As union environment minister Jairam Ramesh handed out medals to graduating students of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), they handed him pocket-sized anti-nuclear placards in return.
Chief guest of the institute’s 71st convocation ceremony, Ramesh graciously accepted the souvenirs and held an hour-long discussion with protesting students after the ceremony ended.
“I am grateful I only got placards and the protest was civil and no one yelled ‘death to Jairam Ramesh’. I am used to be called an agent to big industries be it Monsanto or Vedanta,” he said jokingly. “I remember the last time I was here the boy in the dhoti (pointing to a student) had called me an agent of Vedanta. I hope he has changed his view.”
While about 30 graduating students boycotted the ceremony, several others wore anti-nuclear t-shirts and badges protesting against the Jaitapur nuclear power plant in Maharashtra and Posco steel project in Orissa. Students have been very active in the Jaitapur issue and five of them were arrested two weeks ago when they participated in a yatra from Tarapur to Jaitapur.
Almost half of the graduating batch, about 160 students, did not leave the hall after the ceremony. They stayed back for the discussion with Ramesh. While Ramesh called them emotional and asked them to be rational, students had their own arguments. “There was no commitment or confirmation from the minister’s side. We submitted our memorandum to him and got a chance to voice our opinions,” said Pranab Doley, a student.
Stressing on the need for nuclear power, Ramesh said, “For the economic development of the country at a GDP of 8% to 9%, we need to rely on energy sources such as coal, gas, hydel and nuclear power. We, of course, need to invest in renewable energy sources but they will not be able to sustain our growth.”