The Srikakulam sea coast in northeastern Andhra Pradesh is familiar with cyclones that break against its golden beaches. But for the past year, the region has witnessed the stirrings of a different kind of upheaval.
About 1200 kms from Tamil Nadu's Kudankulam, the site of anti-nuclear
protests that have grabbed international attention in recent weeks, farmers and fishermen in the sleepy village of Kovvada, Srikakulam district, are waging their own battle.
They don't speak the same language as the Kudankulam protesters. But they voice the same fears -- nuclear plants planned near their villages could force their displacement, destroy their way of life, and rob them of their traditional modes of livelihood.
"We will not allow the plant to come up here. We will lose our land, houses and every thing that we created with our blood and sweat," said M Laxmi, a fisherwoman in Kovvada, where a year long sit-in protest shows no signs of ending.
And the people of Kovvada aren't alone. Just a few hundred kilometers up the eastern coast at Orissa's Pati Sonapur, across the country in Gujarat's Mitha Virdi and in Haryana's Fatehabad district, hidden Kudankulams are waiting to explode.
Together, these four proposed plants are expected to offer 24,700 MW of nuclear power capacity – five times India's current nuclear energy production ability. But that hasn't impressed many locals.
In Gujarat, protests by farmers and activists have forced the BJP mayor of Bhavnagar, the region where Mithi Virdi falls, to call a public debate between Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) officials and the plant's critics. The debate on the 6900 MW plant is scheduled for early October.
Protests at Haryana's Fatehabad nuclear plant – with a capacity of 2800 MW – have even drawn support from former Army Chief VK Singh. Worried that he could prove a magnet for more protesters, the NPCIL in August wrote to him, trying to convince him that the project takes care of safety concerns.
Though no mass movement has taken off against the proposed plant at Pati Sonapur in Orissa, recent state government plans for an energy academy in the region has raised apprehensions among activists.
"The state government has not yet made its stand clear on the nuclear plant. But its decision to set up an energy academy in the same area smacks of a hidden agenda," said Prafulla Samantara, convener of Lok Shakti Abhiyan, the group leading the Orissa protests.
The protests have also singed parties and alliances across the political spectrum, in some cases leaving them protesting against nuclear projects in one state while supporting them in another.
The Shiv Sena is protesting against the Congress-NCP government over the Jaitapur plant in Maharashtra, while the BJP – its ally – faces protests from the Congress in Gujarat. The DMK is criticizing the AIADMK government in Tamil Nadu over Kudankulam. And the Left parties are opposing the Biju Janata Dal government in Pati Sonapur and the Congress in Kovvada.
"The government is trying to use its brutal power to suppress the agitation at Kovvada. We are ready to face all challenges," said Tejeswara Rao, CPM leader. The agitation has the backing of local level leaders from the TDP and even the Congress – the ruling party in the state.
M Polisu, the leader of the Kovvada protesters said the local farmers and fishermen want the NPCIL to make the project's environmental impact assessment report public.
"We want somebody from the government or NPCIL to tell us what is in store for us," Polisu said. "We will not give up."
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