Over the last few weeks, Dr. Milind Desai’s living room has frequently turned into a meeting room.
After a short lull in anti-nuclear protests, Desai and other locals affected by the proposed 9,900 megawatt Jaitapur Nuclear Power Plant in Ratnagiri, Maharashtra, have been discussing strategies for a 'Jail Bharo Andolan' in the first week of October.
“There is no change in our demand. We do not want a nuclear plant in our backyard,” Desai said. “If villagers refuse to accept compensation, it means they haven’t given their land to build the nuclear plant.”
The largest in the country, the Jaitapur plant became the focus of national and international attention in April last year after Tabrez Sayekar, 30, was killed in police firing following violent protests led by Shiv Sena MLA Rajan Salvi.
Today, Jaitapur may not be on the boil like it was a year ago. But tensions over the proposed 9900 MW capacity plant continue to simmer enough to have prevented the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) — India’s sole nuclear reactor builder and operator — from carrying out any work at the site apart from constructing a boundary wall and basic borehole tests.
In West Bengal’s Haripur, opposition to the proposed nuclear plant became a key poll issue in the assembly polls last year, and Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress government is opposed to the plant.
“This plant would have affected the lives and livelihood of at least 30,000 people. We could not have let it happen,” Suvendu Adhikary, Trinamool Congress MP and party youth wing president told HT.
Proposed plants in Jaitapur and Haripur are stalled. And both plants risk becoming symbols for international firms of the problems involved in investing in Indian nuclear projects.
But villagers both in Jaitapur and Haripur and their supporters argue that they have not been consulted enough on the projects, and that their concerns have been ignored.
“The plant (in Jaitpur) will not be built if the villagers do not want it,” Salvi said. “The present government has repressed the people’s voice. We will go any length to ensure the plant does not come up.”
Spread over 938 hectares in five villages — Madban, Karel, Mithgawane, Niweli and Ansure — the plant will be constructed on 600 hectares. The remaining 238 hectares will house staff utilities.
Even though land for the project has been acquired, majority of the villagers protesting against the plant and have not accepted compensation cheques. Till date, only 214 of the 2355 families have accepted these cheques.
Villagers have been opposing the plant fearing a radiation leak and the affects of the plant on the biodiversity of the area and the mango orchards. Though not directly affected by the project, the fishing community from the neighbouring village of Nate is also against the plant because they feel the hot water flushed from the plant into the sea will affect marine life.