In the wake of police firing that killed one of the many Indians protesting against the Kudankulam nuclear power plant in Tamil Nadu, activist Praful Bidwai lays it into the government that not long back was hailed for its groundbreaking civilian nuclear agreement with George W. Bush.
"The repression, including lethal firing, unleashed on peaceful protesters against the Kudankulam nuclear plant on Monday, on top of FIRs over many months charging thousands with sedition, makes two things clear. Nuclear projects in India can only be thrust on unwilling citizens at gunpoint. [And] as the jalsatyagraha (water civil disobedience) shows, people will resist them tenaciously, because they are aware of their hazards," Bidwai writes in India's Hindustan Times newspaper.
As GlobalPost reported last year, a massive nuclear project planned for Jaitapur, Maharashtra, has also faced large protests.
Casual readers and the government dismisses these protests as the work of ignorant villagers and eco-radical agitators (as demonstrated by the claim that the opposition can be traced to various "foreign-funded" NGOs).
But Bidwai points out that every single nuclear project India has planned has spurred committed resistance:
"That's true of every nuclear project, whether Jaitapur (Maharashtra), Gorakhpur (Haryana), Mithi-Virdi (Gujarat), Kovvada (Andhra Pradesh), Haripur (West Bengal), Chutka (Madhya Pradesh) or Banswada (Rajasthan). For instance, at Gorakhpur, there has been a daily dharna against four proposed reactors for two years, unbeknownst to Delhi, which lies in their potential radiation-fallout zone," he writes.
And when some 100 activists met in Delhi this August, nobody listened to their reservations about the Kudankulam project, which Bidwai says "was cleared in violation of the recommendations of an official Task Force, and without even the fig leaf of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report."
Now villagers, and, yes, more than a few "agitators" have walked into the sea near the reactor, in imitation of a protest against the flooding of villages in Gujarat earlier this month.
They might be wrong. The government says Kudankulam is safe. Coal isn't without its dangers. And the huge number of hydropower projects planned for Northeast India will destroy cultures and wildlife in one of the country's last remaining wilderness areas. (Personally, I was sold on nuclear after visiting Arunachal Pradesh for this series on dams--if the government can proceed responsibly).
But it is foolishness bordering on the criminal to undertake such projects on the assurances of company insiders and circumvent the environmental clearance regime, as Bidwai and others say has been done for nuclear plants, and other environmental activists say is routinely done for big dams, coal mines, and every sort of industrial activity.
And it's bad politics simply to dismiss those claims because of some hidebound commitment to the ideology of economic growth.