Saturday, September 27, 2014

While Modi is in US, back home in Gujarat villagers plan anti-nuclear protest at proposed Mithi Virdi site

Villagers' protest public hearing on N-plant in March 2013
By Our Representative
While Prime Minister Narendra Modi is in the US and his supporting NRIs are chanting “Modi, Modi”, back home in Gujarat, tens of villages surrounding the proposed site for the 6,000 MW nuclear power plant are set to stage a major protest rally. To be held in the Mithi-Virdi-Jaspara region of Bhavnagar district of Gujarat on April 28, during the protest, when Modi will have intense discussions in the White House, the anti-nuclear campaigners are likely to insist that the Early Works Agreement signed in 2012 between Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NCPCIL) and Westinghouse Electric Corporation for the project be scrapped.
Available details say, the issue of solidifying the agreement, which was reached under the previous UPA government, is on agenda during Modi’s talks in the White House, and Modi’s team frantically wants to tackle certain ticklish “administrative issues” for implementing the Early Works Agreement with the US company, which had agreed to supply six 1000 MW (AP 1000) nuclear reactors for the Gujarat plant.
The protest will take place at a time when government authorities have cracked down on anti-nuclear protesters of Tamil Nadu’s Kudankulam, imposing sedition charges against them. One of the leading protesters, SP Udayakumar, convener of the People's Movement against Nuclear Energy, was recently refused permission to embark plane for Kathmandu to attend a UN-sponsored human rights conference on the ground that criminal sedition charges have been leveled against him. So far, however, there has not been any such extreme step in Gujarat.
This will be the second major protest this year against the proposed nuclear plant. Top environmentalist Rohit Prajapati of the Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, in the forefront of the anti-nuclear campaign in Gujarat, believes that in all 152 villages with a population of more than 200,000 in 30 km radius of the proposed nuclear power plant will be “adversely affected” because of the project. “The main occupation of the villagers is agriculture. The rich alluvial soil here supports crops like groundnut, wheat, bajra, and cotton, and fruits like mango, chikoos and coconut”, Prajapati said in a statement.
Quoting sources in the agriculture department, Prajapati says, the area also “grows and supplies” vegetables like onion, brinjal, gourd, tomatoes, and drumsticks on a regular basis to other parts of the state, and the climate and the soil are suitable for cashew nuts. “Following the footsteps of the previous UPA Government, Modi’s US visit is all set to mortgage the environment and dilute the Nuclear Liability Act, so that private profits are safeguarded even as Fukushima exemplified all over again how risky nuclear power plants are”, Prajapati insisted.
The earlier protest was on March 9, 2014, when the gram panchayats of five most-affected villages passed a resolution declaring the entire Mithi Virdi-Jaspara region as nuclear free zone, sending its copy to President Pranab Mukherjee, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, chief minister Modi, and UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon. The resolution declared, “At a time when Special Investment Region has become the most lobbied term in the state of Gujarat, this region too should be announced as SAR (special agricultural region) for agricultural purpose.”
In all 777 hectares (ha) of land in Jaspara, Mithivirdi, Khadarpa, and Mandva villages will be affected for the proposed nuclear power plant, and the state government has declared its intention to invoke the “public purpose” clause of the new land acquisition Act -- Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 -- for acquiring land. The application of the public purpose clause would mean that the state government would not need to seek the consent of 70 per cent of the affected villagers for acquiring land.
The reason being forwarded for the people of so several villages feeling uncomfortable is not far to seek: While the terms of Reference for the Ministry of Environment and Forests claimed an area of 10 km radius was under the direct influence of the proposed nuclear power plant, the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) study of the N-plant said 30 km of radius would need to be studied on possible impact of radioactivity. The word has spread about this, and the villagers are angry. There is also another fear: the site of the project is just about five km from a top lignite mining site, while Asia’s biggest ship-braking yard Alang is only 20 km away.
Environmentalists have already taken strong exception to the EIA report, which was put up for public hearing in March 2013, saying the consultants, Engineers India Ltd (EIL), are not accredited for preparing a report on the proposed N-plant. In fact, NPCIL sources say, no agency in India is accredited to assess nuclear power projects by National Accreditation Board for Education and Training (NABET). EIL had applied (to NABET) for accreditation in 2010. “NABET gave permission to EIL to carry out EIA. Besides, all NPCIL’s projects are assessed by the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) as far as radioactive emissions is concerned,” an NCPIL executive has been quoted as saying.

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