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March 22, 2012

Guest Post from India: Government Repression Against Protests of New Nuclear Facility

India protest
Thousands of protesters sleep outside. Photo of the struggle via Antony Kebiston Fernando's Facebook page. See more photos here.

There is a massive non-violent anti-nuclear protest movement ongoing at the southern tip of India, in the three southern Tamil Nad districts of Tirunelveli, Kanyakumari & Thootukudi. 

Thousands of fisher-folk, farmers, traders and other residents have kept fast, surrounded the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KK-NPP), and organized massive demonstrations in Chettikulam, Idinthakarai & Kanyakumari. Over 300 senior citizens kept a day-long fast and wrote a letter to the Japanese Prime Minister, requesting him not to open nuclear cooperation negotiations with Indian Government.
The expert group formed by the people's struggle (People's Movement against Nuclear Energy - PMANE), of which I am a member -  have submitted a list of valid concerns - including the siting of the plant on fragile limestone bedrock (where limestone mining was continuing till recently), right on the coast near where in the recent past a huge Tsunami wave struck,  at a site which have recorded recent history of nearby significant siesmic activity, and where on the sea-bed, known slump formations are there (likelihood of slide by even smaller earthquakes & resulting tsunami wave). 

The government failed to respond to these concerns adequately, except claiming that everything is safe, while secretly signing an agreemnet with the Russian government, exempting them of liablility in case of an accident. This goes against Indian Supreme Court's judgment about 'absolute liability' & 'polluter pays' principle.
The area is also home to tens of thousands of fishing families, who fear that the radiation leaks and the huge heated water discharge from the cooling system of the 2000 megawatt nuclear power plant will drive away fish & other economically useful marine life, apart from killing off many such by higher temperature & lower oxygen. This will adversely impact on their livelihoods. Hundreds of thousands of people live in the vicinity of the plant - who also fear for their lives & livelihoods. The protests started in 1989 itself, but was intensified after people saw Fukushima disaster unfolding.
Instead of paying attention to the very valid concerns & fears of the people, both the Indian government and the state government in Tamil Nadu have now taken to harsh repressive measures, after declaring that the plant will soon commence operation.

Weeks ago about 20 activists & protesters - including 12-13 women activists and struggle leaders like Pushparayn - were beaten up while they were going to meet the government representatives in the district headquarters on government invitation.  Some of them, including the women, had to be hospitalized. 

The legal advisor and other support group people have been arrested, including the parish priest Fr Suseelan just because he was sympathetic to the genuine concerns of the people who came to the church. The government is falsely accusing the movement of being supported by foregn organizations (specially from the US & scandinavian countries) and are also trying to whip up communal divide, playing the communal card - by publicly stating that it is the christians who are opposing the nuclear plant, while the hindus are suffering from power cuts.  This is a very dangerous & dirty game & should be condemned.  The truth is all communities in the area are against the KK-NPP being started. And the struggle is supported by voluntary contributions of the fisher people & local resident Indians.

Yesterday, the school run by Meera Udaykumar - wife of the convenor of PMANE Dr S P Udaykumar - was vandalised, despite the huge police presence in the area, clearly with the governments blessings. Uday, Fr Jeykumar (the priest of Idinthakarai's church) and other struggle leaders are on an indefinite fast to protest against this dictatorial governance, and also to stop the plant being started.

Around 10,000 villagers gathered there earlier on 20th. There are threats that the leaders will be arrested the moment they come out of the protest base in Idinthakarai, and they have been called out by the district administartor & police - apparently for clarifications.

The main base of this massive people's struggle , Idinthakarai village has been made to suffer, as the authorities are frequently cutting the power & water connections to this large village, leading to serious threats of water borne diseases there, particularly amongst children.

The government is also resorting to incresed power cuts in the surrounding area, to build up resentment among the general population against the struggle & protest. About 4,000 police persons are surrounding the area. It seems the Nuclear Power Corporation of India (a Govt of India company) is preparing to load fuel in the reactor 1, without going through the mandatory safety & evacuation drills etc.  Large numbers of senior police officers are also present, coordinating the repression.
This is a test case of democracy, human rights, and all that we value as just democratic societies.  How all of us - everywhere - respond to these, will determine what future we build for us and our children.

-- Soumya Dutta, member - National Alliance of Anti-nuclear Movements, India & indiaclimatejustice forum


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