Idinthakarai, Tamil Nadu: In the areas surrounding what is meant to be India's largest nuclear project, and in the Supreme Court, protests about the safety of the plant are taking new shape. Weeks before the Kudankulam nuclear plant is due to open, thousands of protesters are sitting on a two-day hunger strike. The man leading them, activist SP Udhayakumar, had offered to court arrest tonight, to save people from police harassment, but reports later said emotional villagers whisked him away in a boat.
The Kudankulam plant will provide 2 Giga watts of electricity - enough to power millions of Indian homes and relieve a power crisis in Tamil Nadu. The government's Atomic Energy Regulatory Board last month gave clearance for fuel to be loaded into one of the plant's two reactors, one of the last steps before it can begin producing power. The Madras High Court vetted that decision last week. But a case filed in the Supreme Court alleges that safety basics have been ignored at the Indo-Russian joint venture.
Lawyer-activist Prashant Bhushan has asked for an urgent hearing tomorrow. His case alleges that the government has absolved the Russian company that is supplying the nuclear reactor from any liability in case of an accident. The petition states that "the Government has also brutally cracked down on the local community peacefully protesting against the plant and has slapped sedition cases against thousands of protestors. Thus it is absolutely clear that the Government intends to push the project through without any consideration of safety, costs, environmental impact and other concerns regarding the project."
In the village of Idinthakarai, the epicentre of the local movement against the nuclear plant, 10,000 men, women and children spent the night in the open. Many of them are on a relay hunger strike; they say the nuclear plant will contaminate the water, putting fishermen out of work. They are also worried about radiation leaks. Some villagers claimed that the police last night vandalised a local church, where an idol of Mary was found broken. The police say its men did not enter the church.
Around 4,000 security personnel, including Rapid Action Force, have been deployed in the area.
Activist SP Udhayakumar said this afternoon that he would court arrest at about 9 pm on Tuesday in the presence of a "national leader." The activist said, "We heard the police is planning a door by door search. We don't want our people to undergo this," but warned that the agitation across the state would continue even after his arrest. In the evening came the reports that the villagers would not allow Mr Udhayakumar to court arrest.
Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde yesterday said that the huge ground protests are being fuelled by foreign NGOs, an allegation first levelled by the Prime Minister in February.
Yesterday, one man was killed and many others jumped into the sea in this part of coastal Tamil Nadu when the police tear-gassed demonstrators to prevent them for marching to the Kudankulam nuclear plant.
Villagers and fishermen have rejected government assurances that the plant meets international safety standards and will be able to withstand natural disasters. Activists cite the nuclear disaster in Fukushima in Japan last year to highlight concerns about radiation leaks should a tsunami hit the area.
India is struggling to meet surging demand for electricity and suffers from a peak-hour power deficit of about 12 per cent, which has become a significant drag on the economy. A grid failure on two consecutive days this summer caused one of the world's worst blackouts.
Story first published:
September 11, 2012 16:45 IST