Jaitapur n-plant still far from being accepted
14 locals have been arrested; more are likely as a people’s tribunal gets ready to assemble
Nikhil M Ghanekar
Lock-ups, prisons and court cases have become an integral part of the lives of Jaitapur’s residents. The scenic village in Maharashtra, which is to be home to the world’s biggest nuclear plant, has virtually turned into a state of dystopia.
The people of the five villages that would be affected by the 9,900MW n-plant, Madban, Karel, Mithgavane, Sakhari Nate and Niveli, are experiencing the aftershocks of a ‘diplomatic alliance’ of a negative kind.
The latest addition in the story is the arrest of 14 locals including a prominent n-plant opposer Dr. Milind Desai and the surrender of four others. Contrary to the police claims that they have completed their investigation in a two-month old case, the arrests show the desperation of the State and the local police. But, we shall come to that point later.
On 6 December 2010, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sat down with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and successfully sealed a trade agreement to procure EPRs (European Pressurised Reactors) for the Jaitapur nuclear plant. Singh was flanked by then Minister for Science and Technology Prithviraj Chavan, who is also the PM’s point man for the Jaitapur plant and all other new n-plants coming up in the country.
Today, Chavan is the Chief Minister of Maharashtra. He is no longer in the Prime Minister’s Office, nor is he the science and technology minister. In a sense, his new role limits his ability to overlook the anguish of the locals and protests on the ground against the n-plant. In the past, Chavan quietly worked in the background while Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh faced the flak from activists, locals and experts. Once, the environment ministry cleared the project on 28 November 2010, its role in shaping a discourse became limited.
Chavan has smartly capitalised on this. He worked to organise a public hearing in Mumbai along with Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL), the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) for the Project-Affected People (PAP). But the locals boycotted the meet and Chavan was left with no option, but to reach out to the locals in their territory.
While all this was happening—the deal being sealed, Prithviraj Chavan taking over from Ashok Chavan—the local police in the five villages continued their exploitation against the villagers.
Fake cases were lodged, Section 144, (unlawful assembly), which has been in effect since August, has been used to maintain ‘peace’, and the NPCIL said it would soon start construction of a boundary wall on the plant site in the presence of the police.
On one hand, the Maharashtra government is trying to reach out to the PAP to strike a dialogue, while on the other the local police have kept the villagers fearful. This has irked the locals the most. The nuclear plant in Jaitapur is Chavan’s pet project. And he is in no mood to take a no.
But that is exactly what happened when he visited Karel Village on 6 March. Chavan, accompanied by state industry minister Narayan Rane and state Congress chief Manikrao Thakre made a shallow attempt to ‘reach out’ to people.
But the inspired locals stole his thunder. They sent a loud and clear message through their leaders Pravin Gavankar, of the Janhit Sewa Samiti, Amjad Borkar and Dr. Milind Desai. “No nuclear power, no nuclear plant,” they said.
In front of a gathering of 10,000 Chavan had no choice but to listen to them, but he was visibly annoyed sitting on the dais, helpless.
When he finally spoke, Chavan stressed in an uncharacteristically aggressive tone the ‘misconceptions’ and misleading reports the locals were made to believe’. He invoked national pride and the competition with China to justify the successful completion of the project, but appeared to have ignored local sentiment.
Coming back to the arrests, Desai being jailed is not surprising. He got into an argument with Narayan Rane on the dais and ended his speech abruptly. The case in which the 14 were arrested dates back to 18 December 2010, when local Congressman Saifuddin Qazi’s nephew Yusuf Qazi was hit by a police jeep. The angered locals had burnt a police van and beat up a policeman.
Saifuddin Qazi, while speaking to TEHELKA, said, “It is a clear case of repressive measures being the order of the day. If you can’t shut them up, lock them up. Yusuf was my nephew. I know for sure that the people had gathered on that fateful day to help as any other villager would do.”
The arrests also come at a time when the Indian People’s Tribunal, under the guidance of Justice AP Shah and Justice Sampath, is slated to visit the villages on 6 and 7 March to talk to the people.
Gavankar hopes that following the arrests and the tense situation, the locals would come out and depose in front of the tribunal. Adwait Pednekar of the Konkan Bachao Samiti said that during the break of the Budget session of the Parliament, around 15 MPs might visit Jaitapur to assess the situation and have a debate about it in the House.
While trying to understand the sequence of events around the project, one has to look no further than former AEC Chairman Anil Kakodkar. Kakodkar, in an interview to a Marathi daily in January, said, “The Jaitapur plant is a part of the new strategic and trade alliances we are building after entering the NSG (Nuclear Supplier’s Group).”
Jaitapur has seen a considerable amount of wanton police behavior already. In response, the locals are only going to harden their stance. The State, meanwhile, will go all out to make the plant a reality.
PHOTOS: TUSHAR MANE