#India – Confidential Report raised fears about proximity of Kalpsar dam & Mithivirdi N-project


Express news service : Ahmedabad, Fri May 03 2013, 04:06 hrs

A confidential report by the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) expressed concerns about possible calamities due to the proximity of the proposed  Kalpsar dam and the Mithivirdi Nuclear Power Project (NPP), including flooding of the power plant in case an earthquake breaks the 65-km-long dam that will run across the northern edge of the Gulf of Khambat.

The DAE’s site selection report was obtained by the Vadodara-based Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti through RTI. The outfit has attached it with a letter it sent to the Union Environment Ministry’s nuclear projects division on Wednesday, alleging the report’s observations had not been incorporated into the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited‘s (NPCIL) environment impact assessment (EIA) for the proposed project.

The site selection report, dated June 28, 2007, says, “It is recommended that a detailed study be conducted to examine the effect of Kalpasar dam in the upstream of NPP site on the flooding of the proposed site due to breaking of dam in the event of an earthquake of very high magnitude as the Kalpasar dam is located over deep silted fault.”

“Kalpsar project authorities propose a dam of 65 km in length and top width of 35 m across Gulf of Khambat at a distance of 18 kms north of the Chhaya (Mithi Virdi) site. This will have following effects on the nuclear power llant – sedimentation and effect on intake and outfall of the plant, flooding due to dam break and aspects of reservoir induced seismicity,” the report notes.

In another section, the report recommends a 300-km radius seismotectonic study should take into account reservoir-induced seismicity, a phenomenon in which large man-made water bodies cause earthquakes, such as at Koyna dam in Maharashtra, which caused a 6.3 magnitude earthquake in 1967.

(At least three other earthquakes of a magnitude above 6 have been caused by such water bodies worldwide, including in China (Xinfengjiang dam), Zambia (Kariba dam) and Greece (Kremasta dam).

P M Shah, chief engineer for the Mithivirdi project, told The Indian Express the EIA report did not incorporate Kalpsar because it was a study on how the project would affect the environment.

“A detailed seismotectonic study covering a radius of 300 kms is being done by the National Geophysical Research Institute, Hyderabad, while oceanography studies are being done by the Goa-headquartered National Institute of Oceanography (NIO),” Shah said.
– See more at: http://www.indianexpress.com/news/-report-raised-fears-about-proximity-of-kalpsar-dam—mithivirdi-nproject-/1110913/0#sthash.tH5wZQg6.dpuf

 

Gujarat- The Great Land Grab


May 17, 2013 Cover Story, Frontline

Show Caption

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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.

 

 

 

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