A narrow road lined with mango orchards leads to a new landmark in Madban village, the site of the proposed Jaitapur Nuclear Power Plant, one of the world’s largest capacity nuclear power plant.
A recently built brick wall cabin stands guard at the entrance of the village. It houses around 15 State Reserve Police Force (SRPF) personnel, who have been posted there after villagers recently allegedly assaulted officials conducting soil tests at the plant site.
After the environment ministry gave the green signal for the 9,900 megawatt plant last week, protests from villagers opposing the nuclear plant have become a regular affair. For the second time in a month, villagers sent out word for a ‘jail bharo’ agitation on Saturday morning. Several protestors were detained. Two police jeeps were damaged on Saturday. The state administration had increased security with about 100 SRPF constables and an additional 75 constables being posted in the village.
The villagers obviously aren’t happy being watched 24x7 or being questioned. They no longer welcome outsiders being unsure of whether the outsider is in favour of the nuclear plant or against it.
Rajendra Wadekar, a local, was angry that the environment ministry had granted a clearance for the nuclear plant. “What does a minister sitting in Delhi know about Konkan?” he asked referring to union environment minister Jairam Ramesh. “Just like Adarsh and the Lavasa scams, this plant is also a scam. The plant is not Indian. It is French,” he added. A France-based company, Areva, will supply the six light water reactors for the nuclear plant.
Wadekar, a horticulturist, and his seven brothers own 50 acres land with close to 3,500 mango trees. They earn about Rs 25 lakh during the harvest season.
“We don’t want to throw stones or kill anyone. It’s our land; it’s our right. We can fight,” said Ramchandra Shirsekar, 64. “One leak and all in Maharashtra will die.”
At nightfall, more police vans enter Madban. Both men and women constables stood guard in pitch darkness. Even hotels at Rajapur taluka, an hour and a half’s drive, are booked to full capacity by the police force.
Inside his small house, Wadekar sat by the light of a lantern making placards for the protest. Several villagers, including those who were to lead the protests had fled to neighbouring villages fearing detention. “They are 'UG',” said Wadekar with ‘UG’ standing for “underground”. He refused to divulge more details, fearing the information would be leaked.