“Oh God, come to our rescue, save our livelihood. We don’t want the project to come up on our land. Take it away from here. Please grant us our request.”
Sitting in the courtyard of the Anjaneshwar temple in Mithgawane village, Ratnagiri district, around 2,000 villagers chant this prayer at least once a week. The ‘unwanted’ project is the proposed nuclear power plant eight km from Jaitapur village.
Over the past year, the temple has doubled up as a meeting ground — cutting across caste, class and religion — for the villagers who all face a common problem.
The 938-hectare land spread across five villages — Madban, Mithgawane, Karel, Niweli and Ansure in Ratnagiri district —has lush paddy fields, mango orchards, and acres of grass for cattle to graze. And it’s poised to house six pressurised heavy water reactors imported from France to generate 10,000 mega watt of power for Maharashtra.
The plant, 450 km south of Mumbai, is the outcome of the 2008 Indo-French agreement, India’s first international collaboration after the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group lifted restrictions on civil nuclear cooperation.
At the temple meeting, prayers are followed by discussions of the project.
“A public meeting anywhere else in the village will invite police censure,” said Srikrishna Mayekar, a retired headmaster. “One thing is clear, no one wants the power plant.”
The simmering discontent, left unaddressed, could lead to a Singur-like flare-up against the Nano plant or the protests to the Reliance Special Economic Zone in Raigad.
C.B. Jain, project manager, Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd, said the project would not be affected by the protests. “We will go ahead with the project and it will be as per schedule. Unlike Singur, which was a private project, the nuclear plant is a central government project. It is in the interest of the people of India. Even the high court has dismissed their petition.”
“The plant is being built at the cost of our livelihood. How long will the compensation last? Our fields are our only source of income,” said Anil Tilotkar, a farmer from Niweli village.
The state has started the land acquisition process, and the 5,000-odd affected villagers are determined not to give up their land. On October 15 and October 27, about 187 villagers from Niweli rejected the compensation cheques.
Many villagers allege that the government is also offering a measly compensation of Rs 3 per sq feet as compared to the market rate of up to Rs 10,000 per sq feet in Jaitapur. “They can negotiate and we are open to a dialogue with the villagers,” Jain said.
In 10 days, the villagers hope to file a petition in the Supreme Court. A rally is being planned in Mumbai to draw the government’s attention and to garner public support.
On November 24, the Janhit Seva Samiti, which comprises affected villagers, is organising a seminar to explain why they are opposed to the plant.
Pravin Gavandkar is making copies of CDs that have information on the adverse effects of radioactivity on villages near the Rajasthan atomic power station and the Jaduguda uranium mines in Jharkhand.
The government is still to hold a public hearing, mandatory for environmental clearance.
“We just don’t want the plant here,” said Prajali Adiverkar (40). Her little patch of land in Manbad yields about 1,000 kg of rice a year — just enough to feed her family of 10. “This is all we have. We will have to beg on the streets.”