The past few weeks have been seeing a heroic protest by the desperate villagers of Idinthakarai and surrounding villages, against the commissioning of the Koodankulam nuclear plant and loading of the VVER reactors.
Thousands of people defied the police encirclement of their villages, and took the sea route to arrive at the coastline near the plant site. There, they camped peacefully to obstruct the loading of fuel at the plant. Large numbers of women and children were among the protestors facing the huge police force on one side and the sea on the other. Indeed, these people were caught between the Devil (of nuclear devastation and police terror) and the Deep Sea!
The huge police force unleashed a brutal and unprovoked lathi charge, lobbing tear gas shells and beating up people who had nowhere to run but into the sea. The police entered the villages and wreaked terror, their bullets claiming the life of one man. Countless villagers and even some of the leading activists are said to be untraced, suspected arrested and detained at some hidden location.
The protestors offered ‘Sagar Satyagraha,’ standing in the ocean waves, and then buried themselves neck deep in sand on the beach. On September 11, following the police crackdown, the main leaders decided to court arrest. But in an emotionally charged meeting, the protesting women and men would not allow Dr. S P Udayakumar and other leaders to be arrested. The meeting went on the whole day, ending in villagers surrounding the leaders, and taking them away onto boats to avoid the police. The villagers vowed that the leading activists would be allowed to be arrested only after everybody else is arrested.
The Koodankulam protestors have been branded as ‘violent’, ‘foreign-funded,’ ‘seditious,’ and, in the same breath, as ‘poor illiterate villagers misled by motivated forces.’ On one TV show, Congress leader Renuka Chowdhury asked tauntingly, ‘How come illiterate fisher-folk became so well-informed all of a sudden?’ Inconveniently for the rulers, these villagers have chosen to inform themselves about nuclear energy and its possibly disastrous consequences. One of the settlements in area is called –Tsunami Rehabilitation Colony – set up after the 2004 tsunami that hit the Tamilnadu coastline. That should provide a clue as to why the villagers are so unwilling to believe the bland assurances of nuclear safety, post Fukushima. Renuka Chowdhury’s comment betrayed the contempt that the country’s rulers feel for common people and for democracy. The Congress version of ‘democracy’ seems to depend on people remaining uninformed and ignorant!
The Koodankulam struggle has exposed the political bankruptcy of most of the parties in Tamilnadu and the Centre. The Jayalalithaa Government has unleashed brute police terror. Karunanidhi of the DMK accuses Jayalalithaa of resorting to repression rather than dialogue – but continues to remain with the UPA Government at the Centre that is the main driving force behind the Koodankulam plant!
The BJP and Sangh Parivar have taken an outright communal plank on the Koodankulam struggle. The RSS organ Organiser carried an editorial branding the protests as managed by “Christian missionaries”. It described Udaykumar, as only the “Hindu Face” projected by the church to “debunk the accusation of its involvement”. It claimed that the protests “spring from American interests,” in order to “scuttle” projects like Koodankulam, being developed with Russian help, and Jaitapur, with French partnership.
The CPI(M), which opposes the Jaitapur plant, has said they are opposed to nuclear parks with “multiple imported nuclear reactors”, but claim that Koodankulam falls in a different category since “These reactors were purchased from Russia much before the Indo-US nuclear deal. Construction to set up the two reactors has already been completed at an overall cost of Rs 15,000 crore. It will not be practical nor in the country’s interests to shut down these two units.” (Prakash Karat, PD September 16 2012) However, the CPI(M) has maintained that “till all the safety measures are put in place and the apprehensions of the people allayed, the plant should not be commissioned.”
The stand of the Left should not flow from abstract considerations of ‘country’s interests’ or costs incurred, separated from the interests of the affected persons. Democracy demands that the massive protest at Koodankulam (even more sustained, consistent, and democratic in orientation that the protests against nuclear plants elsewhere in the country) be heeded, and the Koodankulam plant be shut down. The protesting people are not asking for their fears to be ‘allayed’; they are not ‘negotiating’; they are declaring that they do not want a nuclear plant in their neighbourhood. It matters little to them whether the plant in question is of Russian provenance or French, or whether it was bought post Nuke Deal or before it. Their main point is that Fukushima has proved that nuclear energy cannot ever be guaranteed as ‘safe’ – and that a disaster would prove infinitely more costly than any costs already incurred.
Kerala’s former Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan has, once again, gone against the CPI(M)’s official stand and expressed solidarity with the Koodankulam struggle.
Can we believe the experts who claim the Koodankulam plant is safe? Arundhati Roy’s statement in solidarity with the protestors addresses this question, and is worth quoting in full:
“I stand in complete solidarity with the villagers of Idinthakarai who are resisting the fuel loading of the Koodankulam nuclear reactor. I happened to be in Japan in March 2011 when the earthquake damaged the Fukushima reactor. After the disaster, almost every country that uses nuclear energy declared that it would change its policy. Every country, except India.
Our Government has shown itself incapable of even being able to dispose day to day garbage, leave alone industrial effluent or urban sewage. How does it dare to say that it knows how to deal with nuclear waste? And that nuclear reactors in India are safe? We know how the Government has colluded with Union Carbide (now Dow Chemicals) to ensure that the victims of the Bhopal Gas Leak will never get justice. But no amount of compensation can ever right a nuclear disaster. I do believe that what is being done in Koodankulam in the name of Development is a crime.”
On 12th September, a protest was held at 5 pm at Dadar station in solidarity with the anti-nuke protestors at Koodankulam and against the repression they are facing.
The protest was participated by CPI(ML), LNP(L), CPI, CPI(M), Konkan Bhachao Samiti, Dharmrajya Paksha, and other groups and activists. The protest was addressed among others by CPI(ML)’s Mumbai-Thane Secretary Comrade Shyam Gohil, LNP(L)’s Comrade Uday Bhat, civil liberties activist Binayak Sen. Apart from demanding an end to repression at Koodankulam and forced imposition of nuclear plants, the protestors also demanded repeal of the Sedition law, which had been slapped on a large number of protestors at Koodankulam.
A CPI(ML) team led by the Tamil Nadu State Secretary Comrade Balasundaram visited the struggle site in solidarity, and the CPI(ML) is observing a Protest Week in Tamil Nadu in support of the Koodankulam struggle. CPI(ML) comrades at Tirunelveli protesting the crackdown at Koodankulam were arrested.
(Excerpts from Statement from PMANE)
21 September, 2012
Idinthakarai: Even as hundreds of thousands of Tamils, Malayalis and Indian citizens from other states are protesting against the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Project (KKNPP) for more than a year now, and a batch of appeal petitions are being heard by the Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court, the discredited and the CAG-disparaged Atomic Energy Regulatory Commission (AERB) has given clearance for the fuel loading in the first unit of the KKNPP. It is reliably learnt now that the Nuclear Power Corporation India Limited (NPCIL) has started the loading process.
The ruling establishment’s message is loud and clear. “We do not give a damn about the Indian citizens, their democratic and nonviolent opposition to harmful policies and projects and the very democratic heritage of our country. We will put the interests of foreign countries and their MNCs ahead of the wishes and wellbeing of the Indian citizens.”
The leader of the DMK is, as usual, blaming the AIADMK for not initiating a dialogue with the PMANE and the struggling people in the Koodankulam issue. Although his party is part of the central government, the DMK chief has not asked the Prime Minister to do anything about the KKNPP issue. The Tamil Nadu Chief Minister is keeping a deafening silence about the issue also. The Tamils are left high and dry having been abandoned by both the strong parties of Tamil Nadu in the wake of grave dangers such as nuclear power parks, poisoned sea and sea food, polluted land and crops, and radiation-affected progeny.
The PMANE Struggle Committee and the struggling people all over Tamil Nadu and the rest of India demand immediate cessation of the fuelling of the KKNPP and convert it into a pro-people and pro-Nature energy project.
The Struggle Committee, PMANE (People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy)
The AILC salutes the heroic struggle of the people of Koodankulam who are resisting the loading of nuclear fuel and proposed commissioning of the Kudankulam Nuclear project, and condemns the brutal repression let loose by the Tamil Nadu government in cohorts with the Central government.
The CPI ML, C PM- Punjab,Lal Nishan Party ( Leninist)- Maharashtra, Left Co-Ordination Committee- Kerala; and CPRM (Darjeeling), all constituents of the AILC, have expressed deep concern about the news of the lathicharge, tear-gas shelling, and firing on peaceful protestors and the terror unleashed in the protesting villages. Reportedly, leaders of the struggle are being arrested, and protestors, inlcuding women and children have been severely injured.
All over the country, people’s movements have come up in resistance to nuclear plants - and these struggles have intensified in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, which sparked off global doubts about nuclear energy. The world over, people are on the streets against nuclear plants, and many countries are having to scale down or rethink their nuclear programme in response to democratic opinion. The struggles at Koodankulam and Jaitapur have emerged as exemplary people’s movements, backed by mass resistance of thousands of people. For the Indian Government to suppress such remarkable people’s resistance by force is an outrageous assault on democracy.
The AILC demands that the loading of the VVER reactors be stopped immediately, and the repression unleashed on Koodankulam protestors be stopped without delay. The Government of India must address the questions and concerns raised by the protesting people, and cannot foist a nuclear plant on the region by force.
Stop State Violence Against the Ppeople of Koodankulam!
Stop the Fuelling of the Nuclear Power Plant!
We condemn the repression and violence unleashed by the government against the people of Koodankulam in Tamil Nadu, India who are peacefully protesting against the commissioning and fuelling of a nuclear power plant in the midst of their community which violates international safety standards. This large-scale nuclear power plant which the Indian government has been constructing in collaboration with Russian company Atomsroyexport, will have serious consequences for the life and ecology of the whole of peninsular India.
On September 10 2012, thousands of local people marched towards the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant, as all their attempts to engage in a dialogue with the government over the last year had failed. The government responded to this peaceful protest with police violence, using teargas and baton charges against the protestors, particularly targeting women, who have been at the forefront of the movement, and forcing people including the children into the sea. A 44-year old fisherman has been killed in police firing in another protest in Tuticorin, a young girl was trampled to death, and many were injured. Meanwhile police also attacked the village of Idinthakkarai which has been the centre of the movement, and in the absence of the residents broke into homes and their place of worship and ransacked and vandalised them. Since then mass arrests and police raids on villages have continued.
The events of the last few days are a culmination of repression and militarisation of the area, (which has also been a feature of other nuclear power projects in India in Jaitapur and Fatehabad), in which non-violent protesters are being intimidated, harassed, imprisoned, and falsely charged. From one police station alone, charges have been brought against more than 55,000 people including 8,000 for sedition and ‘war against the state’.
The people are currently appealing to the Indian Supreme Court against the Chennai High Court decision to authorise the loading of uranium fuel rods for operationalising the plant. Any attempt to go ahead with fuelling the plant at this point is therefore a violation of basic democratic rights.
The protesters at Koodankulam are urging that the construction be halted because:
• It is in violation of the mandatory requirement for construction of fresh water reservoirs which are essential in case of a nuclear accident. This is significant, because fresh water is the only remedy in the event of a nuclear emergency. A main factor in all major accidents - such as at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima – was the lack of fresh water.
• Mandatory reports on the safety of the construction are being withheld from the public and the media.
• The fuelling of the plant must be halted immediately
• Sedition and ‘war against the state’ cases against members of Koodankulam People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy must be dropped and Section 144 lifted.
• International safety regulations for the nuclear plant must be followed.
• All reports, reviews and information related to the nuclear plant must be transparent and accessible to the public.
NO MORE CHERNOBYLS!
NO MORE FUKUSHIMAS!
NO NUCLEAR PLANT IN KOODANKULAM!
- South Asia Solidarity Group and
Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament