India has done a commendable job by voting in favour of a United Nations Human Rights Council resolution censuring Sri Lanka for human rights violations of its Tamilian population. The Tamil Nadu government played an important role in convincing the reluctant Indian government to take a position on this issue. Although it opens the possibility of Sri Lanka raising the issue of human rights violations in Kashmir, etc, India should have and has taken an ethically correct position.
However, the state and the central governments do not seem to share the same concern for their own Tamil population protesting against a nuclear power plant being thrust upon them at Koodankulam, not far from Kanyakumari. People genuinely feel unsafe after the Fukushima accident about a year back and are concerned about their lives and livelihoods.
While the first phase of this plant with a capacity of 2000 MW, till date the largest nuclear power plant in India, was being set up locals were enthusiastic about it. They foresaw the possibility of employment generation and attendant benefits of industrial development. They never took Nagercoil based SP Udayakumar or any of the anti-nuclear activists coming from outside, who told them about the hazards of radioactivity, seriously.
In June 2011 the government decided to conduct a mock safety drill in the event of a possible accident. This drill rang the alarm bells. People saw the real possibility of an accident and overnight the public opinion turned against the nuclear power plant. Whereas in the earlier protests the activists could muster only hundreds of people, the first protest after the mock drill attracted close to 20,000 villagers. Udayakumar became a saviour for them.
Since then people have been waging a valiant battle against the State. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh seems to have put his prestige once again at stake like he did for the Indo-US nuclear deal. He has gone all out in indulging in character assassination of the activists. One would have hoped that the governments would have learnt lessons from Singur and Nandigram incidents. But clearly, Chief Minister Jayalalithaa and Manmohan Singh are getting desperate. One of them is accusing Udayakumar of working with American money and the other is accusing him of being a Naxal. These are now outdated tactics of suppressing the people's voice.
A heavy contingent of police has been posted in the area to cordon off the protesting villagers from the outside world. The movement has so far remained totally peaceful even though a large numbers of people have been involved. In fact, the people deserve to be commended for this. Instead, the State is trying to provoke them. Once again this proves that people never indulge in violence. It is always the State which creates situation where violence erupts.
Manmohan Singh has invited foreign money and entities, including the Koodankulam plant, into this country like no other PM and most of it is hurting the interests of local communities. Hence, whether it is a question of inviting foreign money or using violence, it is quite clear that the government is the real culprit and it is also working against the interest of people of this country.
Thus, the government seems to be engaged in anti-national activities rather than the activists. The activists are protecting the people and empowering them to exercise their democratic rights. They are encouraging people to ask questions, a must for any functioning democracy. They should be credited for the deepening of democracy in this country.
In the West, people have often come out in large numbers on the streets to protest against nuclear activities. It is one of the important reasons why most developed countries are shedding their nuclear status. The disposal of radioactive waste is a serious problem to which the scientists haven't found a safe solution. Japan and European Union are committed to developing a no nuclear and low carbon energy solution. The countries are evolving their positions from past learning.
However, the largest democracy in the world seems to have adopted high-handed ways of dealing with this question. The unelected PM of over 120 crore people takes a unilateral decision in this matter and uses subterfuge to thrust his decision upon the people. What he is doing is neither development nor a scientific-democratic way of doing things.
If fulfilling the energy needs is a priority then one doesn't have to go anywhere else to look for alternative. The Koodankulam coastline is dotted with numerous windmills, including several of them inside the nuclear power plant. Incidentally, the new safety plans at Koodankulam intend to use backup power from wind energy in case of a Fukushima type accident. The electricity produced from wind energy in Tamil Nadu exceeds what the Koodankulam nuclear plant is likely to produce. Instead of pushing a controversial project, the decision-makers would do well to think of expanding the wind power base in this area.
However, if the Koodankulam nuclear power plant is part of the grand design of military-industrial complex, slated to enhance India's status as a powerful nation, then we're on a self-defeating path. No country which has focussed on enhancing its military power has remained peaceful and neither has it allowed others to live in peace. Manmohan Singh is seriously changing the role of the Indian nation from that of a harbinger of peace to that of an aggressive ally of the most notorious military power in the world.
India having become the largest importer of arms in the world and American and Israeli soldiers training Indian soldiers, doesn't bode well for us.
Magsaysay Award winner Sandeep Pandey is a social activist