People rise up against Jaitapur Nuclear Power Plant and Destructive Projects in Konkan
December 29, 2009 8 Comments
Public Meeting and Seminar to Protest Nuclear Plant at Jaitapur (Ratnagiri,Maharashtra)
and Other Destructive Projects in Konkan
The Indian government is proposing to set up a 9900 MW mega nuclear power plant at Madban, near Jaitapur, in Ratnagiri District of Maharashtra. It has signed an agreement with the French company Areva to supply the first two reactors of 1650 MW each for the proposed nuclear plant, and later it is expected to supply four more such reactors for the plant.
For the last three years, the local people have been democratically protesting the government decision to set up the nuclear plant in their area because they fear that the nuclear plant will destroy their environment and livelihoods and damage their health, and they have refused to hand over their lands to the government for the project.
To support the people in their struggle and voice their opposition to nuclear energy, at the initiative of Lokayat (Pune) and Azadi Bachao Andolan (Allahabad) along with the recently formed National Alliance of Anti-Nuclear Movements (NAAM), activist groups and NGOs from all over the country came together and organized a huge public meeting at Madban village on November 23, 2009. It was followed by a seminar in Ratnagiri which is the district headquarter on November 24.
Madban Public Meeting, November 23, 2009
The large gathering of scientists, experts and activists from Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh who participated and spoke in the public meeting, were unanimous in declaring that that the project would be ruinous for the economy, environment and human-plant-marine life of the Konkan region. The meeting ended with the people burning an effigy of the nuclear power plant and resolutely announcing that they will continue the movement till the decision to set up the nuclear power plant is cancelled. Thousands of people from dozens of villages surrounding Madban participated in the public meeting.
After introducing the guests, Alka Joshi of Lokayat who compeered the meeting stated that the mega nuclear plant being proposed in the Konkan region will destroy the health and livelihoods of the people of the entire region, not just for this generation, but for thousands of generations. Explaining the reasons, she stated that the deadly radioactive elements created during the fission of uranium in the nuclear reactor inevitably find their way into the environment. This happens through the routine release of radioactive gases into the atmosphere and release of radioactive water into the sea. The radiation emitted by these elements is deathly, it causes cancer, damages vital organs including the kidney, lungs, heart and brain, affects the reproductive system and causes sterility, and will also cause mutation in the genes resulting in unknown diseases and deformities in the coming generations. Since many of these radioactive elements will continue to emit radiation for hundreds and thousands of years, the implication for life in the region is going to be simply terrible. While the life of a nuclear power plant is around 40 years, the radiation released by it in the atmosphere will continue to damage the health of the people in the region for tens of thousands of years. And, the consequences will be far more devastating if there is an accident even of the order of one-tenth of what happened in Chernobyl, as the Madban plant is going to much larger than the Chernobyl reactor. It will render not just the entire Konkan, but Western Maharashtra, uninhabitable for the next twenty thousand years!
The convenor of National Alliance of Anti-Nuclear Movements, Dr. S. P. Udayakumar from Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu, in his rousing speech assured the people of Madban that people of the entire country are behind them in their struggle. The anti-nuclear struggles of the people in Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu and Haripur in West Bengal and Mithivirdi in Gujarat, and the struggle of the people of Konkan, are all a part of the huge movement growing all over the country against the decision of the government of India to go in for nuclear energy in a big way. He called upon the people rise above caste and religious differences and deepen and widen their struggle, and expressed the optimism that if we stand united, we shall definitely win.
Y. B. Ramakrishna from Bangalore, who is associated with the forum Citizens for Alternatives to Nuclear Energy, stated that the opposition to nuclear energy is important to protect the fantastic biodiversity of the Konkan region. From his experience of the Kaiga Nuclear Plant, he warned the people not to believe the false assurances being given by the officials of the Nuclear Power Corporation of India that the plant will lead to the development of the region and create jobs for locals. Medha Thatte, the General Secretary of Shramik Mahila Sangathana of Pune congratulated the people of Madban for their resistance and stated that they are fighting a historic battle, which will be remembered by the coming generations. B. G. Kerkar, former General Secretary of the LIC Employees Union, who had also come down from Pune, announced that he would take this struggle to employees working in all the units of LIC in the country, and get the all-India leadership of the Union to extend its support to the struggle.
Anil Gachke, who had come down from Tarapur near Mumbai, the location of India’s first reactor, gave facts about the devastating impact of the Tarapur Nuclear Power Plant on life of people living near Tarapur. He stated that of the 350 mechanised fishing boats which used to operate in Tarapur previously, not one remains today. The plant releases warm water into the sea, and while the limit for temperature rise of sea water has been kept at 2-3 °C, the plant often releases hot water of temperatures from 7-8°C to as much as 20°C above sea temperature, which has destroyed the marine life in Tarapur.
Dr. Sulabha Brahme, renowned economist and writer-activist from Pune, stated that along with Kashmir, Konkan is probably the most beautiful area of the country. She expressed the hope that the people of Konkan will resolutely fight to the very end the diabolical plan of setting up a nuclear power plant in this beautiful region which will destroy life and transform this region into a desert.
Various local activists, including Sarpanch of Madban village Bhikaji Waghdare, Pravin Gavankar of Janhit Seva Samiti who had played a key role in organizing the seminar, Amjad Borkar – the leader of the fisherfolk from Nate village, Dr. Jayendra Parulekar – a medical doctor from Sawantwadi, Dr. Vivek Bhide and Adv. Baba Parulekar – both of Ratnagiri District Jagruk Manch, also spoke at the public meeting and expressed their opposition to the nuclear project.
Dr. Banwarilal Sharma from Allahabad, one of the most eminent mathematicians of the country and the National Convenor of Azadi Bachao Andolan, chaired the public meeting. In his presidential address, he stated that the struggle is actually a second freedom struggle. The government of India has put up the country, its resources, its wealth, its people, everything for sale. At a time when the nuclear power industry is in doldrums all over the world because of safety, cost and environmental concerns and giant foreign nuclear corporations are in serious crisis because of lack of orders , yet the government of India has agreed to allow dozens of nuclear power plants to be set up in the country. As it is, nuclear power is very costly, and so these corporations will plunder us just like the British did. He told the assembled gathering that the entire people of the country are looking to the people of Madban for inspiration, and the Madban struggle will create history. Taking note of the large number of women who had come to the public meeting, he exhorted the women of the region to be in the forefront of the struggle.
The public meeting concluded with the passage of a “Jaitapur Resolution” which was unanimously approved by the assembled gathering. The resolution stated that:
(1) The democratic and peaceful agitation will continue till the nuclear power plant, which is being set up in an earthquake prone region, and which will radioactively contaminate the entire region, is not scrapped.
(2) The deal with Areva of France which is to supply reactors for the Madban plant about which doubts have been raised in Finland should be scrapped.
(3) The proposed bill seeking to restrict the compensation payment in case of a nuclear accident should be withdrawn immediately.
Finally, amidst much sloganeering and singing of songs, a statue of the nuclear power plant was burnt, after which the gathering dispersed.
Ratnagiri Seminar, November 24, 2009
The next day, a seminar was organized at the Ratnagiri City Library from 10 am till 6 pm on the impact of the thermal power projects, mining projects, and the Madban nuclear power project being set up in the Konkan region on the area, and the possible alternatives to these projects. More than 300 people attended the seminar. The seminar was divided into 3 sessions – on nuclear energy, on the huge number of thermal power projects and mining projects coming up in the Konkan region, and finally on the possible alternatives to nuclear and thermal energy to solve the country’s growing energy needs. Neeraj Jain of Lokayat, Pune, one of the organizers of the seminar, anchored the seminar.
The first session was on nuclear energy, and the main speakers were Dr. Udayakumar (convenor of NAAM) from Kudankulam, and Dr. Surendra Gadekar of Vedchi near Surat, who also chaired the session.
Dr. Udayakumar again gave a rousing presentation, in which he explained that the proposal to push for nuclear power plants is one of the most dangerous policies being implemented in the country. He warned the gathering of intellectuals who had collected from all over the Konkan region that we are up against a combination of profiteering companies, secretive state apparatuses and a repressive nuclear department. “This nexus of capitalism, statism and nuclearism does not augur well for the country. These forces
are gaining an upper hand in our national polity which will sound the death knell for the country’s democracy, openness, and prospects for sustainable development.” He then went on to say that the nuclear facilities of the DAE are amongst the most unsafe in the world, there have been so many small accidents, and each time an accident occurs, the atomic energy authorities rush to cover it up, by issuing false statements about the accident and the extent of radiation leakage. People have been demanding that the DAE release information about these anti-people projects on us and our children’s health, safety and the environment, but even elected civil and political societies are being kept in the dark by the DAE, he added.
Surendra Gadekar, from Sampoorna Kranti Vidyalaya of Vedhchi, Surat and one of the country’s most well-known nuclear experts who has edited the renowned anti-nuclear journal Anumukti for several years, gave a presentation on how the country’s nuclear authorities blatantly lie about obvious facts in order to promote their dangerous projects. He gave numerous examples of his surveys in Jadugoda and Rawatbhata. For instance, in Jadugoda, where India’s oldest uranium mine is located, the Uranium Corporation of India carelessly dumps the waste in the open, the ore is transported in uncovered dumpers, the tailing ponds are not fenced off properly, and people freely walk across them, not knowing that they are thus getting exposed to gamma radiation. As if this was not enough, he also gave the horrifying fact that the company has also supplied waste rock from the mines to be used for construction of roads and houses! He then gave facts about the health effects of the radiation released from the uranium mines in Jadugoda and from the radiation released from the nuclear reactor in Rawatbhata in Rajasthan on the people living in the nearby villages, along with photographs. The medical survey conducted by him in the villages around Jadugoda mines confirmed increasing cases of congenital deformities, mental retardation, Polydactyl (extra fingers or toes) and Syndactyl (fused or missing fingers and toes) and Lung Cancer in people of the area. He then went on to give statistics from the survey done by him of the population living in five villages in the vicinity of Rawatbhata nuclear power plant in 1991. It is probably the only survey of its kind ever done in the country. The survey found: An increase in the rate of cancer, physical disability, incomplete mental growth by four to seven times; a significantly higher rate of spontaneous abortions, still births and one day deaths of new born babies; a significant increase in chronic diseases especially amongst the young, but no differences in acute infections; a significantly higher rate of solid tumours.
The second session of the day was on the impact of the various projects, especially the thermal power plants and mining projects being set up in the districts of Ratnagiri and Sindhdurg districts, on the economy and culture of the Konkan region. Dr. Sulabha Brahme, one of the best known economists of Maharashtra and formerly Professor in Pune’s famed Gokhale Institute of Economics, chaired the session.
Vaishali Patil from Pen was the first speaker of this session, who discussed in detail the damaging effects of the 43 special economic zones that are being set up in the Konkan region. She stated that these are simply scandalous. In the name of providing an ‘internationally competitive business environment’ to foreign investors, investors in the SEZs are being given the most amazing concessions: no import duties; no controls on imports and profit repatriations; 100% tax holiday for 5-10 years; permission to set up hotels, residential complexes, malls, golf courses, etc. on as much as 75% of the SEZ area. According to the Finance Ministry, the revenue loss due to these tax concessions is going to be more than Rs.1 lakh crores! Further, labour laws and environmental laws will not be applicable to these zones. Even worse, the Development Commissioner of the SEZ will function like a virtual dictator of the area – Indian democracy will end at the border of these zones, they will be like the princely states of the British Raj!
Dr. Vivek Bhide of Malgund, Ratnagiri and Dr. Jayendra Parulekar of Sawantwadi, Sindhdurg then explained in detail the destructive impact of the thermal power projects and mining projects being implemented in these districts in the name of development. Including the nuclear power plant at Madban, a total of 10 Power Plants are being set up in this narrow strip, along a length of just 120 kms, to generate a total of 33,000 MW. In addition, mining projects are planned over a total of 970 hectares. They explained that these projects will totally destroy the prized Alphonso mango, which is very susceptible to air pollution. A study by scientists from the Lucknow-based Industrial Toxicology Research Centre has found that sulphur dioxide — a common pollutant from coal-fired thermal plants — affects the quality and yields of mangoes. This will hit more than seven lakh people in Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg who depend on horticulture, mainly mangoes, cashew and coconuts. Further expanding his critique, Dr. Bhide questioned the logic of thermal plants in a region that, in 1997, was declared a horticulture zone. Encouraged by subsidies and special packages, farmers poured their savings into mango crops. Those trees — and their investments — are finally bearing fruit. Exports of Alphonso to Japan and Europe began last year. However, all this exports will soon come to a halt and development ruined because European and US quality controls specify that there should not be any coal-burning industry near the mango crop.
Giving her address to conclude the session, Dr. Sulabha Brahme stated that the combined power generation capacity of the thermal power projects being set up in the Konkan region is said to be around 18,100 MW. Generating this much energy will need huge amounts of coal, uranium and other hazardous materials that would contaminate the land, air and water in these areas, totally destroying the Konkan, which is one of the most beautiful areas of the country. She questioned the need for setting up these thermal power plants to solve the energy shortage in Maharashtra. Giving figures, she stated that as per the figures released by the government in 2008, the state has the capacity to generate 17,500 MW of power, whereas the electricity generated is only 13,575 MW. The existing thermal power projects at Parali, Paras, Khaparkheda, Bhusaval and Chandrapur are yet to be utilised to their optimum capacity. Further, by implementing projects like small hydro power plants, the remaining shortfall can easily be made up. For instance, the Konkan alone has a potential of approx. 12,000 MW to be tapped from Small, Mini & Micro hydro projects. She also questioned the propaganda that the projects will generate employment, and stated that the total employment generated would be more than the total employment destroyed. Moreover, the jobs created would be highly skilled, and therefore it is unlikely that the rural people of the region would get benefited. She also questioned the rationale of setting up nuclear power plant in the region, saying that when countries in Europe are phasing out nuclear power plants, and the US itself has not set up a nuclear plant for the last 30 years, what is the rationale for allowing their corporations to set up these terrible plants in India?
The last session on Renewable Energy and the tasks ahead for the movement was chaired by Dr. G. G. Parekh, who had come down all the way from Mumbai despite his ill-health and age. In this session, Ramakrishna from CANE, Bangalore, an organization that seeks to promote renewable energy as an alternative to nuclear energy, spoke of the enormous potential of renewable energy sources in meeting the country’s growing energy needs, and therefore explained that there was absolutely no need to go in for nuclear energy about whose harmful effects various speakers had already spoken in the seminar. Giving a few examples, he pointed out that the solar water heater domestic installations in Bangalore alone have brought down the peak hour demand for electricity by 1500 MW. Each house with such installation saves on an average 900 KWH of energy a year. Then, he gave the example of having large flat mirrors arranged as parabolic dish antenna with concentrators. The air or oil can be heated to temperatures in excess of 600 degree centigrade. With appropriate technologies this heat can be made use of to meet many of energy needs in Industrial units. However, governments are not interested in pursuing such alternatives.
Ramakrishna also stated that the entire electricity industry is highly inefficient. Considerable energy saving can be done with efficiency improvements in generation, transmission and distribution. Every unit saved through efficiency measures is equivalent to more than two units generated. Another much neglected area is energy conservation. Conservation through mass education and adoption of energy saving gadgets like CFL’s, LED’s and solar street lighting can be of great importance in reducing electricity demand. For instance, considerable conservation is possible in irrigation pump sets by simple foot valve design change, changing over to PVC pipes from GI pipes and adopting power factor correction methods. Similarly, a lot of energy can be conserved by adopting electronic controls in industrial AC drives. Finally, he also pointed out that normally, when we think of electricity requirements, we are used to only supply side management. It is high time we looked into demand side management, how do we reduce our electricity demand.
Advocate Baba Parulekar also spoke in this session, and he gave figures to highlight the enormous potential of renewable energy in Konkan, which can be tapped instead of the disastrous projects being proposed. Prof Banwarilal Sharma gave a stirring speech on the need to question the entire present model development. He stated that we are often criticized for being against development when we oppose big projects, but these projects are oriented towards only the development of a few, they fulfill the needs of only the rich, while displacing people, polluting entire regions, destroying the health and livelihoods of millions of people. In the more than sixty years of Indian independence, the ruling classes have not been able to provide electricity to nearly half of India’s villages, and the new plants being put up are not to meet this shortage, these villages will continue to be without electricity, rather these plants are being set up to meet the needs of the wasteful consumption of the rich. He gave a call that instead of using the language of only opposing projects, we must now go on the offensive, people must organize and demand that we are setting up our own alternate micro projects which will fulfill our needs, and he gave examples of the micro dams being built in Uttarakhand and micro thermal power plants being put up by people in Jharkhand while opposing the setting up of giant displacing projects in those areas. Finally, Dr. G. G. Parekh in his concluding speech spoke of the need to adopt an alternate lifestyle to challenge the current way of life which is unsustainable for life on earth. He pointed out that the present pattern of development is now threatening the very existence of life on planet earth, and the present spate of projects being built in Konkan will only accelerate this push towards certain extinction of human civilization. We need to reject the western lifestyle being imposed on us by the corporate media so as to create market for their products, and evolve alternate lifestyles that are more in harmony with nature.
The seminar ended with the unanimous passage of the “Ratnagiri Resolution”. It was read out by Vaishali Patil in Marathi, and translated into English and Hindi. The resolution voiced the following demands:
- Immediately scrap the monstrous and enormously costly Jaitapur nuclear energy project, which will emit deathly radiation and create the unsolvable problem of nuclear waste.
- Immediately stop the land acquisition process for this project.
- Numerous thermal power projects are being proposed to be set up along the narrow coastal strip of the Konkan region. While these projects will mean huge profits for big corporations, they will destroy the livelihoods of the farmers, fisherfolk and working people of this region. All these projects, which will destroy the forest wealth, marine wealth, horticulture and farming of the Konkan region, should be immediately cancelled.
- Immediately cancel the mining projects being set up in the Sindhdurg and Ratnagiri districts which will destroy the environment as well livelihoods of farmers of these regions.
- Immediately withdraw all cases against the agitating people of this region who are only fighting to protect their livelihoods and environment.
- Declare the entire Konkan belt as eco-sensitive. The government should draw up plans for the sustainable development of this region, which while preserving the rich natural wealth of this region will also create jobs for the local people.
- To meet the growing energy needs of the country, the government should take policy decisions which will lead to conservation of energy, should take steps to control the energy demand, while invest massively in development of renewable technologies.
The seminar concluded with the announcement of the formation of Konkan Vinashkari Prakalp Virodhi Samiti. This is a joint committee comprising of representatives from the different local committees formed by people of the various areas of the Konkan region where the nuclear, thermal power and mining projects are coming up to oppose these environmentally destructive projects. The committee also includes representatives of people’s organizations from Mumbai, Pune and Allahabad who are supporting the agitation of the people of this region.