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Women chief ministers show path to nuclear sanity

September 20, 2011 14:27 IST

Two women chief ministers in India have taken a statesman like courageous stand against nuclear projects Bengal. This sets the precedent for other states and visionary leader to take decisive steps to save present and future generation of Indian from unpredictable and inevitable nuclear emergencies, says Gopal Krishna.

Dismissing claims of the possibility of peaceful purposes of atomic energy and taking cognizance of nuclear accidents across the globe from Chernobyl to Fukushima to Marcoule, two women chief ministers in India have taken a statesman like courageous stand against nuclear projects in Tamil Nadu and West Bengal. This sets the precedent for other states and visionary leader to take decisive steps to save present and future generation of Indian from unpredictable and inevitable nuclear emergencies.

J Jayalalithaa has sent a letter to the prime minister urging him that further work on the Koodankulam nuclear power project in Tamil Nadu may be halted, until this issue is settled in the backdrop of Fukushima disaster, other similar calamities and hunger strike by the villagers for the past eight days.

More than 15,000 people have been gathering every day for the past eight days from 30 odd villages around Koodankulam from three districts of Kanaykumari, Thoothukudi and Tirunelveli. The 127 fasting people from all three districts are protesting against the two 1,000 MW nuclear reactors. Moved by the villagers' struggle, Justice V R Krishna Iyer had written to Jayalalithaa, "I plead with you on bended knees to judge sensitively to the appeal of the masses and show compassion and political wisdom without further delay" making her act.

Earlier, on August 17, the West Bengal government has ruled out the proposed 3,000 MW nuclear power plant at Haripur in the state's Purba Medinipur district in the state assembly stating that the proposal has been scrapped and the government had no plans for the present to set up nuclear plants elsewhere in the state. This was one of the promises of All India Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee during the assembly elections.

They are not acting in isolation. Italy's prime minister's plans to resume the country's nuclear programme has been voted against, the Swiss government is also phasing out nuclear plants, Germany too has decided to abandon nuclear power by 2022 due to widespread rejection of atomic energy in Europe after Fukushima but our prime minister has chosen to adopt an ostrich policy.

"The Atomic Energy Act, 1962 was enacted, after repealing the Atomic Energy Act, 1948, to provide for a legal framework for the development, control and use of atomic energy for the welfare of the people of India and for other peaceful purposes" disregarding the considered opinions of at least eight secretaries of the government of India given to the parliamentary standing committee on science, technology, environment and forests in the matter of Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, 2010.

The views of these senior officials revealed that the "use of atomic energy" is contrary to the "welfare of the people of India". The standing committee had observed that these concerned secretaries were not consulted while drafting the bill. It had recommended that they should be consulted in future. There is nothing in the Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority Bill that reveals that these secretaries were consulted. This reveals contempt towards such recommendations of the parliamentary committees. In order to rectify such omissions, the bill should have been referred to a conflict of interest free parliamentary standing committee.  The NSRA Bill has been referred to the parliamentary standing committee on science, technology, environment and forests.

It is germane to recollect that while giving testimony to this very committee on the subject of Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, 2010, the then secretary, ministry of health and family welfare, K Sujata Rao mentioned that "Since the response system to deal with any kind of emergency of such type, the hospitals are not well-equipped, it is natural that mortality and morbidity due to multiple burn, blasts, radiation injuries and psycho-social impact could be on very high scale and medical tackling of such a large emergency could have enough repercussions in the nearby areas of radioactive fallout.

She also mentioned that in the entire bill, there is not a single clause which speaks about taking healthcare during radiological emergencies. It reflects only about payment of compensation due to health impacts of such radiation. She suggested while setting up nuclear plants consideration may also be given to the fact that there should be hospital having trained doctors near such establishments and arrangements should also be made for free treatment of people who are affected by serious nuclear fallout." She confessed that her ministry is nowhere to meet an eventuality that may arise out of nuclear and radiological emergencies.

In such a backdrop, while a conflict of interest free nuclear safety regulator is required for existing nuclear installations but proposing it for future nuclear projects through the NSRA Bill, 2011 is akin to adopting an ostrich policy.

Gopal Krishna