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Nuclear project at Chutka, Madhya Pradesh: Government forced to postpone public hearing amidst protest

By Lokesh Malti Prakash*
The people of Chutka and adjoining villages in Mandla district of Madhya Pradesh won victory against the Chutka (Madhya Pradesh) Nuclear Power Plant, being imposed on them by Congress-led Central government in active collusion with BJP-led state government. The government was forced for the second time to postpone its public-hearing on the project that was scheduled on July 31. After a sustained protest by people of the region that was actively supported by almost every section of left-democratic forces in the state and beyond, the district administration called off the public-hearing on July 29.
A public convention against nuclear energy was held near the public-hearing site on July 30 and a victory rally was also organised. On the next day (date of proposed public-hearing), another rally was organised and an effigy of Chutka Nuclear Project and Union and state government was burned by the people. The people of affected villages and leaders of several organisations that participated in the convention emphatically expressed their resolve against the project in particular and against nuclear energy in general.
Notably, the public hearing on environmental aspect of the project was to be conducted by the Madhya Pradesh Pollution Control Board in order to get clearance from Union Ministry of Environment and Forest for the nuclear project. This public hearing was earlier scheduled on May 24 this year, but was postponed after sustained protests from the local people as well as several left-democratic organisations that carried intensive campaign against the project.
On its part, the government had put extra efforts this time to defeat the democratic demand of the people against nuclear power. First, the government cleverly shifted the site of hearing from Chutka village to Manegaon which is 15 km away from Chutka, so that the people would not be able to reach the site easily. This was a very calculated move as opposition to the project is most fierce in Chutka and nearby villages.
Secondly, the administration unleashed repression on the activists who came from outside the region, something which was absent earlier in May. The activists were questioned and subjected to abuse and intimidation by the local police who told the activists to get out of the area. The administration even spread rumours that these outsiders had Maoist elements among them. This shows that the government was also looking for alibi to unleash force on the anti-nuclear campaign.
Thirdly, the private bus owners in the area were told not to transport people from Chutka locality to Manegaon, especially not on 31st July. Similarly, boat owners were told to stop ferrying tribal people residing in Seoni district from across the Narmada. In May, several people came from Seoni district through boats and joined the protest. 
Clearly, the government was least concerned that it was violating the Fundamental Rights given to the people under Article 19(1) of the Constitution. In addition to this, Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. (NPCIL) intensified its campaign of blatant lies to garner support of people for the plant by distributing comic-books and even by bribing some unscrupulous elements in the region to stand in its favour.
The anti-people stance of Union as well as state governments is further exposed by the fact that they are bent on violating the Constitution and laws to thrust nuclear energy on people by hook or crook. The gram sabhas of Patha, Kunda and Tatighat panchayats (Chutka village come under one of these) have passed resolutions against the project, yet the government is not ready to listen to their voice. This is clearly against the Constitution (as Mandla district falls under Schedule V area) as well as Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act and Forest Rights Act.
Several left-democratic political parties and organisations have already come forward in support of the people of Chutka. These organisations extended support to the protests against Chutka nuclear project and organised campaigns in several districts of MP including Bhopal, Jabalpur, Betul, Mandla and others. A group of young activists from these organisations also carried an intensive campaign in numerous villages around Chutka organising street plays, poster exhibition and meetings and distributing booklets and handbills with information about disastrous impact of nuclear power plants in India and abroad.
With this, the protest against Chutka nuclear power plant has crystallised into a strong voice against the nuclear power programme of India. It has also raised question on the bankrupt development paradigm that promotes uninhibited and inequitable consumption of power and also on the role of global corporate capital in pushing nuclear power projects in India.
 The campaign has raised six demands from the government which include, (1) Immediate cancellation of all nuclear power projects in India including Chutka Nuclear Power Project, (2) Scrapping of country’s nuclear energy programme and safe dismantling of the existing nuclear reactors, (3) Immediate halt of uranium mining activities in India, (4) Putting in public domain all information related to country’s nuclear energy programme, (5) Stopping wasteful and luxury use of power and ensuring its equitable distribution and use, and (6) Development of non-polluting power resources on participatory basis without any commercial motive or profiteering.
Meanwhile, the people of Chutka understand fully well that they are still far from final victory that will come only when Chutka nuclear project is scraped along with all other nuclear power projects of the country and the nuclear power programme is stopped. Until this is achieved, the resolve to fight will be strengthened for next showdown.
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*Shiksha Adhikar Manch, Bhopal

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