UCIL-BARC must ensure all its activities are subject to strict environmental, legal regulations

UCIL-Board-Tumalapalle-Uranium-Mines

National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) note on detention and prevention of activists from participating in public meeting on ‘uranium mining impacts’ at Kadapa, Andhra Pradesh:

The National Alliance of People’s Movements strongly condemns the high-handedness of the Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL), a Govt. of India undertaking under the Department of Atomic Energy (headed by the Prime Minister) and the Andhra Pradesh police in misbehaving with activists of Human Rights Forum and NAPM and denying them access to the venue of a public meet yesterday in Kadapa District of Andhra Pradesh by unlawfully detaining them for a couple of hours.

The team that was arbitrarily detained on their way to the UCIL (where the meeting was called) and taken to Vemula police station included septuagenarian Dr. Babu Rao; eminent scientist and environmentalist (HRF-NAPM), Adv. Jayasree Kakumani of Human Rights Forum and Rajesh Serupally, NAPM.  It was only after intense protest by the activists and villagers and an immediate letter by EAS Sarma, Former Secretary, Govt. of India to the Collector, Kadapa and Mr. Nripendra Misra, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, that Dr. Babu Rao was allowed to participate in meeting with nuclear scientists and officials from UCIL and BARC.

However, the other activists were kept in unlawful detention and released only late into the night at around 9 pm. All of them were made to sign papers stating that they would not indulge in such ‘anti-social activities that disturb peace’, which they did, under protest signatures. Media entry to the meeting site as also restricted.  Interestingly, this ‘awareness meeting’, had to be held at a neutral place but was called for within the UCIL premises itself.

In response to the series of complaints and protests by the villagers and some intervention, at people’s behest, by Mr. Y.S Avinash Reddy, the YSR-CP MP representing Kadapa constituency in the Parliament, the UCIL authorities consented to ‘meet’ the villagers to ‘create awareness’ and address their queries and demands. Since much of the terminology used by UCIL is generally technical, the villagers approached activists associated with HRF, NAPM and other people’s groups to attend the meeting on 9th April, along with them, to have a more effective interaction with the officers of UCIL & Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), in a better way.

Thus, to deny access to public-spirited persons who came to participate in the meeting, at the invite and request of villagers is totally undemocratic and brazenly disempowering. If the UCIL can take the aid of BARC’s scientists, so can the villagers take assistance of independent scientists and activists. To deny people this right is arbitrary and unacceptable.

It may be noted that the Tummalapalle mine in Kadapa district is estimated to hold one of the largest reserves of uranium in the world, catering to fuel requirements of nuclear power plants. While the UCIL obtained clearance from the Centre in 2006, mine operations began around 2012. Not surprisingly, locals state that land acquisition for the plant was done in a coercive manner and public hearings before the environmental clearance witnessed protests and police action against villagers.

Over the past couple of years, the villagers of Mabbuchintilapalli, KK Kotala,  Bhumayagaripalli and Kanumalavaripalem, residing barely 6 kms away from the mine and processing plant at Tummalapalle, have been repeatedly protesting against UCIL, complaining of plummeting underground water levels, due to relentless pumping and drastic increase in sodium and uranium, leading to air, soil, ground and surface water contamination.  Reportedly, this pollution has been happening due to poor lining for the tailing pond, causing seepage.

The cumulative impacts of the plant operations in the form of damage to agriculture and standing crop, water, health of local population (skin allergies, ulcers and kidney problems) and livestock (illnesses ad pre-mature deaths), alleged negligence by contractor and plant authorities is a saga of continuing anguish and anger. Apparently, quite a few villagers have had to ‘vacate’ their houses, due to these impacts. There is widespread fear in the region of the long-terms implications of radiation, making the place another ‘Jaduguda’.

We have learnt that water samples collected by local farmers from their tube wells and tested at the labs of Centre for Materials for Electronics Technology (C-MET), an autonomous scientific body under the Govt. of India, produced results indicating significant increase in uranium and sodium levels, much higher than the permissible and standard level.

Besides, in December 2016, researchers from Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University (JNTU), Anantapur, analysed samples of water and soil and noted increased levels of barium, arsenic, cobalt, chromium, copper, molybdenum, lead, vanadium and yttrium, which could impact crop productivity and local environment. This study was also published in the International Journal of Advanced Research. It is now well-established that heavy metals, if consumed in large quantities, may lead to severe health issues, including cancers, respiratory and kidney complications.

Instead of addressing all these concerns, the UCIL recently issued an advertisement in newspapers claiming that a “few individuals and NGOs are spreading wrong information against the organization”, in a way indicating that all is not well with its operations. Clearly, such a public announcement, detention and denial of access to civil society activists, is more a measure to discredit and muzzle voices that are raising uncomfortable and important questions, in public interest.

UCIL’s operations in Kadapa, is yet another classic case of weak post-clearance monitoring by the authorities, especially the Pollution Control Board (PCB) and the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF & CC). NAPM demands that the UCIL must ensure full disclosure of all necessary information in the public domain and in a manner discernable to the local population. It must immediately comply with all conditions stipulated at the time of project clearance including payment of full and fair compensation for all forms of losses and impacts incurred by the local population due to UCIL operations.

PCB and MoEF must undertake an immediate visit, comprehensive assessment and rigorous monitoring of the present status of environmental compliance (or lack of it) and conduct a post-clearance public audit and hearing. These monitoring authorities should also be ready to issue and impose orders of cessation of operations, if violations are found.


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