Gujarat- The Great Land Grab


May 17, 2013 Cover Story, Frontline

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StartStop
  • Mango farmers at a protest meeting at Mithivirdi village, Bhavnagar, Gujarat on May 25, 2011.
  • Farmers at work and, in the background, the Sosiya-Alang ship-breaking yard, near Mithivirdi village.
  • A farmer checks the bumper yield of onions near the proposed Nirma cement plant project at Mahuva on March 3.
  • A boy grazes his cattle near the Tata Nano car plant in Sanand.
  • Building a road near a proposed car plant in Sanand. A file photograph.

The Gujarat “development” model depends on acquiring, often forcibly, huge tracts of land and making them available at below market prices to industries, destroying village economy and fraternity. By AJOY ASHIRWAD MAHAPRASHASTA in Gujarat

Shakti Singh, the sarpanch of Jaspara village in Bhavnagar district of Gujarat, is an affluent farmer. On an ordinary day, he spends most of his time shuttling between Bhavnagar town and the 10 hectares of mango gardens owned by his family, sorting out the logistics of selling his farm produce for the best price. Storing the mangoes, employing people to work on his fields, dealing with traders and middlemen, and promoting and modernising agriculture in his area are some of the tasks that consume most of his time. The best-quality Kesar, the local mango variety of this region, is all exported to the United States and Russia and other European countries. At the end of the year he makes around Rs.8 lakh from his mangoes. Those who work on his fields on contract earn about Rs.3 lakh annually. The sale of vegetables, cashew nuts and coconuts through the year helps Shakti Singh and his workers make some extra money without too much investment or work.

However, in the last few months, Shakti Singh has been busy preparing court papers and holding public meetings. The proposed nuclear plant in the area would not only eat up most of his farms but would rid the entire region of its affluence. Known as the Mithivirdi Nuclear Energy Project, it will be the biggest nuclear plant in the country with a proposed capacity of 6,000 MW at an initial projected cost of Rs.64,000 crore. However, if the project goes through, it will directly affect 15,000 people in 24 villages. More than 1.5 lakh people in 152 villages in the region will be indirectly affected owing to the plant’s possible environmental hazards. Farmers in this area will lose their lands and a large number of landless labourers will lose their employment.

The entire economy of the area depends on farming. Everyone is involved in some process or the other relating to mango and coconut farming. And it is for this reason that Shakti Singh is not alone in the struggle to retain agricultural lands. At least 5,000 people from the villages in the vicinity have been part of the struggle ever since the project was announced in 2010. The public hearing on March 5, 2012, saw a massive turnout by villagers wearing black bands on their heads, but they were denied a chance to speak against the project.

While the nuclear plant itself is a Central project funded by Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd, the responsibility for land acquisition, environmental clearances and other bureaucratic procedures lies with the Narendra Modi-led State government. Activists and residents of the village claim that the mandatory Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report prepared for the project has not been made public despite repeated requests. The Gujarat government has stated that the area is safe for a nuclear project and that the land needed for the project is classified as “wasteland” as it falls along the coastline of the Gulf of Khambhat, rendering it too saline for agriculture.

Fertile belt

However, contrary to the State government’s claims, the area is one of the most fertile ones in Gujarat. Most of the land along the coastline of Gujarat is protected by limestone walls that absorb the salt from the sea water and release pure and sweet water in the adjoining areas for up to 50 kilometres. This phenomenon makes the land along the coastline so fertile that the farmers of the area could go for intensive cropping three times a year. The government has always ignored such facts.

It is because of such wilful ignorance that the second-biggest ship-breaking yard in the world, the hazardous impact of which is fairly well-known, was developed only two kilometres from Jaspara and Mithivirdi. This correspondent noticed black and brown sea water throughout the Jaspara coast as a result of the ship-breaking that was done over the last 40 years.

Shakti Singh and other villagers foresee a complete collapse of the region’s ecosystem and that is why the movement against the nuclear project and land acquisition has been intense. However, the Gujarat government in the last 15 years has not only ignored such demands from the people, but also actively assisted corporate giants in destroying ecosystems in the name of “industrial growth”. The special economic zone (SEZ) at Mundra in the Rann of Kutch, developed by the Adani group, is an example of how bureaucratic processes can be manipulated to suit corporate interests.

The Mundra SEZ, spread over 10,000 hectares, being developed as a port and a special trading zone, has already displaced 56 fishing villages and 126 settlements. Not only have the fishermen lost their customary rights as a result of this development, but the farming villages in the area have also been stripped off their livelihood. Against the regulations of the Forest Rights Act, 2,008.41 hectares of forest land was cleared to set up a salt washery and a desalination plant. The Gujarat government did not respond to the protests of the local people and maintained that the land given to the Adani group was “wasteland”. Today, the fishermen fear that when the port becomes fully functional soon, they will not be given any access to the sea.

Based on complaints from the people of the area, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests set up a committee to inquire into possible environmental and livelihood violations. The committee report that came out in April 2013 listed several instances of non-compliance with procedures. It found that the public hearing was bypassed and construction activities had not only polluted the sea but destroyed 75 hectares of mangrove forests on which a large number of families depended. More than the farmers, the Dalits and Muslims who earned their livelihood by making coal from the region’s scrub forests have lost their source of income. Over 560 hectares of land in 14 villages has already been acquired, endangering the livelihoods of fishermen, agriculturists, horticulturists and livestock rearers.

According to a report prepared jointly by the Ahmedabad-based non-governmental organisations—the Behavioural Science Centre, the People in Centre and the Paryavaran Mitra—the Adani group was given over 5 crore square metres of land along the coast at paltry rates ranging from Re.1 to Rs.32 a square metre when the market rate was over Rs.1,500 a square metre. The Adani group got the land for industrial use and port development, but it sold/leased out a significant portion of it to other corporate groups, flouting norms. Leasing out or selling such acquired land is illegal according to the purchase deed.

Mundra and Bhavnagar are not the only cases in point. Gujarat under Modi has done the maximum amount of land acquisition for industrial use and Modi has successfully projected the process as a “win-win situation” for both the farmers and the industries and has tried to project it as the ideal model for land acquisition. The State government’s propaganda is based on three factors. One, the Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation (GIDC) already has enough land to spare, which is why a large “land bank” already exists; two, the Modi government has been compensating farmers at the existing high market rates; and three, the industrial development has been taking place on arid land along the coastline, which, anyway, was not of much use.

The third factor, as can be seen from empirical evidence, is a brazen lie to suit corporate interests and is fraught with many inconsistencies. The first, about a land bank, is partially true. The GIDC acquired land in the 1980s for two purposes. It was supposed to give some of the reserve land to the landless so that they could earn their livelihood, and its primary function was to promote small- and medium-scale industries. Out of the 262 industrial estates under the GIDC, 182 are functional and most of these have been given to big corporate groups instead of empowering cooperative units in villages. Allocating land to the landless still remains a dream. Narendra Modi has used the GIDC primarily to facilitate the entry of big industrial projects. For example, the Tata Nano project, when it was ousted from West Bengal, set its base in Sanand near Ahmedabad on Modi’s invitation. The 440 ha of land that it got from the Gujarat government was part of the GIDC pool that carried out agricultural research. Since the Tata group demanded 960 ha, the GIDC acquired land in seven surrounding villages. Questions were raised when the GIDC blatantly brokered deals for the Tata group. During Modi’s regime, the GIDC has continued to acquire more land throughout Gujarat for industrial purposes. Sanand is set to become an automobile hub. Following the Tatas, the Ford group has already established a unit and Maruti has also expressed an interest, owing to continuing workers’ unrest at its plant in Manesar, Haryana.

Many farmers complain that the GIDC bought land from them in the 1980s for “public” purposes and it was not supposed to sell it to industrial groups. Since it is now selling these plots to industrial groups at current market rates to earn huge profits, the farmers feel cheated. Legally, the GIDC should have returned the acquired land within five years to the farmers if it was unsuccessful in developing these areas.

Half truths

Moreover, Modi’s claim of “good compensation” is only a half-truth. While in areas like Sanand his government acquired land at market prices, areas such as Kutch and Saurashtra have seen worse forms of forcible acquisition. Gautam Thaker of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties told Frontline: “His land acquisition policies shift according to the awareness levels of the villagers. In villages near the cities, where real estate prices have shot up, Modi was bound to give the farmers a good deal. But he has used force along with ‘emergency powers’ of the government to acquire land in the hinterland and in coastal regions to develop big industrial zones.”

Most civil rights and environmental groups told Frontline that the Modi government had flouted all norms and procedures to give extraordinary facilities to big industrial groups and most of this had happened at the cost of livelihoods to an unprecedented number of people. The Nirma SEZ in Mahua is one such example. Nirma was allotted 268 hectares to set up a cement plant, besides a mining lease on more than 3,000 hectares in areas across the coastline in Bhavnagar district. Nirma’s logic was simple. It would break the limestone walls to manufacture cement and, without any additional transportation cost, would ship its goods through the port it would develop eventually. The Modi government classified the acquired land as “wasteland” and deprived over 15,000 people of their livelihoods. “Mahua is the second biggest onion-producing area in India after Nashik in Maharashtra. Together with production and processing at many dehydration and pesticide plants, onion gave employment to at least 15,000 people. The Modi government marketed the Nirma cement plant, saying that it would give employment to 416 people, which would mostly be unskilled labour. Can the loss of the whole economy of the area be compensated with the so-called Gujarat development model that Modi brags about?” asks Sagar Rabari of the Gujarat Lok Samiti, an organisation working for land reforms and land rights of the people.

In the revenue records that predate Indian independence, land is generally categorised as “private”, “grazing”, and “waste”. Private land is further divided into old and new tenures. While the old-tenure land can be sold, new-tenure land is strictly “agricultural” in use and cannot be sold. Grazing land for village animals, or Gauchar, is the only source of livelihood for pastoralists, a significant proportion of the village population in Gujarat. It belongs to the gram sabha and cannot be sold unless the government can show “inevitability”. Even in this case, the government can acquire the Gauchar by paying 30 per cent more than the market price. Wasteland is classified into culturable and non-culturable. These belong to the State government, which can only sell non-culturable wasteland in cases where a “public purpose” can be established.

In the last 15 years, the Gujarat government has acquired all these land by bureaucratic manipulations, as government documents reveal. In cases like the Dahej SEZ or Sanand, new-tenure land was converted into old-tenure land in government documents without any substantiation about whether it was acquired or bought. The benefits of an already half-hearted and incomplete land reforms in the State were also, thus, reversed. A major portion of the land acquired was Gauchar land without the permission of the gram sabha and the panchayat. In most cases, like the Mundra port, market prices were significantly lowered as the government has to pay 30 per cent over the market price.

In the defence institute project at Dahegam near Ahmedabad, 95 hectares of acquired Gauchar land was shown as “Padtar” (wasteland) in government documents. In some places in Kutch, Gauchar land was acquired, giving the reason that there were not enough cattle in the village. In other areas where the government acquired “wasteland”’ it was classified as “non-culturable” even while the villagers were using it for various purposes.

Government-industry nexus

In other instances, where companies had to necessarily buy the land directly, the Gujarat government facilitated the process through questionable methods. In Jamnagar, when Reliance was buying land to set up its oil refinery, 17 residents refused to sell their land. The government intervened to acquire their land by invoking the land acquisition Act in the name of “public purpose”. Rabari said: “When they refused to take any compensation and continued to protest, the government deposited their compensation in the State treasury and informed them that they could take it anytime they wanted. Until that time, the money would accumulate interest. In many places, brutal police force was used to stop people from resisting.” While such instances of land acquisition speak of a corrupt system, they point to a larger nexus between the government and the industry where the government is brokering land deals for the industry on the pretext of “development” and “public purpose”. Such a nexus was institutionalised by the Modi government when, in 2003, it announced a new industrial policy without any public consultation. The new industrial policy makes it easier for the government to change the classification of land so that it can be acquired, and also gives unprecedented authority to the District Collector to invoke emergency powers.

In such a state of affairs, many land rights activists point out that during Modi’s rule, Gujarat has seen “land grabbing” more than land acquisition. Mahesh Pandya, an environmentalist, gave some figures to Frontline. “More than 51 SEZs were approved during Modi’s regime, out of which 20 are in the final stage. Ten companies have withdrawn but the acquired lands are still with them. If we see only those SEZ proposals that got approved in the last two years, 13 SEZs would need 10,263 hectares of land, and seven others that are waiting for formal approvals would need another 7,522 hectares. A total of 20,587 hectares of land will be needed just to develop all the SEZs. More land will be acquired under various names such as Special Investment Region or industrial hubs and so on,” he said.

Prasad Matthew Chacko of the Behavioural Science Centre said: “The corporate groups have got much more land than they actually require. And it seems only a few companies are the biggest beneficiaries of this policy. Reliance, Adani, L&T and Essar are just some of them.” Chacko’s comment is not off the mark. To cite just one example, the government acquired land for the Reliance oil refinery at Jamnagar, but the latter openly advertises about its agro-businesses and corporate farming within that area without an initial permission to conduct such businesses at the time of acquisition.

Biggest casualty

The biggest casualty of Modi’s development model has been the village economy and the fraternity induced by mutual economic dependence. Owing to inadequate implementation of land reforms, upper castes like Darbars (Rajputs) and Patels in Gujarat own the majority of the agricultural land. Because of the growing pressure on land, even the upper castes have been losing most of their resources and assets. The landless, mostly Dalits, pastoralists like Rawals and Rabaris and Muslims, are in the most vulnerable position as the shrinking resources of the upper castes have meant severe exploitation of these communities. Gauchar land is important for raising livestock and in its absence pastoralists rely hugely on upper-caste benevolence to let them use their lands for cattle-rearing and become more dependent on them. Lack of resources and sustainable livelihoods has increased social malpractices like dowry and female foeticide. Illiteracy, unemployment and malnourishment have touched an all-time high in the last 15 years. The minimum wages of agricultural labourers have come down as they depend solely on upper-caste mercy in the absence of any social intervention on the part of the government, which in turn is fully dependent on the support of the dominant castes. The scrub forests of Gauchar and Padtar (wastelands) were also the local source of cooking fuel for the villages.

Tensions have also surfaced between the local populations, who have been rendered unemployed by the land acquisition, and immigrant labour, who are employed by the industries at low cost. Crime levels have significantly increased in the last 15 years. Activists say that it is happening because of the rising levels of unemployment, particularly in areas that have faced the brunt of rapid industrialisation without proper rehabilitation.

The environmental hazards of such rapid industrialisation have been many. Destruction of natural habitats like the mangroves in Mundra port and diversion of forest land for industries have had their impact on the village economy. Since the Gujarat government has been so welcoming of industries, they have only preferred areas that have good amounts of water and electricity (invariably the most fertile regions) to set up their plants.

Growing industrialisation in the last 10 years has meant that farmers are given less electricity (down from 10 hours a day to only six hours a day, sometimes only in the night, according to this correspondent’s investigation) and the irrigation projects have been unceremoniously stopped. Modi has rechanneled the Narmada’s water through canals in many villages, but most of this water is being used by industries.

For example, the Padra area near Vadodara had an effluent channel project (ECP), which discharged the treated waste of Vadodara city. However, the chemical-industrial hub that has developed in the last 10 years as a result of a flowing Narmada canal in the vicinity started discharging its untreated waste through the ECP into the Mahi river. “The industries draw water from the Narmada canal and discharge it into the Mahi. There is no cost involved in pipelines or treatment plants, since both the channels run parallel to each other at a very short distance. None of these new industrial plants, in Padra or anywhere in Gujarat, meets the Gujarat Pollution Control Board’s [GPCB] norms. Yet they have a free hand. As a result, most of the rivers in the State are heavily polluted,” said Rohit Prajapati, an environmentalist based in Vadodara.

Three cities of Gujarat, Vapi, Ankaleshwar and Vatva, figure in the Central Pollution Control Board’s list of the top 10 most polluted cities in India, with Vapi ranking first. The State government has failed to act even when environmental norms are blatantly flouted. The private ports and SEZs in the coastal regions are examples of open violation of the Coastal Regulation Zone’s norms. Preference to extractive industries like limestone, lignite and bauxite along the coast of Saurashtra has taken a huge toll on the ecosystem. Unofficial estimates say that about 600 villages will abandon agriculture in the next five years as a result of such industrial growth.

While Modi claims that the Gujarat model is empowering and encouraging entrepreneurship, the land acquisitions, both by the government and companies, indicate otherwise. Successful entrepreneurs have consistently lost their livelihoods in the last 15 years. The obsession with promoting industries, even at the cost of local economies and ecological sustainability, barely makes for a development model and only points to the structural nexus between the Modi government, corporate giants, and real estate honchos. An eroding village fraternity has helped the government in polarising votes in the last 10 years and, as activists say, the Gujarat development model is definitely a win-win situation for Hindutva propagandists like Narendra Damodar Modi.

 

#India – Nuclear shadow over Gujarat village


 

Author(s): Ankur Paliwal,Down to Earth
Issue Date: Mar 16, 2013

People in Mithi Virdi and nearby villages talk to Ankur Paliwal about their fears over the nuclear power park proposed on their land

This woman I found plucking weeds in her vegetable patch refused to give her name thinking I represent the power plant developers and would deprive her of her only source of living (Photos by Ankur Paliwal)This woman I found plucking weeds in her vegetable patch refused to give her name thinking I represent the power plant developers and would deprive her of her only source of living (Photos by Ankur Paliwal)

I don’t know her name. She was busy plucking weeds from her tomato farm when I found her. She was wearing bright blue and red clothes, her shining white hair half covered with a purple shawl. “She makes for a good photograph,” I thought to myself. I started moving towards her and took out my camera. She looked at me curiously, smiled and then got back to plucking weeds. I took that as her consent. I clicked her pictures till I was satisfied that I had got the right frame.

I asked my interpreter Sukhdev Singh, a 21-year-old engineer from her village Mithi Virdi in Gujarat’s Bhavnagar district, to introduce me to the woman. He told her I am a journalist from Delhi and that I am writing about the proposed nuclear power plant in her village. Her expression suddenly changed. She got angry and started shouting, “hamara photu na paro (do not click my photograph).”

She threw her hands in the air in anger. I could not fathom the reason for her anger. It dawned on me that she was gesticulating more out of fear. Singh interpreted her words: “She thinks that you are from the company which is building the nuclear power plant and that you would misuse her photo.” She thought that I will present her as somebody who wants the plant.

Farmers in Mithi Virdi  and adjoining villages harvest up to three crops a year and earn wellFarmers in Mithi Virdi and adjoining villages harvest up to three crops a year and earn well

She said that this was the patch of land she has to feed her family. Through my interpreter, I reassured her I was a journalist and was visiting the village to understand what people of Mithi Virdi think of the power plant. She did not believe me. By this time her son and daughter-in-law emerged from their hut. I tried to convince her but she was fearful.

I sat with her and asked if she could tell me her name. She refused. I turned to the family members and they too were reluctant to share details. The woman politely said to me, “My son, you sit, drink water, eat food and relax, but please do not misrepresent me.” I assured her that I would not misuse her photo and I was not there to take away her land. Her expression was that of disbelief. I asked her to forgive me and left her house cursing myself for having ruined her day.

Like her, many farmers in Mithi Virdi and adjoining villages are living in constant fear. Mithi Virdi which literally means “sweet well” is located on a raised plateau on the west side of the Gulf of Khambhat in Gujarat’s Bhavnagar district. The government had approved the plant in 2009. Since then, the people of Mithi Virdi and 23 adjoining villages have been opposing it.

The proposed Mithi Virdi Nuclear Power Park which will have six reactors of 6,000 MW each will take up 777 hectares (ha). Of this, 608 ha is agricultural land. The power plant was recently in news. Around 5,000 farmers walked out of the public hearing organised by the state government on March 5. They alleged the public hearing is illegal andshouted slogans against the plant.

At stake: fertile land, happiness

Farmers are against the plant because it will be built on or close to their fertile land. A walk through the villages confirms their claim. Mithi Virdi and the adjoining village Jasapara are full of mango and cheeku orchards. Farmers take three crops a year and earn well. Take the case of Ramdev Singh Thiruwa, who has around 500 mango trees and 100 cheeku trees on his 50 bighas (8.7 bighas make a hectare) farm in Jasapara village.

A meeting organised by the non-profits in Jasapara village a day before the public hearingA meeting organised by the non-profits in Jasapara village a day before the public hearing

He grows coconuts, vegetables and fodder on the same land. “I easily make Rs 10 lakh annually,” said Thiruwa. “I don’t need the company’s or the government’s money to live a happy life. I can send my children to any good school I want in the city,” he adds. Thiruwa’s land is just 500 metres from the sea. “Despite being close to the sea, the water in my wells is sweet,” said Thiruwa.

While the fear of losing their fertile land is the primary reason farmers anywhere would oppose a plant, the fact that it is a nuclear power plant increases the opposition. In Bhavnagar, even the farmers whose villages do not figure in the list of the 24 project-affected villages are against the plant. Shambhu Bhai is a farmer whose village is 11 km from Mithi Virdi. He does not want a plant.

“Your land is not being taken away, then why are you against the plant?” I asked.

His wife Hansa Ben who had just returned from the field was quick to reply: “There is fear of radiation leak. It affects human health, women deliver handicapped children and the land’s fertility goes down,” said Hansa Ben who is illiterate.

Curious, I asked her, “how do you know all this?”

She replied: “I heard it in the meeting.”

“Which meeting?” I asked.

“These meetings are organised by sarpanchs and social workers in the villages. They call us to educate us about the harmful effects of nuclear power plant,” she said.

This prompted my next question. “Have you attended any meeting organised by the company that is building the plant?”

“No. I don’t know if they have organised any,” she said. But government says that the nuclear power plants are safer now, I said to her.

“Who knows,” she said cynically.

Talking to farmers, I learnt that the NGOs have been regularly organising meetings in the villages since the past five years. I was keen to attend one such meeting. And I got lucky. The same day, a big meeting was organised by many anti-nuclear NGOs in Jasapara village. It was a day before the public hearing.

Fukushima, Chernobyl in their mind

A big and colourful tent was erected in the community centre in the village. Almost all the bamboo poles holding up the tent had anti-nuclear posters hung on them. Posters of handicapped children were pasted outside the centre. Around 2,000 people had gathered. The meeting was organised by various NGOs working in Bhavnagar and outside. While some speakers were stressing on the point that no matter what, people should not give away this extremely fertile land, others were highlighting why a nuclear power plant is bad. Slogans like “jaan denge, zameen nahin (we will give our lives, but not land),” were heard every 15 minutes.

Sukhdev Singh, a young engineer who acted as my interpreter, says his mango orchard is the best place to relax and watch children play as a cool breeze blows. He does not want to lose any of it to a nuclear power plant Sukhdev Singh, a young engineer who acted as my interpreter, says his mango orchard is the best place to relax and watch children play as a cool breeze blows. He does not want to lose any of it to a nuclear power plant

Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti (PSS) was one of the non-profits which had called this meeting. PSS is based in Vadodara district of Gujarat. “Farmers will lose their fertile land is the primary concern, safety aspects of nuclear power are also questionable,” said Rohit Prajapati of PSS. As a voluntary organisation our job is to inform people, he added. The anti-nuclear NGOs working in the area say that they are against nuclear power because till now the world does not have a foolproof technology to handle the hazardous nuclear waste and that the radiations from a leak will have long term and irreversible consequences. When there are alternatives available why opt for something that is potentially dangerous, they say. “We are just informing people. They are free to make their own choices,” said Prajapati.

But have the farmers listened to the other side before making up their mind? Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) organised a trip of sarpanchs to the operational nuclear power plants a year ago. “We have done our best to inform farmers that nuclear power is safe,” said P M Shah, chief engineer, NPCIL. But people in villages are distrustful of the government. “I have spoken the communities living close to the operational nuclear power plants. They are all living in fear,” said Shaktisinh Gohil, sarpanch of Jasapara over a sumptuous dinner that he had organised for me—butter smeared bajre ki roti (millet flour bread), a dish of onion and potato, lentils, jaggery, elaborate salad, mango pickle, papad and butter milk.

Thanking him, I was heading to the home of one of the farmers where I was staying. It was 11 pm. I found my interpreter, Sukhdev Singh, among a bunch of young guys sitting in a house making pamphlets against the nuclear power plant. These pamphlets were to be displayed in the public hearing scheduled the next day.

“It is late in the night. Don’t you have office tomorrow?” I asked Singh.

“I have taken leave because I want to participate in boycotting the plant,” he replied.

“Why are you against the plant? What do you know about nuclear power?” I asked.

“Don’t you know what happened in Fukushima recently and Chernobyl before that? Any day the risks of having nuclear power will outweigh the benefits,” he said.

His family has 15 bighas. It has around 300 mango trees and vegetables are also grown. “They will take away our land and then employ us on our own land,” said Singh. “Today we are employing people on our farms, if the plant comes we will become dependent,” he added.

“Today, after working hard in office in the city, I return to my beautiful home in the village. My parents have grown this mango orchard with a lot of labour. Whenever I feel sad, I go and sit under a mango tree. The cool breeze from the sea relaxes me. I feel happy when I see children playing in my orchard. Please don’t take all this away from us,” he continued.

 

 

 

Environmental Impacts of Mithivirdi Nuclear Project : A Comprehensive Critique


EIA Public hearing: NPCIL asked to do the homework well

VT Padmanabhan, R Ramesh, V Pugazhendi

No to Mithi Virdi nuclear power park – Over 5,000 women and men from 24 villages walked out from an illegal act staged in the name of environemntal public hearing by the district administration of Bhavnagar, Gujarat seeking peoples approval for construction of the Gujarat Nuclear Power Park (GNPP) in villages of Mithi Virdi and Jaspara, on 5th March 2013. The Government of India had decided to import 6 Westinghouse-Toshiba’s AP1000 (AP= Advanced Passive) reactors from USA as part of the Indo-US Nuclear Deal signed by Dr Manmohan Singh and George B Bush in 2005. The communities did not know any thing about that deal, but they came to know about the decision to locate those reactors in their villages on the coast of the Gulf of Khambhat in Saurashtra, when NPCIL started drilling operations in the community owned pasture-land in 2006. The drilling operation was terminated and the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) and its agents were out-lawed by people.

India ProtestNPCIL had contracted the Engineers India Ltd (EIL) to write the environmental impact assessment report for the project. EIL sub-contracted the work to the Pragathi Labs and Consultant Private Limited (PCPL), Secunderabad, Indomer Hydraulics Ltd, Chennai (both private companies), the National Remote Sensing Centre of the Anna University Chennai and the Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History (SACON). Their 2 volume report of 800 pages was posted on the NPCIL website on 5th Feb 2013, alongwith the announcement of the public hearing to be held on 5th March, 2013. The Gram Bachao Samithi (Save the Village Commitee) spearheading the movement against the project approached the environmental groups to study the EIA and provide a critique. Accordingly, the Paryavaran Suraksha Samithi (PSS) a Gujarat based environmental organisation and members of the PMANE Expert group (People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy, Tamil Nadu) started working on this.

The village committee requested the District Collector of Bhavnagar to allow their experts to depose at the public hearing. Sarpanches /their representatives Shakti Singh, Jaspara, Dharmendra Singh, Mandva, Hira Bhai, Mithi Virdi and Prithwiraj Singh, Khadarpur and Lakhdhir Singh, Paniyali – and Bharat Bhai and Yuvaraj Singh from Uthan – an NGO working on women and water issues presented a memorandum to Mr VP Patel, the District Collector stating that EIL did not have an accredition for writing EIA for nuclear power stations. A demonstration was also held in front of the Collectorate on the same day. In a meeting between environmental activists (Shri Krishna Kant and Shri Rohit Prajapati) and Engineer AV Shah of the Pollution Control Board, it was agreed that the people’s experts will also speak in the public hearing. However, on 4th March, a day before the event, the district collector announced that only the residents within 10 km radius of the project will be allowed to speak, the “outsiders” may submit their written documents.

The expert group appointed by the Village Committee was ready with a well researched alternative EIA. Rohit had done a throguh socio-economic study of the communities with help from 10 MSW students from JC kumarappa College of Social Work. Pugal, Ramesh and VTP were ready with their report which forcussed on oceanography, geology and environment.
Accrording to the law books, an environemntal public hearing is like a court in which the Presiding officer (normally the district collector) acts as a neutral judge – with project proposers on the one side and the affected people on the other side. This neutrality was not seen at the Mithi Virdi public hearing. The background music which was played before the meeting started extolled the virtues of nuclear power and the services rendered to the nation by NPCIL and DAE. Besides the collector and PCB engineer, there were some 20 people on the dias, who were not introduced to the audience. It seems all of them were all from DAE and NPCIL. The people, their leaders and experts were to sit in different barricaded enclosures, numbered on the basis of their “distance from the hyhpocentre”. Each of these enclosures also two armed persons and a video cameraman and a screen.

After explaining the procedure, with a veield threat that this is a government business and everything is videographed, the presiding officer invited the project proponent to present the case. This ws followed by NPCIL’s power-point presentation, which started with the importance of electricity and NPCIL’s past contributions (less than one percent of the total energy consumed in India) and future dreams. The presentation was mechanical, there was no presenter. At this point, Chuni Kaka, veteran Gandhian and Shakti Singh, Chairman of Jaspura village stood up and spoke about the procedural lapses and demanded that the presentation be stopped immediately. The collector was admant and refused to intervene. The people stood up gently and started moving out of the meeting peacefully. No slogans, no disturabnce to the power-point presentation. In less than five minutes, the presentation was stopped and the collector announced that the people can speak. He was too late. In another ten minutes, there were 5000 empty chairs, few hundreds of policemen and security staff with sten guns, about videographers and about 25 men on the dias. Narrating the event at a Press Conference in Ahmedabad on 7th March, Rohit said that as law-abiding citizens, the people could not be party to an illegal act, staged by the district administration.

Several “outsiders” like Krishna Kant, Rohit Prajapathi, Anand, Michaele, Swathi, Damayanthi Modi, Bijesh, several other young people including the volunteers from nearby colleges, lived with the farmers to educate the people on the ill-effects of nuclear power. The March 5 victory at Mithi Virdi is the supreme example of the courage, unity, determination and self respect of a people who are proud food producers. The surplus fruits, vegetables and fish they harvest can be found in the food baskets of people living in towns in rest of Gujarat and elsewhere. Manu Dada, 70 year old farmer from Jaspura said that “we had carried our own food, even though we were told that food will be provided by the organizers. We do not go after free meals”.

The Alternative Environmental Impact Assessment

There are so many inaccuracies and missing data in the EIA. (Scientists do not tell lies, they only withold data, usually in the public interest or for the cause of science!) The alternative EIA written by the Peoples’ Expert Group is about 125 pages. The full report will be published soon. Some very important issues are listed briefly.

1. Nobody will be displaced by the project. No marine fisherfolk family lives in the land that will be acquired. Varshabehen, her family and several others work and live there, within the so-called exclusive zone of GNPP.

Note: The identity card of Varshaben Jesalbhai, issued by the Marine Fisheries Department, Government of India – She lives in a coastal settlement, which is in the exclusion zone of GNPP. All these families have been living permanently there, they are registered voters and have ration cards. According to EIA, (a) no family will be displaced by the project and (b) there is no fisherfolk household within the exclusive zone. Photographed on 6th Mar 2013.

2. Drilling not done

A nuclear reactor has to be built on a stable rock. In order to ensure that there is a stable continous rock under the reactor foundation, rock samples needs to be taken from 100 meters below the proposed site. No drilling has been done at the reactor site, because of peoples protests.

3. Flood Level

The ministry of environemnt and forests had demanded to conduct a study of the maximum flood level and mitigation strategies. The EIA clearly mentions that no study of flood has been undertaken.

4. Impact of the proposed mega engineering project- Kalpasar.

Kalapsar is a $ 10 billion project of Narendra Modi government, which will create a 2000 sq km freshwater lake in the Northern one-third area of the Gulf of Khambhat. A forty km dam will be constructed. There will be a road and rail line on it which will link mainland Gujarat with Saurashtra. Kalpasar Project lies just 43 km north of the Mithi Virdi NPP site. This will change the water level, tidal height and many other variable in the Souther half of the gulf. There is no mention of Kalpasar project in the EIA.

Map of GNPP and Kalpasar project

The western limb of the dam sits on the North-South trending West Cambay Basin Fault (active) that happens to pass 11 km west of the Mithi Virdi site. Dr.B.K.Rastogi, of the Institute of Seismological Research (ISR), Gandhinagar warns of a “reservoir induced earthquake because of the project.” On 21, June 2011 B N Navalawala, advisor to the Gujarat Chief Minister, said thjat “though a study was carried out to assess the impact of an earthquake measuring 8.1 on the Richter scale, the state government now has decided to carry out a study of an earthquake measuring 9.5 on the Richter scale. After the Japanese experience, a need was felt for a re-look at the whole issue.”
.
5. Tsunami from the earhquake

If an earthquake of 9.5 on Ritcher hits the Gulf of Khambhat, the tsunami waves it will cause will be higher than those experienced at Fukushima.

6. The Presence of Alang-Sosiya Ship-breaking project

The presence of hazardous industries near the nuclear project site has to be clearly shown in EIA. According to EIA, the Sosiya ship-breaking yard is 4 km from the site. The actual distance is only 700 meters. Because of this, the site is not suitable for a reactor complex. If the nuclear park comes up, nearly forty ship-breaking units will have to be closed.

7. Tidal Range of the Gulf

The tidal range at Gulf of Khambhat is the largest along the Indian coastline. It has been identified as the biggest sediment sink among the five major sediment sinks of India. Gulf of Khambhat has the highest tidal range in India. The mean tidal elevation during spring is 4.7 m at Mahuva Bandar which rises to 6.5 m at Gopnath Point and 10.2 m at Bhavnagar. The maximum spring tide recorded at Bhavnagar is 12.5 m, which is second only to that of the highest tide recorded anywhere in the world (around 17 m at the Bay of Fundy on Newfoundland coast of Canada). So one can assume the spring tide at Sosia – Mithi Viradi coast (the coast that lies between Gopnath and Bhavnagar) to be between 6.5 m and 10.5 m.

There are other unresolved questions about the safety of AP1000 reactor also. To be brief, we only mention that a 3,000,000 liter water tank is perched on top of the reactor building. Normally, these tanks are located on the groundlevel. The water tank 100 meters above the ground level can be an easy target for terrorist attack.

Our critique of Mithi Virdi EIA is based on studies conducted by the scientists of Gujarat government and reputed academic institutions in the country. The EIA presented by NPCIL should be reviewed by an independent extert committee. The project, if implemented, can lead to national disaster, whose impact will be experienced by people and the eco-system, beyond the borders of Gujarat.

Ahamedabad, dated 07 March 2013
Authors are members of the PMANE EXPERT GROUP

 

Mithi Virdi Nuclear Plant: Experts pick holes in enviornment report


DNA, Ahmedabad, 8 March 2013

Ahmedabad: Experts are already questioning the environment impact assessment (EIA) of the proposed 6000-MW nuclear power plant at Mithi Virdi in Bhavnagar prepared by Engineers India Limited. Why has the report not mentioned the water bodies present in the area where the plant is coming up? Or elaborated on the hazardous industries in its vicinity?

Speaking at a press conference in the city, Dr V Pugazhendi, who has extensively studied the impact of radiation on health, made his dissent quite clear. “It is mentioned that the plant shouldn’t be close to any water body, yet the area where the plant is coming up has two water bodies,” he said.

He said the report also fails to mention the presence of hazardous industries near the nuclear project site. “The EIA report states that the Sosiya ship breaking yard is 4 km from the site while in reality it is only 700 metres from the site,” he said. He added that nuclear plants need 100% pure water and the project plans to use a desalination plant to make use of water from the sea. “But the presence of Sosiya ship breaking yard has already polluted the water and there is evidence to show the presence of heavy metal in the water. How will the plant clean such heavily polluted water?” he asked.

Pugazhendi also said that the report failed to mention the presence of lignite mining taking place in the area. “It is sitting on the Cambay basin fault line and mining only adds to the danger,” he explained.

Also voicing their points of protests were villagers who had staged a walk-out at the environmental public hearing held earlier this week at Navagaam in connection with the project.

“Government officials are allowed to seek the advice of experts, but we are not,” said Baluben of Neshwad village, 25 km away from the proposed nuclear plant. According to Baluben, she and other villagers chose to walk out after the collector refused to allow outsiders (experts) to speak at the meeting. Close to 5,000 people had walked out of the hearing after the collector allegedly refused to let the villagers speak first.

Rohit Prajapati of Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti said that the hearing did not follow the proper rules. “There were songs being played exalting the benefits of nuclear power. This is against the rules. You cannot do such things, yet the collector was a mute spectator to this,” said Prajapati.

 

Public walk out of hearing for Mithi Virdi nuclear power project


Ankur Paliwal
down to earth
2013-3-5

Residents say public hearing was illegal and organised without a proper rehabilitation plan for the project-affected

Ankur PaliwalPhoto: Ankur Paliwal

People of villages to be affected by the proposed Mithi Virdi nuclear power project in Gujarat’s Bhavnagar district walked out of the public hearing organised for the project on Tuesday. About 24 villages within a 10 km radius of the project will be directly affected by the 6,000 MW capacity power plant, proposed to be built Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL). People of these villages wanted civil society members and experts to speak on their behalf at the public hearing, which the collector disallowed. Angered by the official’s adamant stand, residents, numbering about 5,000, staged a walkout.

The public hearing held at Navagam village was presided over by the collector of Bhavnagar, V P Patel, and organised by the Gujarat Pollution Control Board. When the collector asked NPCIL to make a presentation on the project, the sarpanch of Jaspara village (it adjoins Mithi Virdi village), Shaktisinh Gohil, stood up and intervened. He said the village residents should be allowed to speak first because the environmental impact assessment (EIA) report for the project was invalid. He further said that since the village residents were not knowledgeable or articulate enough, experts and non-profit organisations should be allowed to speak on their behalf. But the collector insisted that people who are not affected by the project can only give their representation in writing.

After leaving the public hearing venue, Gohil told gathered media persons that he had called up the collector the previous night, requesting him that activists who were well-versed with the subject be allowed to speak on behalf of the residents. “The collector told me on phone that outsiders would not be allowed to speak. The residents then decided that they would again make the request at the public hearing venue,” he said. “We walked out because the public hearing was illegal,” he said while adding that the collector’s stand was not correct because there is a Delhi High Court ruling of 2009 that states outsiders can participate in a public hearing.

The Delhi High Court order in the case of Samarth Trust and Other v Union of India & Others W.P.(C) 9317 of 2009, said: “….prima facie, that so far as a public hearing is concerned, its scope is limited and confined to those locally affected persons residing in the close proximity of the project site. However, in our opinion, the Notification does not preclude or prohibit persons not living in the close proximity of the project site from participating in the public hearing – they too are permitted to participate and express their views for or against the project.”

EIA invalid, flawed

Gohil also said that the EIA for the project is invalid as it has been prepared by a consultant (Engineers India Ltd or EIL) which is not accredited to prepare such reports for nuclear power plants.

Activists who came for the public hearing said the EIA for the project is flawed. “It (EIA report) does not have a proper resettlement and rehabilitation (R&R) plan for the project affected people, which is still in the making. How can the authorities go ahead with the public  hearing without an R&R plan?” asked Rohit Prajapati of Vadodara-based NGO, Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti. He further added that only the 24 villages directly affected by the project were invited to the public hearing, while 128 other villages that are within a 30 km radius of the project were left out.

Asked if the public hearing would be organised again in view of the public boycott, GPCB regional officer A V Shah said that board considers the consultations as concluded. He said 47 objections and representations were submitted during the scheduled time for public hearing and that these would be forwarded to the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests which mandates public hearing as a pre-condition for grant of environment clearance.

Shah said that as per the public hearing notification, the project developer (NPCIL) should speak or make a presentation first. “We went by the law. If the public had objections they could have voiced them after the presentation,” he said.

With regard to engaging EIL as consultant, P M Shah, chief engineer with NPCIL, said that the firm’s application is pending with the National Accreditation Board for Education and Training (NAEBT). The board has allowed EIL to continue their work in the nuclear power sector in conjunction with Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre and NPCIL, he added.

‘Won’t part with fertile land’

The residents are opposed to giving away their land because it is very fertile. Samuben Dabhi, sarpanch of Mithi Virdi village, said that most of the farmers take three crops every year. Forty-two-year-old Ramji Bhai has 25 bighas (8.7 bighas make a hectare) of land on which he grows mango, cheeku and vegetables “I easily make Rs 7-8 lakh every year with very less input cost because of the high fertility of the land. It gives everything to me and my family to lead a happy life,” said Ramji Bhai. “Why would I give away my land when I do not need money or employment from the company?” he asked.

The sarpanch of Jaspara said residents now plan to take legal action against the authorities for conducting an illegal public hearing.


Source URL: http://www.downtoearth.org.in/content/public-walk-out-hearing-mithi-virdi-nuclear-power-project

 

#Gujarat Protest against proposed Nuclear Plant at Mithi Virdi



Hiral Dave , IE : Gandhinagar, Tue Feb 19 2013, 06:03 hrs

The proposed nuclear plant to be built by Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL) with US technology at Mithi Virdi in Bhavnagar district has run into stiff resistance from locals who are opposing the first public hearing scheduled for March 5. The project is part of the Indo-US nuclear deal signed in 2007.

Around six years ago, NPCIL had zeroed in on a cluster of five villages — Mithi-Virdi, Jasapara, Khadarpar, Mandva and Paniyad — to build the 6,900 megawatt (MW) nuclear power plant that would be India’s largest such facility.

However, soil and water testing was delayed following intense protest by villagers. Now, locals including those living in nearby urban centre of Bhavnagar city have closed ranks and vowed not to let the public hearing on environmental concerns take place.

“We have submitted a memorandum to Bhavnagar district collector. We do not want public hearing in the first place,” said Krishnakant, a coordinator for various groups opposing the plant.

“Bhavnagar is one of the biggest beneficiaries of the agricultural activities in the area. It gets its supply of fruits and vegetables round the year from the farmers of the 24 villages that have got notices for environmental public hearing for the proposed plant,” said Damyanti Modi of Bhavnagar Anu Urja Abhyas Juth, a group of senior citizens from Bhavnagar who have been studying the possible impact of a nuclear power plant at Mithi Virdi.

A year ago, Pittsburgh-based Westinghouse Electric Company had signed an MoU with NPCIL for site development work supporting future construction of AP 1000 nuclear power plants. The project requires 777 hectares, including private and government wasteland.

Mithi Virdi is a small coastal town known for its lush green orchards producing a variety of rare-quality fruits. Villagers say adequate monsoon in the last decade has ensured them three bumper crops in a year.

Earlier, gram panchayats of every affected village had passed resolutions vowing not to give private land or wasteland for the project.

Last year, villagers twice stalled the plans for soil and water testing by Gujarat Power Corporation (GPC), which has been hired by NPCIL for the testing work. In fact, the protests have been so intense that the GPC began digging bore around 5 am when villagers were asleep. However, in no time, the team had to fold up when more than 5,000 villagers reached the site and stalled the process.

Even a trip to Kakrapar nuclear plant near Surat for 96 farmers arranged by NPCIL could not convince them for the project.

Fear of losing fertile ancestral land coupled with apprehensions about a nuclear power plant in the neighbourhood has put the villagers on the edge.

Several NGOs have also been working closely with villagers.

While Bhavnagar Collector V P Patel was not available for comment, NPCIL authorities said they had received a copy of the memorandum opposing public hearing on environmental impact.

Of four sites short-listed in Gujarat, Mithi-Virdi was finalised for various reasons, including its proximity to sea, type of soil, water, seismic zone positioning and population.

 

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