Politics add danger to Jaitapur nuclear plant protests

Politics add danger to Jaitapur nuclear plant protests

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Jaitapur:  At Jaitapur in Maharashtra, the protests against a new nuclear power plant - it will be the world's largest when completed - have collided with politics. The area is under siege now with politicians arriving in quick succession to stake their claim.

A bandh called by the Shiv Sena in Ratnagiri, a two hour drive away from Jaitapur, saw a hospital attacked today. Some buses were set on fire. And then curfew was declared in Ratnagiri. The Shiv Sena claims its bandh was called in retaliation to the police firing yesterday in which a young man named Tabrez Abdul Sayanekar was shot dead. Mr Sayanekar was among a group of 600 villagers who attacked a local police station yesterday.

On Monday afternoon, the Nuclear Power Corporation began constructing what was intended to be a boundary wall around the power plant.

The Shiv Sena allegedly led angry villagers here to protest. Meanwhile, fishermen blocked the road leading to the plan, and attacked a police station. In the firing that followed, Mr Sayanekar died.

Mr Sayanekar's family says it will not collect his body till the Maharashtra government announces a decision to cancel the planned nuclear plant at Jaitapur. This morning, the hospital that was attacked is where his body lies.

Now, Sena leader Manohar Joshi and Nilesh Rane, whose father is senior Congress leader Narayan Rane, have landed in Ratnagiri.

The tension on the ground is likely to increase with Rane and Joshi arriving in Ratnagiri, but curiously, Sena executive president Uddhav Thackeray has been missing from the scene. Uddhav is believed to be holidaying in the forests of Kanha in Madhya Pradesh and was at the receiving end of some not-so-pleasant remarks from the ruling party MLAs in the Maharashtra assembly.

Six nuclear reactors of 1600 MW each will combine for a 9900 MW plant.

The project - which partners a French company with the Nuclear Power Corporation of India - was formally approved during French president Nicolas Sarkozy's trip to India in December 2010. Concerns about the environmental impact of the plant - as well as the fact that it's in an earthquake-prone zone - have led to local opposition. Less than 50 of the nearly 2500 villagers entitled to compensation for their land have accepted the government's offer.

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