Prime Minister’s Position on Koodankulam and Nuclear Energy Baffles me: Aruna Roy

Cortesy: FirstPost | Read Aruna Roy’s letter to Mrs. Sonia Gandhi HERE

I salute Koodankulam struggle, plan to vist protest: Aruna Roy

National Advisory Council (NAC) member Aruna Roy has come down heavily on the government for its handling of the local struggle in Kudankulam against the nuclear power plant. In a letter to NAC chairperson and Congress President Sonia Gandhi, Roy has raised questions about the government’s lack of transparency on matters concerning nuclear safety.

Aruna Roy

Firstpost spoke to Roy about the anti-nuclear protests in Kudankulam and why she thinks the space for dissent in India is shrinking.

Excerpts from the interview:

What led you to write to Sonia Gandhi?

This is not the first time that I have written to Mrs.Gandhi about Kudankulam. Like many concerned citizens and activists I have been following the events at Kudankulam with distress. Several scientists and fellow activists had come to me expressing alarm at the escalating situation. I have been most disturbed by the unwillingness of the administration to address the concerns of the people and the arbitrary silencing of dissent and protest.

In March, I forwarded a petition to Mrs Gandhi written by Achin Vanaik (former Professor of International Relations, University of Delhi) and Praful Bidwai (Independent Journalist and Professor at the Council for Social Development), both responsible and eminent people with expertise on nuclear issues. The petition highlighted the scientific inconsistencies of the proposed plant. The main concern raised by the residents of the area, is that in light of the Fukushima disaster, and enough empirical evidence of this hazardous technology, thorough and rigorous norms must be established and its viability must be re-examined. Instead, even the weak existing norms have been disregarded, and the Environment Impact Assessment, conducted twenty three years ago is being relied on today.

I would also like to highlight the second demand of the The People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE) – that as per the instructions of the Central Information Commission (CIC) to the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. (NPCIL), their reports must be made public immediately. There can be no trust built around claims of safety, and efficacy without a complete commitment to transparency. The refusal to implement the orders of the information commission in letter and spirit, will only heighten the distrust and opposition to the plant.

The protest movement against the Koodankulam nuclear plant has entered its eighth month now. How do you perceive this struggle and what would you say about the manner in which the government has handled it?

The determination of the Government to bring the plant into operation, has been met by equally determined opposition from local residents. In a democratic country, you cannot suppress the legitimate democratic voice of the people. There have been hunger strikes, sit-ins, surrendering of voter identity cards and a number of creative, non violent modes of democratic protest used to express the peoples concern in Idinthakarai. This must be acknowledged and the questions raised by the movement, must be answered.

The government has not answered the questions and concerns raised by the people, clearly indicating that dissent will not be tolerated. Even someone as senior as the Prime Minister of India has flashed the red herring of a foreign hand, to divert attention from the real issues and to discredit the movement. There has been disproportionate use of force against the protestors. There are reports that material on the internet is constantly blocked. The deportation of Mr. Rainer from Germany and the clamping down on NGOs in Chennai that have nothing to do with the protests are some of the intimidation tactics. Despite all this, the movement has continued. Even if the Government believed its own claim of foreign sponsored or engineered protests, it should now review its assessment. Every manner of action has been taken against the so called foreign connections, and yet the protests have not died down.

The bottom line is that no protest can be engineered and sustained from outside, and no project can be successfully operationalised on the back of sustained local opposition. There must be dialogue with the movement, with a sense of resolving what is in the interest of the people there, and not in some notion of ‘national interest’ that overrides legitimate local concerns.

In your letter to Sonia Gandhi you’ve said that the “space for dissent is shrinking in India, which is a matter of great concern.” Could you talk about some of the recent developments that reflect the growing intolerance by the State.

Part of the concern comes from the Governments own actions, and part from an inability of the Government to protect democratic space.

Most recently, Madhuri Krishnaswami of the Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan (JADS) was served a notice by the Madhya Pradesh Government for internment (Zila Badar) from six tribal districts. This was an extraordinary notice to be served on someone who has spent decades working for the basic rights and empowerment of some of the poorest and most marginalized communities in the country. This was withdrawn after the protest of numbers of activist organizations and the Minister of Rural Development.

Vidhya, an environmentalist and activist in Mangalore was arrested for her protests against the SEZ acquisitions there. The arrest of the internationally reputed micro biologist, Prof. Partho Sarothi Ray, currently working with the Indian Institute of Science Education & Research for being present at a protest of poor people against eviction from their slum was another example of suppression of any possibility of critiquing or dissent.

The slapping of sedition charges first on Binayak Sen, and then on the protest leaders in Kudankulam, has taken the apparent paranoia of the State to a new level. And the Prime Minister’s reference to the foreign hand in protests against nuclear energy and GM technology both saddens and baffles me.

Intolerance for voices of dissent is also growing. The unreasonable and disproportionate action taken against a Professor in Jadavpur University for the circulation of cartoons involving the Chief Minister of West Bengal is a prime example of this. A few months ago, Tibetan students protesting against the Chinese premier were forcibly arrested, as were innocent unconnected persons from the North East in Delhi.

Do you plan to visit Kudankulam or meet with the protesters?

I certainly plan to visit Kudankulam, meet everyone there, and hear their story first hand. Nuclear energy is a contentious issue, and I am keen to learn about and understand the concerns of local communities. I feel no development can take place by trampling over the concerns of the people most affected. Other commitments and my health permitting, I should hope to do so at some point.

What would your message be to the local people in Koodankulam?

I salute them and hope that their democratic, peaceful protest reinforces the tradition of civil disobedience of this country. It has, in any case been a courageous struggle that has set a powerful precedent to stand up for an issue in the face of immense global and national pressure. It is extremely important to carve and wedge these spaces for dissent in a world gone mad with power; and the targeting of people who have the least. The rational arguments of the struggle should find acceptance, if India is to call itself a democracy.






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