Mithi Virdi N-power plant withdrawn as a result of sustained people’s movement that began in 2013

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People’s protest against Mithi Virdi nuclear plant in 2013 at the public hearing site

By Krishnakant*

The proposed 6000 MW Nuclear Power Plant at Mithi Virdi – Jaspara, Bhavnagar district has now been officially slated to be setup in Kovada, Andhra Pradesh. One struggle is over but anther struggle is on and people of the Mithi Virdi area decided to extent all support and they will be part of the struggle with the people of Kovada.

This is a result of sustained people’s movement that began in 2013. It was a big day for the villagers of Jaspara, MithiVirdi, Khadarpar and Mandva. The Environmental Public Hearing (EPH) for the proposed 6000MW Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) at MithiVirdi in Bhavnagar district of Gujarat was being organised, the date 5th of March 2013. The villagers who are seldom heard by the authorities had an opportunity to express themselves.

Teams of villagers including women were actively preparing themselves for past fortnight. There were small group meetings held in surrounding 30 villages to explain to them the impacts of NPP and importance to participate in the EPH. The authorities who are supposed to do this exercise were not even bothered to supply information regarding the project.

And then thousands of  villagers, usually assumed to be illiterate lined up to enter into the EPH pandal. They were frisked. Water bottles were not allowed inside. Tiffins were checked, yes people had brought their own food to the EPH. Metal detectors were active and there was security and police everywhere. But the villagers were unrelenting.

The public hearing started, the whole atmosphere of the EPH was intimidating with the hundreds of security and police in and around the pandal. The Collector of Bhavnagar who was chairing the EPH also stopped the leaders and sarpanch of villages from raising issues relating to procedure. Thus the leaders, villagers all got to know that the hearing was only held to complete a flawed procedure in favor of NPCIL (Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd.) and it was announced from the mic that the Public Hearing committee is not interested in hearing the issues and hence a walk-out was declared by the community leaders. Within few minutes people started walking out without any slogans peacefully. The pandal was emptied and only media persons, government and GPCB officials and the NPCIL staff remained in the huge pandal.

The Central and Gujarat State Governments, are now both led by Modi, whose election slogan was the Development Model of Gujarat. And here is a case where a Nuclear Power giant, a Sector Holier than Cow and an equally autocratic government were pushed out due to the relentless and sustained peoples’ resistance, added with many other reasons including the unfortunate and ongoing Nuclear accident in Fukushima, Japan.

We would also like to outline unconstitutional and illegal actions and means adopted by the Government of India and Government of Gujarat to push the nuclear power plant through since its inception.

Forest land measuring 81 hectares in addition to the other land for the nuclear power plant. To facilitate this the Taluka Development Officer (TDO) of Gujarat State sent a letter dated July 15, 2013 to Sarpanch of Jaspara directing him to pass a resolution on the lines of the copy that he had sent, so as to have the village body’s stamp of approval for the state government transfer of forest land to the NPCIL. In this letter the TDO instead of seeking the opinion of Gramsabha as per the law for the land transfer, illegally and unconstitutionally orders the Sarpanch to pass the readymade resolution. This is the new way of getting the consent from the villagers by the then Chief Minister Mr. Modi.

The Gramsabha(village council) of Jaspara unanimously condemned and rejected such an unconstitutional letter of TDO. The Gramsabha unanimously resolved not to hand over the forest land for non-forest use to the NPCIL.

Struggle against Proposed Nuclear Power Plant: Some of Recent Village Protests

Since 2007 villagers have braved various tactics of the NPCIL and the administration and demonstrated their unbreakable will and have been protesting against the proposed Mithi Virdi Nuclear Power Plant. Many rallies, protests, debates and press conferences were organised by the villagers with facts and figures against the Nuclear Power Plant.

On 23 September 2013 despite heavy rains, people from the villages affected by the proposed Mithi Virdi nuclear power plant took out a rally from village Jaspara. The rally consisted of 69 tractors, tempos and cars and 50 motorcycles and comprising of nearly 2,500 men, women, youths and children.  People shouted slogans like “let it go, let it go, let the nuclear power plant go”, “allow us to eat our hard earned rotlo”, “we will give up our lives, not our land”, “let bajra and cotton grow, allow the greenery to flourish”, and “not here, not anywhere; not in any country in the world”.

The rally traversed the 40 km stretch to Bhavnagar, meeting the people in the villages falling on the route. The rally was welcomed at Talaja Jakat Naka by the people of Bhavnagar, and terminated at AV School cricket ground, where it turned into a public meeting. A representative group comprising the leaders of the affected villages presented the memorandum to the then PM Mr. Manmohan Singh through the district Collector.

Farmers at protest
A 2011 protest against the N-power plant

The letter points out, “To offer a liability-less playing field to the international nuclear corporations, whose constant decline has been greatly exacerbated by the setback after the Fukushima catastrophe, actually amounts to selling off Indian people’s lives and safety for nuclear profits. We have not forgotten the criminal record of Union Carbide, now Dow Chemicals, in the Bhopal gas tragedy and the shameless episode of Indian politicians letting the culprits go scot-free: both physically and in terms of adequate liability for the horrendous disaster.”

Pointing out that the Indian government is “risking citizens’ lives even as the crisis in Fukushima has further deepened over last few weeks”, the letter says, “While Japan has been forced to switch off all its reactors and countries like Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, Italy, etc. have decided to go nuclear free, it is unfortunate that Indian government is choosing to miss the historic opportunity to go for sustainable, renewable, decentralised and equitable forms of energy and shun nuclear power which contributes less than three per cent of its electricity production”.

Declaring “strong protest” against any further dilution of the Nuclear Liability Act and endangering the lives of common people of India, the letter says. Villagers from  Mithi Virdi, Jaspara, Khadarpar, Mandva, Paniyali, Sosiya, Kantala, Chayya, Navagam (nana), Bhankal, Goriyali, Bhavinapara, Kukkad, Lakhanka, Morchand, Odarka, Garibpura, Thalsar, Khadsaliya, Alang, Manar (CT), Bhadbhadiya, Hathab, Gundi, Badi, Alapar, Sanodar, Padva, Vavdi, Sankhadasar, Rajpara, Trapaj, Kathava, Bapada, Sathara, Bharapara, Koliyak, Mathavda, Juna Ratanpar, Kuda, Bhumbhali, Thordi etc. signed the memorandum and sent it to the PM via the Bhavnagar district collector.

Farmers and farm workers who would be directly affected by losing land and livelihood have expressed their dissent on oath by submitting affidavits.

The affidavit reads “In this area, following a nuclear deal Indian government, the US government and US-based Westinghouse Company, the NPCIL proposes to set up a nuclear power plant. I strongly protest the land acquisition of my farm land mentioned above”, it says, adding, “I solemnly affirm that I refuse to sell my above mentioned land at any price to the Government of Gujarat, Government of India or NPCIL”. A similar affidavit has been signed by those working labourers in the farms associated with the villages, saying these farmlands are their only source of livelihood.

Village Panchayat’ meeting turns Mithi Virdi-Jaspara area into Nuclear Free Zone:

On 9 March 2014 the gram panchayats of five villages passed a resolution declaring the entire “Mithi Virdi-Jaspara region as Nuclear Free Zone.” The resolution to declare the region Nuclear Free Zone was passed “unanimously”, and a copy of the resolution was sent to President of India Mr. Pranab Mukherjee, the then Prime Minister Mr. Manmohan Singh, the then Gujarat Chief Minister Mr. Narendra Modi, and secretary-general, United Nations, Mr. Ban Ki-moon.

The resolution suggests “people’s desire to keep the neighbourhood nuclear power free.” The resolution is significant, in view of the fact that the environmental public hearing of the proposed nuclear plant ran into controversy, as it was held on the basis of an illegal, incomplete environmental impact assessment study by an unaccredited agency, inviting strong protests from the local community.

The statement concludes, “We are opposed to all aspects and parts of the so-called nuclear fuel cycle and expressly forbids the production of nuclear energy, the presence of any equipment and materials related to the carrying out of any part of the fuel cycle and opposes any storage of nuclear waste.”

From Nuclear Power to a participatory and vibrant democratic culture:

The resistance has also raised their voice of against the anti-people amendments proposed by Modi Government to water down the new Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013.

In a meeting on 14 August 2014, the villagers gathered to take a pledge that they wished to “ensure clean air, potable water, fertile lands, nutritious, uncontaminated food and secure life for the future generations”, adding, they will do “all that is possible to save and protect the land, agriculture, agricultural products and seeds.”

Thousands of villagers from Mithi Virdi continue to consistently oppose the setting up of Nuclear Power Plant with the slogan ‘Not Here’ since 2007. Subsequently they have resolved ‘Not Here, Not Anywhere; Not in Any Country in the World’.

*Environmental activist, Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, Vadodara

 

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