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India: Chutka -- Power Games In Pitch Dark Alleys

India: Chutka -- Power Games In Pitch Dark Alleys

Prashant Kumar Dubey

Chutka has reminded the political masters once again that the tribal and marginalized communities have stopped bowing down to their whims and fancies. The confidence of the communities fighting the nuclear power plant in Chutka (Mandla district, Madhya Pradesh) was bolstered by immense public support for the struggle. The government's optimism about nuclear power is contentious and beyond (anybody's) comprehension. Every time it squanders thousands of rupees in the name of public hearings the end result is zero!

The government establishment, the companies involved, their workers and the so called educated class, time and time again, want to know why these mad, dumb tribal people do not want development. Why do they are hell-bent on pauperizing themselves by snubbing the flood of opportunities of employment and development which is going to be ushered in by these development projects? Why on earth do these people, instead of being obliged towards their representatives and the Indian Government, throw a spanner in their governments best intentioned (?) plans?

The 1400 MW electricity generation nuclear power plant project in Mandla district of Madhya Pradesh was first planned in 1984. Its estimated cost, in the beginning, was Rs14 thousand crore and the land required was pegged at 2500 hectares. In October 2009, the Central government gave permission for this project. The (state) government wants to increase the production to 2400 megawatts and, as a consequence, has to evacuate/displace 40 villages. Construction/erection of this project has been allotted to the Nuclear Power Corporation of India which we will refer to simply as 'the company' hereafter. The government contends that this will provide employment to the local people and the tribal communities. Nuclear power generation, the government claims, is a cost-effective (cheap/affordable) and the best (among all) system of electricity production. The government further vouchsafes that the Nuclear Power Corporation will give appropriate compensation to all the displaced families.

These promises are alluring to the urban class, uninformed about rural/tribal life and romantically displaced towards development, and the people who have put their weight behind this project. But the illiterate tribal communities have visions of dark alleys that lunge behind the attractively wrapped project and its development platter. The government machinery, government people and their reports conspicuously elude even a faint mention of the issues raised by the people; a factual discourse is a distant reality. When cheaper and affordable, better, and less or non-hazardous alternatives are available, the tribal communities think loudly, why is the government blindly running after nuclear electricity?

The tribal people have come to know about the polluting waste generated by nuclear power reactors, their impact on the environment and human health. The residual waste remains of the electricity generation from uranium remain radioactive for 2.4 lakh years and the whole world is still wrestling in the dark about the safe disposal of this residual waste: no technology has been effectively developed so far to address the issue. If this residue is buried deep into the earth's crust, it will pollute the water and make it radioactive. At a time when the proponents of the nuclear power and the developed countries world over, post Chernobyl in Russia and Fukoshima in Japan disasters, USA and other champions of nuclear energy, have not only abstained from raising any new reactors in the last four decades but have closed down about 110 reactors, the tribal communities ask agonizingly, why is our own governments are thirsty for nuclear energy?

More than 300 disasters have taken place since the beginning of the Nuclear Energy Programme in India but the governments (of the time) have never appraised the people about their impacts. Uranium is mined at Jaduguda in Jharkhand and there are reports of people falling critically ill due to radioactivity and, even tragically dying. The Anti Nuclear Power Plant Campaign Committee, Chutka (Chutka Parmanu Sangharsh Samiti) went to Ravtabhata and other nuclear reactor locations, studied the life in these villages and understood the damage it has caused (and is still causing) and how it has altered the life of the communities. The report by Sampurna Kranti Vidyalay (Total Revolution School), Bedchhi (near Surat) is an eye opener. According to this report, the villages in the vicinity of the nuclear reactors have given birth to children born with disabilities, has affected the reproductive health of the people, infertility has increased, there is anincrease in still births, abortions and neonatal deaths; bone cancer, decreased capacities to resistance illnesses (decreasing immunity), chronic fever, skin diseases not responding to any treatments, eye diseases, weakness, problem with digestive system etc are also reported from the villages in the vicinity of the nuclear reactors.

Dr Soumya Dutta, the National Convenor of the Anti-nuclear National Front, New Delhi, reports that the government and the company has been telling lies about the project and not disclosing or making public the issues and reservations about the project. The first on this list, as per the mandate/directions of the company, no nuclear energy project can be established in earthquake prone/sensitive areas. On top of it, the public hearing was based on a report, prepared by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) Nagpur, which has skilfully hidden the fact that the area is, indeed, extremely sensitive to earthquakes. Whereas the Bhopal based Disaster Management Institute of the state government has declared Mandala and Jabalpur as highly susceptible to (sensitive to) earthquakes. Corroborating the DMI's findings, it should be noted that the area had a massive earthquake of 6.4 on the Richter scale on 22nd May 1997. This caused human as well as animal loss while houses and buildings were devastated. The second fact that was hidden from the public: as per Central Electricity Authority (CEA) the nuclear power house will require 6 cubic metre of water per megawatt of electricity per hour. Simply put, the Chutka nuclear powerhouse will require 7 crore 25 lakh 76 thousand cubic meters of water per year to produce 1400 megawatt of electricity. This water will be lifted from Bargi dam, one of the many big dams constructed on the Narmada River. While Bargi dam documents explicitly say that its water will only be used for agriculture production, besides producing 105 megawatts of hydro-electricity, it remains a mystery as how this water would reach the nuclear reactor?

The water used for cooling the steam vapours emanating from the reactor and the reactor itself could be laced with radioactive elements. The majority of the nuclear power plants in India are situated in the coastal belt and drain their polluted water deep in the sea. In this case, the pollutants from Chutka will seep into the Bargi reservoir. The effects of the radioactive-laced water from Narmada River will be carried down to all the villages and towns situated on its banks along Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat; the life from these villages and towns will be exposed to hazards of radioactive toxicity as the people here use water from Narmada River. The bio-diversity, too, would be endangered towards extinction.

The Model Rehabilitation Policy of Madhya Pradesh says that there should be an end to chronic displacement. The communities facing displacement because of Chutka were, in the first instance, displaced by Bargi dam; to displace them again would be a violation of the rehabilitation policy. Besides, Mandla district comes under 5th schedule of the constitution; As per the Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Area (PESA) Act 1996, the Gramsabhas of the area are bestowed with special rights. The Gramsabhas of Chutka, Kunda and Tatighat have already passed resolutions opposing the project and forwarded their resolutions to the next levels. Is neglecting their resolutions not tantamount to a violation of the constitution?

The report of the project, 954 pages and full of techno-jargons, is written in English and smacks of a dirty trick to keep the villagers uninformed. The project is still to come openly about the issues like employment provision to the locals and, it is very likely, that the locals will be used to build staff quarters, office buildings and approach roads: the company documents say that the work (erection of nuclear power plant and its operations) is highly technical and would need highly skilled and trained people.

In this era of fabricated data, lofty promises and coercion, the government is forced by immense public protests to call off the public hearing on the assessment report of the environmental impacts. Perhaps, the murmurs of the next public hearing could be heard again after the assembly elections.

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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

ENDS

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