In what has the makings of a new controversy, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has blamed American NGOs for fuelling protests at the Kudankulam nuclear power plant in Tamil Nadu.
Speaking to NDTV's Science Editor Pallava Bagla during an interview for Science
magazine, the Prime Minister said, "What's happening in Kudankulam...the atomic energy programme has got into difficulties because these NGOs, mostly I think based in the United States, don't appreciate the need for our country to increase the energy supply."
Reacting to the statement, Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office V Narayanasamy said that private NGOs working in US and Scandinavian countries have been giving money to NGOs in India.
"Licenses of three NGOs have been cancelled by the home ministry. They are also thinking of taking further action. In fact the people who are agitating near the plant have been continuing their agitation for the past three months. People are being brought there in trucks from various villages," said Mr Narayanasamy.
The Prime Minister's statement has sparked off a row with the Opposition asking him to clarify and make public all facts regarding this issue.
"I think it's a very important statement that the PM has made, and since he has made such a statement - I have seen reports in sections of the media - I think the government must make facts regard to this public, so that the veracity of all this is known to the people of India who are then in the correct position to decide what is the correct position," BJP leader Arun Jaitley said.
Reacting to the Prime Minister's statement, the CPI's D Raja said that the PM needs to address the concerns of the people.
"If American based NGOs are playing a role in Kudankulam, then they should be isolated and action should be taken against them. But the other factor is that people are suffering there, the Prime Minister and others need to address the concerns of the people," he said.
"I don't think the Prime Minister is targeting the American government. If the Prime Minister has any evidence against the NGOs, he should go and tell the people of Kudankulam instead of giving interviews to magazines," Mr Raja added.
Speaking to NDTV, Anil Kakodkar, former head of the Atomic Energy Commission, said that it is strange that India's development would become hostage to foreign forces.
"I think it is strange that a large project ready for implementation, which has met all safety requirements, in an environment where there is tremendous shortage of electricity, our development would become hostage to such foreign forces. This has been visible for some time, according to me, because Kudankulam has been a friendly neighbourhood for a long time. I, myself, have gone there during my tenure as Chairman several times.... Just kind of exploiting the Fukushima sentiment, this entire thing has been picked up. The important thing is that a nuclear power plant cannot be put under a siege the way it has happened now and it is rather strange that we allow such things to happen," said Anil Kakodkar, Former Head, Atomic Energy Commission.
The Prime Minister has also blamed these NGOs for opposing genetically modified foods and the use of biotechnology to increase food production in the country. "Biotechnology has enormous potential and in due course of time we must make use of genetic engineering technologies to increase the productivity of our agriculture. But there are controversies. There are NGOs, often funded from the United States and the Scandinavian countries, which are not fully appreciative of the development challenges that our country faces," Dr Singh said.
The Rs. 13,000-crore Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KNPP) is located in Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu. Being built with Russian collaboration, the plant is expected to provide respite from the power shortage problem in the state. But the Indo-Russian joint venture has run into trouble with activists and locals staging massive protests citing safety concerns in the wake of the Fukushima disaster in Japan early last year. As a result of these frequent protests, the commissioning of two 1000 megawatt nuclear reactors at the plant has been stalled.
Several rounds of talks between the Central government-appointed expert panel and representatives of villagers opposing the plant have failed to end the stand-off. The villagers say they fear for their lives and safety in case of a nuclear accident and the long-term impact it would have on the population in the area.
Worried over the scale of protests against the plant, the PM had urged Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa to support the project and had assured her that no safety features would be compromised at the plant.
While international experts have signed off on the facilities of the plant, deeming them strong enough to withstand an earthquake or a tsunami, the country's nuclear watchdog - the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board - has suggested that more security checks were needed at the plant.
This interview appears today, February 24, 2012, in the print edition of the Science magazine as part of a special package titled 'India Rising'.