People vs Nuclear Power in Jaitapur, Maharashtra

10 February 2011

In the Konkan, thousands of families in the environmentally rich and verdant Jaitapur area are waging a non-violent battle against the Department of Atomic Energy’s plan to construct the world’s biggest nuclear power complex in the region.

This report looks at the struggle that has been met with repression, and the problem with the proposed European Pressurised Reactors, which are currently not operational anywhere in the world and have been criticised for their design flaws.

The first thing that strikes the visitor to Jaitapur-Madban in Maharashtra’s Ratnagiri district, about 400km from Mumbai, is its sheer beauty, lush with varying shades of green, and with a spectacular view of mountains, valleys, plateaus, lagoons and creeks, besides orchards and farmlands. You at once become aware that this is a great treasure trove of nature, exceptionally rich in plant diversity, including cereals, grasses, roots, legumes, herbs and flowering trees, including those bearing fruit (especially prime varieties of the world’s best-known mango, the Alphonso).

This region receives 3,000 to 3,500 mm of rain every year. There is hardly a square foot of land here which is not green. The second thing that strikes you is the profusion of posters, banners and slogans which say “Areva Go Back”, “No to Nuclear Power” and “Radiation Kills” in Marathi.

These are the work of a grass root movement against the project of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), and its subsidiary, Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL), to locate six giant (1,650 megawatts each) nuclear reactors designed by the French-origin nuclear company Areva.

This is planned to be the world’s largest nuclear power station. The project will occupy over 968 hectares in five villages – Madban, Niveli, Karel, Mithgavane and Varliwada. It will affect the livelihoods of some 40,000 people, including farmers, horticulturists, fisherfolk, agricultural workers, loaders, transporters, traders, street-vendors, and providers of many other services.

NPCIL officials claim that two-thirds of the land being acquired by the project is “barren” and “unproductive”, and will displace no one. The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report prepared by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute attests this claim. Nothing could be farther from the truth observed by one’s naked eyes.

No wonder people are angry at the project, against which they have fought for four years. They treat the state government’s offer of compensation for lands with contempt. The original offer was Rs 2.86 per square foot for barren land and Rs 3.70 for cultivable land – equivalent to Rs 1.25 lakh to Rs 1.6 lakh an acre.

It was raised to Rs 4 lakh an acre. The latest offer, of January 2011, is a “package” of Rs 10 lakh an acre plus one guaranteed job per affected family. More than 95% of the 2,375 families in the area whose land has been acquired, we were told, have refused to accept the compensation offered; those who did are absentee landowners living in Mumbai.

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