same. Perhaps he knows that the whole public hearing exercise is a sham and a fraud on the people of India.

The plan for Koodankulam seems to include six Russian-made VVER nuclear power plants producing 6000 MW power, two Indian-made fast breeder plants producing 400 MW power each, a possible reprocessing plant, and also a weapons production facility. This dangerous “temple of science and technology” will be the biggest nuclear facility in the entire world.

With the public hearing postponed indefinitely, the nuclear authorities are scheming on how to trick the people of Tirunelveli, Kanyakumari and Thoothukudi districts of Tamil Nadu into the deadly nuclear trap. The local press and other media who are pampered by the nuclear ads and booze (and what not) do not want to report anything that is unpleasant for the nuke bosses. The political parties that speak so much about the Tamil race and its welfare, tend to think that the people of the southern districts are Martians who deserve to be nuked. The religious elements are busy with their enlightened escapades.

So the local people are left to fend for ourselves. We are organizing slowly, steadily but surely. Wish us luck and do something in your area too for the danger of nuclearism is taking over the entire globe.

Latest Developments

I received a phone call from a senior IB officer on February 12th around 9 PM and he talked to me for almost 1.5 hours wanting to know how many people would come for the Feb 15th hunger strike, who would be the leaders, what is planned afterwards etc. etc. We had a candid conversation and I made it clear that people do have a right to express their desent in our democratic polity. He kept repeating the fear that we may not be able to control the ‘mob’ or sustain the campaign and may indeed push the ordinary people into harm’s way. I politely told him that we are not violent people, we do not instigate them against anybody or anything, but what we are doing is an
awareness campaign. That was an “interesting” conversation, to say the least.

On 13th February around 1 PM, a “Tirunelveli Inspector” called me and ‘interrogated’ me over the phone. On the 14th noon, a Special Branch CID came to Dr. Lal Mohan’s house where he, Mr. Y. David and I were meeting. He was very eager to know when Medha Patkar was coming and where and all that. He also talked to his boss in front of us and
answered all his questions. Several other friends have been receiving phone calls from the IB, CID and other police departments.

The Indian State is taking the struggle very seriously and is a bit worried about Medha Patkar coming to Koodankulam. Obviously, the DAE/NPCIL is putting a lot of pressure on the State from behind the screen. It is so hard for them to stomach this kind of popular participation and their autocratic nature and composition cannot simply digest even a small dose of democracy. They are annoyed, agitated and even scared.

15th is the big day! Several thousand people from fishing and farming villages will be sitting on a day-long fast and organize a “public hearing” to express our total opposition to the Koodankulam nuclear power project. It will be a wonderful, nonviolent expression of our collective disapproval of the upcoming power plants (I and II) and the additional plants (III, IV, V, and VI).

[2] One-day Hunger Strike on February 15, 2007

The one-day hunger strike has been a great success. Some 7,000 men and women and children from 175 fishing and farming villages from Tirunelveli, Thoothukudi and Kanyakumari district fasted together. This event was also treated as the “public hearing” organized by the public themselves. Scores of people –fishermen, farmers, women, social activists, doctors, teachers, lawyers, scientists, priests and youth- expressed their opposition to the Koodankulam plants. They all demanded immediate closure of the ongoing projects (I and II) and the planned projects (III, IV, V and VI). The whole day people made passionate speeches and the audience gave undivided attention to all of them.

Earlier in the day, when Medha Patkar and we arrived at the venue of the strike at around 9 am, several activists complained that many people had been prevented by the police from coming to the strike and many vehicles were diverted. When the organizers objected to this behavior of the police, one senior officer told me that they had diverted the vehicles for half an hour as they expected a huge crowd. I failed to understand how that would help in crowd management. Another officer claimed that the police searched all the vehicles as they wanted to prevent people from bringing weapons to the venue. Again I could not see who would bring weapons to a hunger strike headed by a noted nonviolent fighter such as Medhaji. The police officers wanted us to announce in public that the police hadn’t done any mistake (which we chose to ignore).

But several participants told us that they had been stopped, diverted and even harassed by the police. Some also told that a rumor had been spread in some fishing villages that there could be police firing at the venue in order to prevent people from coming to the hunger strike. Despite all this, people kept coming and by 11 am, the `pandal’ was full of people.

Medhaji gave a powerful and passionate speech detailing the plight of nuclear victims in different parts of the country such as Jadugoda, Tarapur, Kalpakkam, Kakrapar, Kota etc. As in these places, the government gave no information, no knowledge and no public debate about the nuclear reactors in Koodankulam or about the India-US and
India-Russia nuclear deals. She categorically asserted that the people of India did not need any foreign advice on how to take care of our fisherpeople, sea and fish, and farmers, land and crops.

Medhaji asserted that the nuclear power and bomb were two sides of the same coin and said that she would be with the people as long as they fought the nuclear menace. Referring to the Tirunelveli collector’s announcement that the next public hearing would be conducted on March 31st under the chairmanship of the Tamil Nadu Electricity minister Arcot Veerasami, she said that this was unacceptable as per the environmental notification of 1994 (that was again modified in September 2006). She said we would problematize such as arrangement. She said the local communities would lead the Koodankulam fight and the national leadership would provide every support. She also explained the Action 2007 program that is to be launched on March 19, 2007.

Concluding the hunger strike later in the day, Medhaji asked the people to shun the caste and religious divides and fight united against the atomic power and bomb projects. She suggested organizing training programs for the youth so that they can learn from each other. She asked the local people to show films, sing songs, make speeches and slogans and to organize elocution and essay competitions among students to spread the anti-nuclear message. She suggested that
the CNDP (Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace) be requested to organize its next convention in the Koodankulam area followed by a convention of various people’s movements from all corners of the country.

She advised all the Gram Sabhas of all the villages in the Koodankulam area to pass a resolution against the Koodankulam nuclear power projects. She also stressed the need for involving women and youth in the struggle and suggested a small group of people traveling to all the different nuclear sites across the country and doing a detailed study of the nuclear menace.

Y. David, a leader of the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy, spoke about the history of the Koodankulam struggle and its future course of action. Gabrielle Dietrich, Lal Mohan, Anton Gomes, Mano Thankaraj, Balaprajapathi Adigalar, Tamil Manthan, Dhanraj, Alankaram Bharathar, Peter Dhas, Kavitha, Rosammal, Fatima Babu, Ganesan,
Dinesh, Murugesan, Frederick, Gilbert Rodreigo, Jeromios, Jayakumar and parish priests Panneerselvam, Venis Kumar, Jesuraj, Suseelan, Arul Raj, Jagdish, Clarence and many others spoke.

After concluding the hunger strike at 5:30, the struggle committee and Medhaji had a quick meeting to plan the future course of action.

[3] The struggle committee met on February 24, 2007 at Valliyoor. The Koodankulam struggle is picking up speed. Most coastal villages in Tirunelveli, Thoothukudi and Kanyakumari districts and several farming villages in these districts have set up struggle committees.

[4] The people of Koodankulam took out a massive rally on March 17, 2007 demanding a CBI enquiry into the quality of the nuclear power plants construction. The people there feel that the material used for the construction are of very poor quality and that compromises the safety and security of the people.

[5] The struggle committees of many farming and fishing villages held a consultation meeting on March 19, 2007 at Koodankulam and discussed the strategies for the March 31, 2007 public hearing at Tirunelveli collectorate (Tirunelveli, 10 am). Several thousand people plan to gather there and express our opposition to the public hearing and to the plants. Several young people and organizations in Kerala are also planning a press meet and a day-long protest against the Koodankulam plants toward the end of March.

[6] March 24, 2007; Idinthakarai Fast

On March 24, 2007 some 6000 to 7000 people came together for a day- long fast and protest against the Koodankulam nuclear power project at Idinthakarai village near Koodankulam. The fasting demonstration began exactly at 10 am with a minute-long silence to remember the victims of recent Nadigram police firing. Following the felicitations of several parish priests, many anti-nuclear activists, women’s movement leaders, panchayat office-bearers, farmers, fishermen and youth spoke about the impending dangers of the Koodankulam nuclear power project and called for its immediate closure. There were street-plays, music, songs, dance and slogan shouting in between passionate

At the end of the day, the following resolutions were passed unanimously:

[i] Those of us who have gathered here in Idinthakarai today demand that the central and state governments stop the construction of the Koodankulam nuclear power project that defies all the IAEA rules with regards to high and dense population in the project area.

[ii] We condemn the eye-wash public hearing that is going to be held for the nuclear power projects 3, 4, 5 and 6 after carrying out all the groundwork for these projects and signing the agreements with the Russian authorities.

[iii] We demand the immediate cancellation of this fraudulent public hearing.

[iv] We condemn the atomic energy officials such as Agrawal for repeating the same lies over and over that nobody would be evacuated from the Koodankulam area, that the land, the water and the sea would not be affected in any way, that the Pechiparai dam water would not be taken to the plant, and that radiation was not a serious threat to the local public.

[v] We condemn those individuals who act as handmaidens to the nuclear department and organize fasts in support of the Koodankulam nuclear power project.

[vi] We demand that the Indian government conduct a referendum in Tirunelveli, Kanyakumari and Thoothukudi districts in Tamil Nadu to see if the local people want the Koodankulam nuclear power project in their midst or not.

[vii] We demand that the land that has been acquired and the buildings that have been constructed for the Koodankulam nuclear power project be turned into other assorted industries that foster the lives and livelihood of the local people.

[viii] We resolve that only those political parties that oppose the Koodankulam nuclear power project would be supported in the following elections.

[ix] We demand that the public representatives from the Koodankulam project affected areas pass resolutions in the local bodies against the nuclear power project.

[7] People’s Public Hearing in Thoothukudi

The Anti-Nuclear Confederation is organizing a “People’s Public Hearing” on March 30, 2007 at Thoothukudi. People of the area, retired judges, academics, economists, lawyers, nuclear, agricultural and fishery scientists will be participating in the program. Victims of nuclear power plants and nuclear establishments from various parts of India have consented to present their cases before the public hearing panel. Anton Gomez is making all the arrangements.

[8] The people of Perumanal, Koothankuzhi and Chettikulam villages are planning to organize day-long hunger strikes in their villages also.

[9] April 4, 2007; Koodankulam

On March 31, 2007 the Tamil Nadu government had called for a 12-hour bandh (shut down) from 6 am till 6 pm to protest against the Indian Supreme Court’s staying the law that provided for 27 percent reservation for Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in higher educational institutions. The ruling party and all its allies endorsed the bandh and there were no buses, autos, taxis, trains and even planes operating on the bandh day.

But the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. (NPCIL) that are dominated and controlled by “upper castes” chose to ignore the statewide shut down and operated its buses and other vehicles. This brazen violation of the sentiments of the Tamil people must have irked some and they may have stoned the NPCIL vehicles to protest against bandh violation.

The NPCIL authorities, however, cunningly blamed the local anti- nuclear activists for the alleged “attack” on the Koodankulam power plant workers. They are said to be conducting meetings in Koodankulam and in Mumbai on how to deal with what The Hindu newspaper calls the “assault issue”.

All the major newspapers in English and Tamil (that had run full-page advertisements for the NPCIL a few days back) chose to repeat the Koodankulam authorities’ story. Several politicians are running to the rescue of the plant also.

The nuclear-loving The Hindu newspaper (April 4, 2007) reports: “[T]he latest development has necessitated some obstinate measures, which cannot be discussed here. However, I can assure that we’ll take really firm steps in the next few days to ensure the safety of workers and our material,” the Director (Projects), S. K. Agrawal,
told The Hindu Monday…Sources said another round of discussion within the core group of NPCIL would be held in Mumbai to finalise “some tough strategies” to be taken against the attackers.

[10] November 12, 2007; Letter to Indian MPs

Dear Honorable Members of Parliament:

Greetings from the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy operating in southern Tamil Nadu.

As you prepare to start the Winter Session of the Parliament to discuss, among other things, the India-US nuclear deal, we write to request you to oppose the deal for the following reasons:

[a]Deal should be seen in concurrence with defence deals/agreements, and all political, economic ramifications
[b]Deal will entangle India in US war machinery
[c]Deal will give rise to arms race between India and China, and
between India and Pakistan
[d]US ships will frequent Indian ports for fuelling, maintenance,
[e]US has bad reputation on agreements; Bush record is even worse
[f]Our sovereignty and autonomy will be hurt
[g]US companies stand to gain so much
[h]Hyde Act, a US national act, will bind us to support US policies
[i]Hyde Act will still be supreme
[j]India’s principled stand on non-proliferation will be compromised
[k]India may view Middle East through US glasses
[l]India supported UN resolution against Iran on nuclear issue
[m]Iran-Pakistan-India gas deal dropped (we get 30% more energy in
Iranian gas deal; Deal will make us pay five times more price to US)
[n]Non-aligned foreign policy comes to an end
[o]Now we can produce 5-10 bombs; with Deal, we can produce 25-40
bombs; South Asia will become a nuclear hotspot.

Not only the India-US nuclear deal but also our deal with Russians should be scrapped. Please consider the following facts also:

[i] Nuclear power is very very costly; DAE hides the cost under defense expenditures, R&D budget, government subsidies etc. Nobody, not even the MPs, know the true and accurate DAE budget.

[ii] Nuclear waste problem is very much unresolved; when we produce all this nuclear power, what will we do with the huge amounts of nuclear waste?

[iii] We have to consider the huge cost of decommissioning all these plants after 30 to 40 years.

[iv] Nuclear power projects are highly centralized and hopelessly secretive; people will have no control whatsoever on this power generation process.

[v] If India needs more power, let us explore hydal, wind, solar sources; they are safer, healthier, environmentally sensitive and sustainable.

[vi] Nuclear power is certainly NOT the answer for climate change. Just consider how much steel and cement these power projects consume and thereby the amount of fossil fuels they gobble up directly and indirectly.

[vii] The low-level radiation from these nuclear power plants over tens of years will give rise to all kinds of cancer, mental retardation, birth defects, genetic mutation among our people.

[viii] The nuclear deals with Americans and Russians will make our people poorer, sicker, more vulnerable, and more exploited.

Dear Members of the Parliament, please save this country and its people from the clutches of the nuclear dragon. Please oppose the India-US nuclear deal and the India-Russia nuclear collaboration. Give us and our children a nuclear-free future! We don’t want nuclear bombs or nuclear power!

Best regards,

People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy

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