Jaitapur Protests: Understanding The Reality

Posted on April 25, 2011 in Specials

By Ankita Verma:

The ecology versus development subject has been discussed for a long time. It is inadvertently revisited and revived upon the announcement of a new development project. Not surprisingly then, that it is the bone of contention again, as people of Jaitapur are battling it out with the Maharashtra and the Central government against arguably the most ambitious nuclear power project in India, the construction of a 9,900 MW nuclear complex in Jaitapur.

Moreover, in the wake of the Japan nuclear crisis, their fears have just multiplied. Jaitapur is labelled under the Seismic Zone 3 category and has witnessed as many as 92 earthquakes since 1985. It has led to the surfacing of genuine concerns about government’s ability to safeguard the citizens in case of the occurence of a nuclear-triggered-disaster.

There has been widespread indignation against the government in the five affected villages-Madban, Niveli, Karel, Mithgavane and Varliwada. The government has promised ‘adequate compensation’ for the displaced families. From the initial plan of 1.6 lakh per acre of land, government has increased it to Rs 4 lakhs per acre.

The Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd has stated that of the 900 hectares land proposed for the project, more than 70% is barren, non-cultivable land. A claim which the locals openly refute. The land is home to numerous mango and cashew orchards. Large investments have been made by farmers in the region. It is apprehended that the project would have disastrous effect on the mango cultivation.

Besides, the region has a large fishing economy which will undoubtedly be affected by the nuclear plants. The plants are expected to release 52,000 million litres of hot water into the sea everyday. Past experience at Tarapur, the site of India’s first two nuclear reactors, had proven the same where similar circumstances have caused all the fishing harbours to close shop.

Politicians have wasted no time to jump on the bandwagon and make a political issue out of the situation. Bal Thakeray says “The nuclear plant has raised a host of questions which are linked with the socio-economic life of Jaitapur villagers. The chief minister should have gone personally to Jaitapur to hold a dialogue with the villagers and to allay their fears about the project.” Almost immediately, minister Narayan Rane alleged that Shiv Sena was being funded by a group of eleven industrialists to stall the project in exchange for Rs. 5 billion.

It is hard to argue for either side. Without such projects, the country can hardly hope to ever meet its energy requirements sufficiently. There is a need to examine the issue closely, whether nuclear energy has feasible substitutes or not. A possible solution is to make the farmers and the fishermen stakeholders in the project so that they directly benefit from the nuclear plant. The upper-handed police response to the protests of the villagers, which has even led to a death, is certainly not the way to move forward.

Img: http://www.greenpeace.org/india/en/Multimedia/Photos/Anti-Nuclear-Protest-in-Delhi/