Tuesday 13 August 2013

Sacrificed twice at the altar of the nation

"If you are to suffer, you should suffer in the interest of the country...."
Jawaharlal Nehru, speaking to villagers displaced by the Hirakud dam

Villages submerged in Bargi dam project
Adivasis in Mandla district of Madhya Pradesh had no such illusion this time as they rose up in protest against the public hearing for the proposed nuclear power plant in Chutka. They were shown the same dreams when they were displaced for Bargi dam two decades ago. The dam, they were told, would bring jobs, electricity and opportunities for them and the much-needed 'development' for the nation. One can listen to Bhanu Sahu's dispatch on the occasion of India's Independence Day two years back.

Arundhati Roy in her famous essay 'The Greater Common Good' described about Bargi:
The Bargi Dam near Jabalpur was the first dam on the Narmada to be completed (1990). It cost ten times more than was budgeted and submerged three times more land than the engineers said it would. About 70,000 people from 101 villages were supposed to be displaced, but when they filled the reservoir (without warning anybody), 162 villages were submerged. Some of the resettlement sites built by the Government were submerged as well. People were flushed out like rats from the land they had lived on for centuries. They salvaged what they could, and watched their houses being washed away. 114,000 people were displaced. There was no rehabilitation policy. Some were given meagre cash compensations. Many got absolutely nothing. A few were moved to government rehabilitation sites. The site at Gorakhpur is, according to Government publicity, an 'ideal village'. Between 1990 and 1992, five people died of starvation there. The rest either returned to live illegally in the forests near the reservoir, or moved to slums in Jabalpur. The Bargi Dam irrigates only as much land as it submerged in the first place - and only 5 per cent of the area that its planners claimed it would irrigate. Even that is water-logged.
Development strikes again

Slogans against NPCIL painted on the roads
The displacees of Bargi are faced again with the same predicament, this time for a nuclear power project. The Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited(NPCIL) is planning a power park consisting of 2 Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors(PHWRs) of 700 MWs each. Nuclear plants need huge amount of water for cooling the reactor core and Chutka fits the bill on that count. But thousands of people who have barely managed to start a new life are threatened with loss of livelihood yet again. The nuclear project will not only displace thousands of people from three villages, but will also endanger lives and livelihoods of another tens of thousands who will be condemned to live in the vicinity of the reactors. The NPCIL is known for its callousness, irresponsibility and hushing up when it comes to health effects of radiation near its installations. From Rawatbhata to Tarapur to Kalpakkam, independent health surveys have revealed high incidences of cancer, leukemia, birth defects and other radiation-borne diseases.

The Indian government's obsession with nuclear energy has less to do with a coherent and integrated planning for India's energy security and more with fulfilling the promises that the Manmohan SIngh government made to nuclear suppliers in exchange for exemption from the Nuclear Suppliers Group's norms in 2008 in course of the Indo-US nuclear deal. Hence, the current expansion is being pushed at gun point - brutally crushing local resistances, bending the government's laws of transparency and accountability, violating the nuclear regulator's own norms on reactor siting and misinforming the judiciary. 

Farce of a public hearing and people's victory

The local administration had organised a public hearing on 31st of July purportedly to take people's consent on the Environmental Impact Asessment(EIA) report for the project prepared by Nagpur-based National Environment and Energy Research Institute(NEERI). NEERI has become notorious for producing shoddy EIA reports for all kinds of dubious projects. Specifically on nuclear, NEERI neither has required accreditation nor the expertise to assess radiation impacts of nuclear facilities. Invariably, their EIA reports on nuclear projects just pass off radiation impacts by mentioning that the AERB norms would be adhered.

The EIA hearings for nuclear projects have become complete farce. Last 4 such hearings in Rawatbhata(for a nuclear fuel complex), Jaitapur(Maharashtra, 6 French reactors of 1650 MW each), Mithi Virdi(Gujarat, 4 US-imported reactors of 1000 MW each) and Fatehabad (Haryana, 4 indigenous PHWRs of 700 MW each) have seen massive protest by the local people and the officers have often had to flee from the hearing site. People's dissent notwithstanding, the district administration later reports these hearings as success and puts before the MoEF for final clearance. In the course of EIA clearance for the Jaitapur project, the then Ministers in the MoEF himself accepted that his ministry had to accommodate diplomatic interests and provide a green clearance. Such farcical environmental hearings have become routine in India for all kind of neoliberal development projects. Rarely any of the thousands of EIA reports have been rejected in the past few years. If the Manmohan Singh government succeeds in establishing the National Investment Board(NIB), it will effectively do away with even this minimum formal semblance of democratic process.

A public meeting opposing the EIA hearing, July 30
The public hearing proposed in Chutka on July 31st was for the second time. The first hearing planned on May 27th also had to be postponed due to massive people's protest. This time, the local administration chose a slightly far-off village where it thought it can control the local people and a handful of the administration's supporters, mostly traders in the nearby bazaar, would come to its rescue. However, just a day before the publicised date, the administration had to postpone the public hearing yet again.

Local people are resolute to fight as the taste of development's iron fist is fresh in their memory.  It is for the larger society in India to decide whether these  voices be heard or be drown in the jubilant chorus on yet another Independence Day.

by P K Sundaram


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