#India – Dalits stripped of Dignity #Caste #discrimination


Frontline  

WITH the imposing Puthur hillock surrounded by lush green sugarcane fields offering a picturesque backdrop, Vadugapatti in Usilampatti block in Madurai district of Tamil Nadu gives the impression that all is well there. But the humiliation inflicted on a 11-year-old Dalit boy on June 3 and the abuses hurled subsequently at his widowed mother by a caste Hindu youth have unmasked the moral pretensions of the tiny village in the heartland of the Piramalai Kallars.

In a place where footwear is considered a status symbol rather than protective gear, a Piramalai Kallar youth, P. Nilamaalai, forced the Dalit boy, P. Suresh (name changed), to carry his sandals on his head as punishment. His crime: wearing footwear in the caste-Hindu area!

The National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) tooksuo motu notice of the case and held an inquiry in the village on June 11. D. Venkatesan, Director of the NCSC (Tamil Nadu and Puducherry), who was accompanied by A. Iniyan, investigator, confirmed that the incident had taken place. Dubbing it a “heinous crime against a juvenile”, he said that persons guilty of the crime would have to face “serious legal consequences”.

Following a complaint lodged by the victim’s mother, P. Nagammal, a brick kiln worker, the Usilampatti Town police registered a first information report (FIR) on June 6 and arrested Nilamaalai, his brother P. Agni and their father, A. Pathivuraja. The police have registered cases against them under sections of the Indian Penal Code and the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.Even 10 days after the incident, Suresh found it difficult to come to terms with the humiliation he had undergone. Narrating his ordeal, he said it occurred when he and two other boys were returning from the Government Kallar High School where he was studying in Standard VI.

All the three boys belonged to the Dalit colony and had gone to the school to find out about the rescheduled date of reopening after the summer vacation. Nilamaalai waylaid them near a tamarind tree. After allowing the other two Dalit boys, who were barefoot, to leave, he upbraided Suresh for violating the ban on Dalits walking on the streets in the upper-caste area with footwear on. Reprimanding him for his mother’s “failure” to teach him the “etiquette” he had to follow, Nilamaalai forced the boy to put his footwear on his head and paraded him up to a platform used to stage cultural events.

According to Nagammal, Suresh stomached the insult and did not say anything about it to her or to his other relatives. However, sensing her son’s abnormal behaviour, she coaxed him a couple of days later into revealing his agonising experience. She took up the issue with Nilamalai’s brother Agni on June 5. But Nilamaalai not only justified his abominable action but also hurled abuses at her and allegedly threatened to eliminate her if she dared to inform the police. Contrary to his belief that the Dalit woman would grin and bear the dishonour, she lodged a complaint with the police. Nagammal said the local police wanted to settle the issue through a “compromise” and she had to approach Dalit activists to ensure that justice was done in the case.

K. Theivammal, coordinator of the Usilai Vattara Dalit Kootamaippu, an organisation working for the rights of the oppressed communities in Usilampatti block, said the police registered an FIR after much dilly-dallying. Though the police arrested Nilamaalai’s brother and father on June 7 on charges of protecting the accused, Nilamaalai was absconding until he was nabbed on June 9. Posters were put up throughout Usilampatti town and in several villages in the area demanding, among other things, the arrest of the main accused.

According to Superintendent of Police V. Balakrishnan, who visited the village close on the heels of reports on the incident, cases had been booked under Section 294(b) (singing, reciting or uttering any obscene song, ballad or words, in or near any public place) and Section 506(1) (criminal intimidation) of the Indian Penal Code and Sections 3(1)(x) and 3(1)(xiv) of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. Section 3(1)(x) of the Act deals with intentional insult or intimidation with intent to humiliate a member of a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe in any place within public view and Section 3(1)(xiv) pertains to offences such as denying a member of an S.C. or an S.T. any customary right of passage to a place of public resort or obstructing such member so as to prevent the person from using or having access to a place of public resort which other members of the public or any section thereof have a right to use or have access to.

 

 

 

In denial 

Caste Hindus, however, dismissed the incident as an “aberration” in the otherwise cordial relations between the two communities. Vadugapatti panchayat president M. Thavam said both Dalits and Piramalai Kallars lived in harmony in the village. Though the incident was deplorable, it should not be blown out of proportion as it would harm the peaceful coexistence of the two communities, besides bringing disrepute to the village, he said.

The headmistress of the local school was also in denial. Nothing should be done to precipitate the issue, she cautioned. Of the 166 pupils in the school, which was established in 1921, 90 were Dalits and no discrimination was shown to them, she claimed.

However, Nagammal, who has not yet fully recovered from the shock, feels that the government should intervene immediately to ensure protection to her and her son. She wants the authorities concerned to shift her son to another school so that he can continue his studies without fear. Though the school reopened on June 10, the boy did not attend classes fearing reprisals from some persons belonging to the dominant community. She has also urged the government to allot a housing plot in a safer location so that she can live peacefully. Her demands have the backing of Dalit organisations, including the Usilai Vattara Dalit Kootamaippu.

The NCSC has urged the district administration to help the victim to find admission in a government school and hostel in Madurai town. The boy needs counselling and relief, the commission said.

Dalit residents of the village say the June 3 incident has brought to the fore various problems faced by them. According to Theivammal, different discriminatory practices prevailed in all the six villages—Vadugapatti, Ramanathapuram, V. Kallipatti, Kongupatti, Puthur and Vilarpatti—that come under Vadugapatti panchayat. Dalits describe the peace meeting held in the village by the Deputy Superintendent of Police and investigating officer on June 9 as a knee-jerk reaction by the authorities.

M. Jayakumar, Suresh’s maternal uncle, said the practice of insulting members of the oppressed community for wearing footwear in front of caste Hindus occurred every now and then. Only recently was a girl student of the local government school, M. Malarvizhi (name changed), beaten with a broomstick for walking with footwear on a street in the caste-Hindu area, he said.

K. Mangayarkarasi (name changed), a brick kiln worker, said her son was taken to task by caste Hindus for wearing footwear while crossing a street last month. Dalits are not even allowed to ride two-wheelers in caste-Hindu areas. There is no proper pathway to the burial ground used by them. According to some residents, non-Dalits had warned them also against complaining to visiting government officials and activists of human rights organisations about the discriminatory practices.

 

 

Stressing that the Vadugapatti episode should not be taken as an isolated one, M. Thangaraj, organiser of the Madurai district unit of the Tamil Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front (TNUEF), listed the discriminatory practices: segregated dwelling units; separate burial grounds for Dalits; denial of access to places of worship, common meeting place, village squares or community halls; ban on the use of footwear in front of caste Hindus; and the two-tumbler system in tea shops. In many villages in Usilampatti block, B.R. Ambedkar’s picture was not to be found in government offices and schools, he added.

As in the case of several villages in the region, the Dalits of Vadugapatti are farmhands and have to depend on the dominant community for their livelihood. They have been working as manual labourers in brick kilns or as agricultural workers in land belonging to caste Hindus. In Vadugapatti village, there are around 220 Dalit families and 500-odd caste-Hindu families. With the monsoon playing truant in the past several years, Dalit youth have migrated to the northern States seeking jobs in snack-making or fast food units.

“As many as 120 brick kilns are located in Usilampatti and Chellampatti panchayat unions. They are owned by caste Hindus. Almost 90 per cent of the workers involved in brick-making are Dalits brought from the western and northern districts of Tamil Nadu. Most of them are treated as bonded labourers,” Thangaraj said.

The TNUEF is planning to launch an agitation shortly to ensure that Dalits in Vadugapatti walked on the thoroughfares in the village wearing footwear, he said. Thangaraj asked the authorities concerned to take stern action against those who practised untouchability in any form. Strong action from the government in one village would send a warning signal to the forces of oppression in the entire region, he opined.

Director of the NCSC Venkatesan said the villagers had been told that discriminatory practices against Dalits and various forms of untouchability not only were inhuman but were against the law of the land. Expressing concern at the escalating incidents of atrocities against Dalits, he said these would be taken up at the State-level review meeting of the NCSC slated for July.

Significantly, discrimination against certain communities insofar as wearing footwear has a long history in Tamil Nadu. The senior archaeologist C. Santhalingam said there was historical evidence to show that using footwear was treated as an exclusive right of certain groups in ancient Tamil land, though footwear might have been originally treated as something to protect the feet, particularly in tropical climatic conditions. A 12th-13th century A.D. stone inscription in the Kongu region speaks of a decision by the Kongu Chola administration to lift the ban on wearing footwear by Kammalars (artisans) and Idayars (cowherds), he said.

 

#India- Sexual harassment complaint to #Jayalalithaa from #NWMI #Vaw


To
Ms J Jayalalithaa,
Honorable Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu,
Chennai.

Madam,

The Network of Women in Media, India (NWMI) is an association of women
journalists working across India. It is with deep anguish that we bring to your
notice a
violation of privacy and mental harassment that is being repeatedly caused to a  member of our network.

Kavin Malar, a Chennai based journalist, has been facing online harassment for
over a month now from one Mr Kishore K Swamy, a self-proclaimed
AIADMK supporter. Mr Kishore K Swamy has been repeatedly posting abusive messages
on Facebook targeting Kavin Malar’s personal character and
willfully causing harm  to her reputation
in  society as well as the  media. The allegations, besides being baseless,
are also a gross violation of privacy and human dignity.
We are also being told that Mr Swamy has been repeatedly and habitually
targeting women journalists, by indulging in character assassination. We find
this kind of behaviour not merely disturbing
but also threatening. It creates an unpleasant   environment for working women.
Kavin Malar  has  sought the help of the police department to
fight the harassment. However, her  complaint to the Commissioner of Police on May
13 has not been of much avail.  The cyber
crime cell has not
taken any action on the complaint beyond calling her for an enquiry.
We are attaching the screenshots
of abusive messages posted by Mr Swamy, a copy of which has been made available
to the cyber crime department.

We are aware of the steps taken
by your government to curb crimes against women. While placing on record our
appreciation of such action to promote women’s safety and security, we  urge you to personally intervene and take
action against Mr Kishore K Swamy for his misdeeds.

We believe such a move will help create a more agreeable atmosphere for women
journalists in the Tamil Nadu.

With kind regards and thanks in advance for your intervention in this case,
Yours sincerely,
(on behalf of the  NWMI)*
Signed:

Binita Parikh, Ahmedabad
Tanushree Gangopadhyay, Ahmedabad

Laxmi Murthy, Bangalore
Anita Cheria, Bangalore
Melanie P. Kumar, Bangalore
Ammu Joseph, Bangalore
Gita Aravamudan, Bangalore
Satarupa Bhattacharya, Bangalore
Satarupa Bhattacharya, Bangalore
Meera K, Bangalore

Lakshmy Venkiteswaran, Chennai
Nithya Caleb, Chennai
Kavitha Muralidharan, Chennai
Nithila Kanagasabai, Chennai
Jency Samuel, Chennai
Ranjitha
Gunasekaran, Chennai
Nithya Caleb, Chennai
Shobha Warrier, Chennai

Teresa Rehman, Guwahati

Satyavati Kondaveeti, Hyderabad
Susheela
Manjari Kadiyala, Hyderabad
Akhileshwari
Ramagoud, Hyderabad
Vanaja C., Hyderabad

Anju Munshi, Kolkata
Rina Mukherji, Kolkata
Rajashri Dasgupta, Kolkatta
Manjira Majumdar, Kolkata
Ranjita Biswas, Kolkata
Rajashri
Dasgupta, Kolkata

Linda Chhakchhuak, Mizoram

Kamayani Bali Mahabal, Mumbai
Jyoti Punwani, Mumbai
Geeta Seshu, Mumbai
Freny Manecksha, Mumbai
Sandhya Srinivasan, Mumbai
Meena Menon, Mumbai
Kalpana Sharma, Mumbai

Neha Dixit, New Delhi
Shahina KK, New Delhi

Shree
Ananya
Ramlath Kavil

 

#India- Religious and education sectors get biggest foreign funding #FCRA


Love is my religion

Religious and education institutions are among the highest recipients of foreign funding, an apex body of voluntary organisations today claimed.

In its study report on ‘Status of the Voluntary Sector in India‘, which was released here, Voluntary Action Network of India (VANI) also alleged that instead of creating an enabling environment for the sector, the government was tightening its noose on voluntary organisations under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA).

“Nearly 19 per cent (Rs 1276.56 crore) of the foreign funds are pumped into education sector and religious bodies.

“We were told by the government that money to the tune of Rs 10,500 crore were entering India in this sector.

“We have been asking for the details but it is only in the last two years that we have had the detailed report from them and it clearly reveals who is getting the major funding from abroad,” VANI CEO Harsh Jaitli said.

“It is the religious bodies like mutts, dharamshalas, churches, religious foundations, corporate foundations, private schools hospitals etc, which are getting the major fund,” Jaitli claimed.

He also claimed that the government is tightening its grip on voluntary organisation as more than 4000 organisations got their registrations cancelled.

“We were told by the FCRA department this was an effort to weed out the dormant and inactive FCRA registered organisations, or on account of non-submission of returns, change of address and not updating the same with the department concerned, or no reasonable activities in the last couple of years but things got caught up in bureaucracy and voluntary organisations suffered on their account,” he said.

On VANI’s official website, the updated cancelled list of 4138 NGOs shows Tamil Nadu with the maximum number of cancellations at 794, followed by Andhra Pradesh (670), Kerala (450) and Maharashtra (352).

VANI officials ascribed the rise in Tamil Nadu figures to the NGOs protesting against the Koodankulam nuclear power plant in the state.

“Voluntary organisations and NGOs which worked against corruption, nuclear issues and human rights violations are the worst sufferers, take what happened in the aftermath of the Koodankulam protests in Tamil Nadu,” co-chairperson Farida Vahedi said.

As least four NGOs were booked under FCRA for allegedly diverting foreign funds to aid the organisation of protests against the Koodankulam plant. Their bank accounts were frozen, the report said.

Source – agencies

 

Caste curses Dalit, tribal children to life of slavery beyond borders


By Gokul Vannan – CHENNAI

Caste discrimination and exploitation of Dalit children are not confined to villages alone as some members of the dominant communities force them into bonded labour in savory and confectionary units run by them in many parts of north India.

Recently, Vadugapatti village near Usilampatti was in the news when a Class VI Dalit boy was forced to carry footwear on his head through a caste Hindu street. But the same village has another story of a 17-year-old Dalit, who has become mentally ill due to physical and psychological torture he had faced at a savory factory in Gujarat, owned by a local businessman settled there.

Confined within a room for the last two years, the victim, T Vairamani, was rescued by his father, Thevamani, from a village in Gujarat. Owner Rohan, a caste Hindu of Usilampatti, had paid `2,000 as advance to Thevamani, a tender coconut vendor, while taking the boy for work at his savory unit.

“Vairmani was forced to work for nearly 20 hours a day. If he asks for rest, Rohan would abuse him in filthy language denoting his caste,” says S Muthu, a social worker attached to Madurai-based NGO Evidence. These days, Muthu takes the boy for regular medical check up at the Government Rajaji Hospital.

Rohan gave spoilt or poor quality food and that too only twice a day, and forced Vairmani to sleep in the kitchen. He also prevented his father from communicating with his son for two years. A restless Thevamani went in search of his son and spent more than a fortnight in Gujarat. Only after he filed a complaint with the Keraloor police, Ravikumar, a relative of Rohan, informed that the boy was safe at his house. “But when Thevamani spotted his son, he had injuries all over the body and was lying unconscious. With the help of then Madurai district collector Sagayam, we treated him for two months in the hospital,” says Muthu.

While Thevamani got back his son, albeit with mental illness, Parvathy of Uthampalyam in Theni district lost her son Surlimuthu within a few months after he was rescued from a confectionary unit in Uttar Pradesh. Incidentally Surlimuthu, a Dalit, had lost his dad Periyasuruli, as an eight-year-old.

On seeing Parvathy struggling to run the family, Sonaikalai, a caste Hindu of nearby Meikilarpatti convinced her to send her son to the factory promising good returns.

“The boy was working for 17 years at the savory unit of one Mahendran, who treated him like a slave,” says Ilayaraja, a social worker with Evidence.

While forcing him to work for 20 hours a day, Mahendran at times scalded him by pouring hot oil on his skin and branded him with a hot iron. When Surlimuthu returned home in 2008, his body was full of injuries. “Though we provided medical treatment, he died within a few months,” says A Kathir, executive director of Evidence.

A study of 111 bonded labourers in Madurai, Theni, Dindigul and Virudhunagar districts, revealed that most of the children were Dalits. In northern Tamil Nadu, particularly in Villupuram, Cuddalore, Kancheepuram, Tiruvallur and Tiruvannamalai districts, tribal children were forced to work in brick kilns as bonded labourers, the study showed.

“It is distressing that the relief and rehabilitation promised in the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976 doesn’t reach the rescued children,” says former south-zone convener, Campaign Against Child Labour, B S Vanarajan.

“If the rescued boy/girl is a Dalit, he/she is eligible for addition relief amount of `60,000 under the SC/ST prevention of atrocities Act, 1989 (section 3 (1) (6), but the government is not taking steps to provide relief invoking this Act,” he says.

http://newindianexpress.com/cities/chennai/Caste-curses-Dalit-tribal-children-to-life-of-slavery-beyond-borders/2013/06/17/article1638429.ece

 

 

#India – Mining scam in Karnataka keeps getting bigger


BANGALORE, June 17, 2013

Sudipto Mondal, The Hindu 

Karnataka government lost Rs. 2000 crore in Commercial Taxes. File photo
The Hindu Karnataka government lost Rs. 2000 crore in Commercial Taxes. File photo

The epic proportions of the illegal mining scam that was uncovered by the Karnataka Lokayukta in its 2011 report may actually have been just one act of a much larger, more complex and multi-layered drama.

 

There is now new evidence to suggest that the Lokayukta’s final report on illegal mining – a political game-changer that sent the powerful to jail and catalysed a regime change in the state – is just one part of the mining story. A six-month-long investigation by The Hindu, with help from whistleblowers in the Railways, the Karnataka Commercial Taxes Department and the CBI, points to losses to the State exchequer between January 2006 and December 2010 that are, at the very least, Rs. 1 lakh crore or eight times the estimated figure given in the Lokayukta report. The investigation also shows that the State lost Rs. 2,000 crore in commercial taxes.

 

The new information suggests that the dominant narrative on illegal mining, namely, that illegal ore was mainly exported to China to feed an infrastructure boom triggered by the Beijing Olympics, is actually a very partial telling of the mining scam story. The new data with The Hindu furthers the depth and reach of the mining scam, a part of which was so exhaustively covered in the Lokayukta report.

 

Some our central findings are as follows.

 

The Lokayukta report says that 12.57 crore tonnes of iron ore was exported overseas from Karnataka between 2006 and 2010. However, documents with The Hindu reveal that nearly 35 crore tonnes of ore was transported out of Bellary in the same period. If one were to deduct the 12.57 crore tonnes exported (as per Lokayukta report), the remaining the 22.43 crore tonnes was sold in the domestic market.

 

The Lokayukta report estimates the losses to the exchequer at Rs. 12,228 crore. The organisation’s calculation was based on the fact that the government had given permits for extraction for only 9.58 crores tonnes of ore. Subtracted from the 12.57 crore tonnes exported, it meant that 2.98 crore tonnes of ore was illegally mined and exported. The Lokayukta estimated the price of ore exported at an average of Rs. 4,103 per tonne.

 

What explains the divergence between the findings of the Lokayukta and those of The Hindu? The Lokayukta has relied on Customs Department data on ore shipments exported from 10 ports in Karnataka, Goa, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh between 2006 and 2010, to calculate the quantum of ore that left the country.

 

By contrast, The Hindu has looked at the total quantity of ore transported out of Bellary by road and rail. Railway documents show that 20 crore tonnes of iron ore was transported out of Bellary from six railway stations and 14 railway sidings between 2006 and 2010. Of this, nearly 19 crore tonnes of ore was marked “for export”.

 

From data sources in the CBI and Commercial Taxes Department, we know that lorries carried at least 14 crore tonnes of ore out of Bellary by road in the nine months between September 2009 and June 2010. “This was when the Bellary [Reddy] brothers had rebelled against B.S. Yeddyurappa’s government. The rebellion was a smokescreen to intensify illegal mining. At least 20,000 trucks were leaving Bellary each day in that period,” a CBI official told The Hindu.

 

Leaving out these nine months, on each day between 2006 and 2010 an average of 1,000 lorries left Bellary, with an average load of 32 tonnes of ore per truck. This adds nearly another 4 crore tonnes to the overall tally.

 

Therefore nearly 35 crore tonnes of iron ore was transported from Bellary in four years time by lorries and railway wagons.

 

Officers in the Commercial Taxes Department and the CBI concur on the point that 35 crore tonnes of ore could not have been exported from the ports near Bellary. “All the 10 ports [from where stolen ore was being exported] put together simply don’t have the capacity to handle such massive traffic,” said one Commercial Taxes officer.

 

These sources agree with the Lokayukta report to the extent that only 12.57 tonnes was actually exported. “On this count, the Lokayukta report is accurate as it is Customs Department data on which the report is based,” said an officer.

 

However, the remaining 22.43 crore tonnes of ore, although marked “for export”, was supplied domestically, he says. This, the officer claims, was done to evade commercial taxes.

 

#India – Mumbai is 2nd-most crime-prone city, despite drop in cases in 2012 #Vaw


142.3% Rise In Robberies In City, 63.5% Spike In State

V Narayan TNN

Mumbai has gained the dubious distinction of being the secondmost crime-prone city in India, if one goes by the number of cases registered under the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The data, recently released by the National Crime Records Bureau, shows that 30,508 cases were registered under the IPC in 2012, making Mumbai second only to Delhi, which had 47,982 cases.
In 2011, Mumbai actually saw more cases registered, 32,647. But the city had ranked third then behind Delhi and Kochi, which saw 47,212 and 34,658 cases, respectively.
The 6.5% drop in cases registered in Mumbai in 2012 can be mainly attributed to fewer cases filed for theft, burglary, dacoity, hurt, death by negligence, attempted murder, kidnap, abduction, cruelty by husband and relative, cheating, rioting and counterfeiting.
Meanwhile, Maharashtra continues to remain the second-most crime-prone state in the nation, even though it saw fewer cases registered in 2012. The figure dropped from 2.05 lakh in 2011 to 2.03 lakh. Madhya Pradesh, which has topped the chart since 2010, saw 2.2 lakh cases in 2012. Tamil Nadu was third with 2 lakh cases.
Several crimes saw a spike in Mumbai as well as Maharashtra, but none more so than robbery, which went up by a huge 142.3% in Mumbai and 63.5% in Maharashtra. There were 467 robberies in Mumbai in 2011, which went up to 1,131 the next year. In Maharashtra, the number rose from 4,249 to 6,949.
Other crimes that saw a rise in Mumbai included crimes against women (rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment), as reported by TOI on June 15, and also murder, culpable homicide, dowry deaths, breach of trust and arson. Maharashtra saw more crimes against women, dacoity, death by negligence, culpable homicide, attempted murder, cruelty by husband and relatives, cheating, breach of trust and riots.
Experts and police said higher awareness in Maharashtra leads to more crimes being reported and higher statistics. Deputy commissioner of police (Zone V) Dhananjay Kulkarni said a developed state sees more reporting of crime and better response by the police. Former IPS officer-turned-lawyer YP Singh said, “In Maharashtra, there is less refusal to register a crime. That is why even though Maharashtra may be a more peaceful state than Bihar or UP, or even West Bengal, it would have more cases.” Joint commissioner of police (crime) Himanshu Roy echoed such views.
Both Kulkarni and Singh also cited rapid urbanization and population density in cities as causes of crime. “For semi-urban and rural India, cities have gradually come to signify prosperity, a better quality of life, higher income, a modern lifestyle and facilities. In their quest for the seemingly ideal life, people are increasingly migrating to cities, leading to an imbalance in supply and demand and basic resources,” Kulkarni said.

 

Outrage Over Safety Issues at Indian Nuke Plant


By K. S. HarikrishnanReprint |   ips news
Residents of Kudankulam, a village in Tamil Nadu, protest against the Indian Supreme Court verdict approving construction of a nuclear power plant. Credit: K. S. Harikrishnan/IPSResidents of Kudankulam, a village in Tamil Nadu, protest against the Indian Supreme Court verdict approving construction of a nuclear power plant. Credit: K. S. Harikrishnan/IPS

KUDANKULAM, India, Jun 14 2013 (IPS) - The Tirunelveli district in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu may seem idyllic, dotted with lush green fields, but upon closer inspection one sees signs of a battle that does not appear to be abating.

Locals here have been waging an incessant campaign against a proposed nuclear power plant that was supposed to be operational in 2012 and which is currently sitting idle 24 kilometres from the tourist town of Kanyakumari, located on the southern tip of the Indian peninsula.

A recent report by a group of prominent Indian researches has now added another issue to a long list of grievances with the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KKNPP) that activists and residents have been compiling since August 2011: evidence of faulty material used in the construction of the plant itself.

Plans for the plant were first drawn up in 1988 under a bilateral agreement between Russia and India, but various political obstacles kept construction on hold for over a decade. It was not until 2001 that a fresh attempt was made to jump-start the 3.1-billion-dollar venture, which has an installed capacity of 1,000 megawatts (MW).

Fishermen and their families protesting against the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant. Credit K. S. Harikrishnan/IPS

Fishermen and their families protesting against the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant. Credit K. S. Harikrishnan/IPS

Things were moving smoothly until news of the meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor in Japan in March 2011 went viral. Fearing a repeat performance of the tragedy, locals here took to the streets, protesting lax safety standards and possible nuclear radiation in the event of an accident.

The government has refused to address protestors’ concerns, instead issuing blanket assurances that the plant has been constructed using state of the art instrumentation and contains a passive cooling system and other mechanisms that will enable it to withstand natural disasters like earthquakes and tsunamis.

Nalinish Nagaich, executive director of the National Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL), has repeatedly insisted that the equipment installed in the power station has undergone multi-stage quality checks.

Last month, in a 247-page ruling, a division bench of the Supreme Court of India consisting of Justices K.S. Radhakrishnan and Dipak Misra dismissed protestors’ concerns as “baseless”, adding: “The benefits we reap from KKNPP are enormous since nuclear energy remains an important element in India’s energy mix, which can replace a significant (quantity) of fossil fuels like coal, gas (and) oil.”

But new information brought to light in ‘Scandals in the Nuclear Business’, a report published by Dr. V. T. Padmanabhan, a member of the European Commission on Radiation Risk, exposes cracks in the government’s position and highlights the potential crises arising from the use of faulty parts.

According to the study, the Reactor Pressure Vessel (RPV), considered to be the “heart” of a nuclear station, has been built using an outdated, three-decade old model. In addition, various pieces of equipment supplied by Russia have been found to be faulty.

The report has only deepened a crisis of confidence that surfaced earlier this year when Russian Federal prosecutors booked Sergei Shutov, procurement director of the Russian company ZiO-Podolsk that supplied vital equipment to the KKNPP, on corruption charges.

Shutov was charged with “having sourced cheaper sub-standard steel for manufacturing components that were used in Russian nuclear installations in Bulgaria, Iran, China and India”, according to a joint letter sent by over 60 scientists to the chief ministers of Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

The New Delhi-based Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace (CNDP) has expressed serious concern over the recent scam, calling it a direct violation of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB)’s safety norms.

Back in April, following a series of tests, the AERB itself acknowledged that four valves in the KKNPP were defective and ordered the NPCIL to replace the parts and surrender itself for review by the regulatory authority, before resuming construction.

World Nuclear News reported last month that “technical issues discovered during the commissioning of Unit One have necessitated the replacement of several valves in the passive core cooling system, leading to further delays” in the commissioning of the KKNPP.

Dr. A Gopalakrishnan, former chairman of AERBhas urged the government to put an immediate stop to the project until allegations of corruption and faulty equipment have been adequately addressed, and the safety and quality of the parts used to house the reactor have been determined.

Police crack down on women protesting against the Kudankulam nuclear plant in India. Credit: K. S. Harikrishnan/IPS.

Police crack down on women protesting against the Kudankulam nuclear plant in India. Credit: K. S. Harikrishnan/IPS.

“The fact that a high-cost, high-risk nuclear reactor is (thought to have) defects…in its components and equipment even before it (has started operating) is highly unusual, and indicates gross failures at several levels in the AERB-NPCIL-Atomstroyexport (triumvirate),” he said, referring to Russia’s national nuclear vendor that stands accused of supplying low-quality parts to India.

N. Sahadevan, environmentalist and prominent campaigner against nuclear arsenals, told IPS that the recent scandal necessitated a “thorough re-examination of the safety aspects of the plant.”

Furthermore, according to Supreme Court Lawyer Prashant Bhushan, the NPCIL, which operates the KKNPP, has failed to comply with the 17 post-Fukushima safety recommendations made by a special AERB committee.

Meanwhile, thousands of villagers in and around Kudankulam continue their daily, peaceful demonstrations.

S. P. Udayakumar, leader of the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy, told IPS that the Fukushima catastrophe categorically proved that nuclear power projects are not aligned with the welfare of the people, especially those living in the vicinity, and are incapable of providing any kind of “security”, energy or otherwise.

Activists have also exposed discrepancies in the government’s claim that nuclear power is crucial for the Indian economy, pointing out that the country currently has just 4,880 MW of existing capacity, “which contribute to only 2.7 percent of the total electricity generation in the country,” according to Dr. E. A. S. Sarma, former Union Power Secretary of India.

- See more at: http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/06/outrage-over-safety-issues-at-indian-nuke-plant/#sthash.Q7VgTdmC.5cfoiTLx.dpuf

 

#India – Property rights bill for slum dwellers sought


HYDERABAD, June 13, 2013

Staff Reporter, The Hindu 

Urban housing activists under the banner of the Campaign for Housing and Tenurial Rights (CHATRI) sought immediate enactment of property rights for slum dwellers as envisaged in the Rajiv Awas Yojana guidelines.

At a press conference on Wednesday, activists from Human Rights Forum and Montfort Social Institute’s Housing Rights Network among others, sought immediate tabling of the draft bill for the AP Property Rights to Slum Dwellers Act, 2011. The bill had been pending for the past two Assembly sessions, they said, and demanded that the authorities bring the legislation in the current session. The activists also wanted re-assessment of slums in the State, as many areas notified earlier no longer qualified as slums.

“Priority will be given to the already developed slums once funds begin to arrive from the Centre. We demand that priority in terms of energy and funds be given from bottom upwards,” said Director of the Montfort Social Institute, Varghese Thekanath.

Showing Keshav Nagar chosen for RAY pilot project as an example of official preferences, he said the colony did not qualify as a slum, as all the houses were built under Indira Awas Yojana, and each beneficiary already had pattas for 60 yards.

“The colony was built in 14 acres of prime land. Now all the houses will be demolished, for construction of G-plus-three houses within four acres. The remaining 10 acres will be at government’s disposal for allotment to commercial complexes,” Mr. Thekanath said.

‘Emulate T.N. model’

He also asked the State government to emulate the Tamil Nadu model and reduce beneficiary contribution to 10 per cent of the total cost, which again could be taken as contribution of direct labour, than cash.

 

#India – 273 bonded labourers rescued in Tiruvallur


SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT, The Hindu , June 12

The Odisha natives, who had been working under inhuman conditions in brick kilns, were sent back home on Tuesday night — Photo: B. Jothi Ramalingam
The HinduThe Odisha natives, who had been working under inhuman conditions in brick kilns, were sent back home on Tuesday night — Photo: B. Jothi Ramalingam

At the end of an investigation that went on through the night until the crack of dawn on Tuesday, district officials established they were victims of bonded labour

Uttam was given only one day off in a week to venture out of the brick kiln. Even on that day somebody would accompany him.

Uttam was one of the 273 labourers from Odisha who were tricked into working as bonded labourers at two brick kilns in Chennai’s neighbouring Tiruvallur district. The labourers, who were allegedly working under inhuman conditions for a weekly payment of Rs. 300 to Rs. 400 per family, were rescued by revenue officials in an overnight raid on Monday.

At the end of an investigation that went on through the night until the crack of dawn on Tuesday, district officials established they were victims of bonded labour.

One hundred and eighty nine workers were handed ‘release certificates’ that identified them as bonded labourers, thereby enabling them for government rehabilitation packages. They were also given Rs. 1,000 each as initial rehabilitation payments and tickets for their journey to Bolanghir in Odisha.

Huddled beside Dhanbad Express at Chennai Central station on Tuesday evening and clinging to their meagre belongings, they recalled the difficult working conditions in the kilns, where even children were made to work.

Manoj from Kantabanji in Odisha, who worked as a driver at the kiln, got just three to four hours of sleep every day. “I was promised a salary of Rs. 7,000 a month, but got Rs. 15,000 for three months and nothing for the last two.”

While the labourers spoke in Odia, Annie Baptist, a volunteer with International Justice Mission (IJM), the NGO that assisted the district officials with the rescue, translated.

Sountharba, (45), said the family had taken a loan of Rs. 50,000 for her son’s wedding which they were unable to repay. When a ‘seth’ (middleman) offered to pay them an advance of Rs. 48,000 for four members in the family, they went to work in the kilns as they wanted to pay back the debt taken from other persons.

“My husband, son, daughter-in-law and I came here in January and were made to work six days a week from 4 a.m. to 10 p.m. with few breaks in between,” she said.

Twelve-year-old Dinesh, who spoke little Hindi, said he attended school between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. and was then made to work between 4 p.m. and 10 p.m. Baduku, another labourer, complained that if one of the members in the family was unwell, the wages would be accordingly cut.

After seven months of working close to 17 hours a day for six days a week at a place nearly 1,200 kilometers away from their home districts of Bolanghir, Naupada, Barghar and Nabranghpur districts in Odisha, the labourers on Tuesday night boarded the Dhanbad Express for a day-long journey home.

No criminal charges

Tiruvallur district collector K. Veera Raghava Rao said the labourers were rescued from the two kilns that were operating under the name ‘Eswari Brick Works’ in Thirukandalam village of Otthukottai taluk. Though the descriptions of the working conditions, provided by IJM, which assisted the district officials, sounded grave, the revenue department could only file penalties against the proprietors of the brick kiln under the Bonded Labour Abolition Act (BLA) of 1976, Mr. Rao said.

When it was pointed out that a press release from IJM noted that some labourers were beaten by the employers for demanding fair payment, the Collector said details would be collected of specific instances and if required, cases would be filed under IPC.

Tiruvallur district has close to 300 brick kilns that provide resources for the booming construction industry in Chennai. It is populated with a lot of labour-intensive small industries, including rice mills.

(With inputs from Asha Sridhar)

 

All Nuclear Power Fans, learn from this tiny village in ladakh, light years ahead #mustshare


This tiny village in Ladakh might be frozen in time, but its initiative to harness renewable energy has led to all-round empowerment

RAMAPATI KUMAR, The Hindu

Sonam Tsomo prepares dinner on her electric cooker at her home in Udmaroo in Ladakh’s Nubra Valley. A micro-hydropower unit supplies electricity to the village for six hours every evening. Photo: Harikrishna Katragadda/Greenpeace

“Stupid TV,” Rigzen Tsomo mutters in the local Bodhi language as she taps her black & white TV set hard enough to get the reception back. “There…,” she smiles and returns to her seat.

Main samay hoon…,” says a man on the screen. “It’s Mahabharat!” I shout in excitement and turn to Rigzen. She looks at me, nods and quickly returns to watching the serial.

Udmaroo village in Ladakh is a civilization away from civilization. After a nine-hour journey from the capital Leh that involves trekking across two mountains, crossing a flower valley and a river, one reaches Udmaroo, a bright green triangle located at 10,320ft. This tiny village of 90 farmer families might be frozen 25 years back in time, but in terms of energy generation, it is at least 10 years ahead of all of us.

Ushering in hydropower

In 2005, the villagers put away their smoky kerosene lamps and a small diesel generator gifted to them by the Army, and approached the Ladakh Ecological Development Group to help them move ahead. Coal-based electricity was never an option for this remote village far away from the national grid. So, the group began to assess the villagers’ needs and feasibility of various types of renewable energy. Within three years, in 2008, Udmaroo was basking in the glow of electricity generated from a micro-hydro power plant installed in a glacier stream above the village.

Empowerment

Though just a power plant, in no time, it became a matter of pride, a source of income and a generator of happiness for the people of Udmaroo. Households got electricity to run their appliances. Children could play music and watch TV. A group of women, who bought an oil extraction machine to crush mustard seeds and apricot kernels, paid Rs.15 an hour for electricity and sold their hourly produce for Rs.80. Excess oil was packaged and sold to the Army for Rs.300. Another women’s group bought a pulping machine, making 750 bottles of apricot jam every year. The men’s carpentry group doubled its income after it purchased an electric wood carving machine. While households paid Rs.90 per month, widows were given free electricity because they have no source of income. And even after all this, the village still had surplus electricity.

To understand what renewable energy is doing in a country like India where 300 million people still have no access to basic electricity, Udmaroo couldn’t explain it better. For the villagers, the hydropower plant didn’t just light up homes. It brought a community together. It gave people the key to control their lives and the power to choose how and when their resources are used. It helped the village save Rs.1.2 lakh that it used to spend every year to buy diesel for the generator. For the government, it is about saving money that it would have spent on importing coal to meet everybody’s energy needs. For environmentalists, it is about saving the climate. For human rights groups, it is about human well-being and poverty reduction. For feminists, it is about women’s empowerment.

Across India

Gone are the days when renewable energy meant dim solar lanterns. Small-scale renewable energy power plants are now cheaper, more reliable and more efficient. In Durbuk, in Ladakh, a solar power plant is powering 347 households, a clinic, a school and some government offices. In Tamil Nadu, apanchayat purchased a windmill that is not only providing electricity to the entire village but is also selling the surplus to State utilities and earning profit. In Bihar, a company named Husk Power Systems is using rice husk to generate electricity and supplying it to 250 villages.

Unlike coal that kills everything around it, renewable energy plays a transformational role by uplifting those who were earlier languishing in the dark. But the irony is that clean energy risks being typecast as a poor man’s fuel when it should be everyone’s first choice.

India is currently the world’s third largest carbon emitter. According to the Copenhagen Accord, which India signed along with 167 other countries, 80 per cent of the world’s proven coal, oil and natural gas reserves must remain in the ground in order to avoid warming the planet beyond the internationally agreed limit of 2° Celsius rise in average temperature. To achieve this, renewable energy must come up on a large scale and not as isolated stories of miracles.

Depleting reserves

From an economic point of view, no one needs proof that India is facing a power crisis. Coal reserves are depleting and getting expensive. Nearly 21 major plants in the country are facing severe coal shortages. In the last fiscal, India imported over 50 million tonnes of the fossil fuel, widening the country’s fiscal deficit to further dangerous levels.

From a social point of view, the government had promised to deliver electricity to the entire population by 2012. But considering that providing electricity to all means providing it for 24 hours of 365 days and not four hours in a day, the government missed the target by a long shot. Worse, it was the same year when India faced the world’s biggest power blackout.

Renewable energy is the need of the hour and it is capable of delivering what India needs. But will we, like the people of Udmaroo, realise it in time?

(Ramapati Kumar is campaign manager, Climate and Energy, Greenpeace India. June 5 is World Environment Day.)