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'Government must listen to the people'

January 03, 2011 12:48 IST
The proposed nuclear plant at Jaitapur in Ratnagiri district in Maharashtra has come under a lot of flak by local residents and other sections of the public.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan is scheduled to visit the area, and many have pinned their hopes on that visit.

Local citizens, who remain adamant against the nuclear plant, have received support in a study conducted by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai.

Mahesh Kamble, the TISS social scientist who compiled the report (People's Report- Social Impact Assessment of the Jaitapur Madban Nuclear Power Plant), is also the chairperson of the Jamsetji Tata Centre for Disaster Management, Mumbai. He says the government has subverted facts and had called the fertile land in this area barren.

In this interview with Rediff.com's Vicky Nanjappa, Kamble says the Jaitapur project, which requires 968 hectares of land, will have a huge negative impact on social as well as environmental development.

You say the proposed nuclear power plant at Jaitapur will have a huge impact on social and environmental development. Could you explain how?

Firstly, let me explain that this report is based on the perception of the people of the area. It is not my personal assessment. The report voices the opinion of the public.

The locals feel this project will have a disastrous impact on them. They are afraid it would affect the environment and they are insecure today since no one has really met them to discuss the impact this project would have. I have only documented the peoples' perception.

Has the government lied and subverted facts?

The government surely has hidden facts. They have termed the land as barren while in reality people have spent lakhs of rupees to grow mango and cashew orchards there.

Today these plants have become trees. On paper all this will not show, and that is why it is being termed as 'barren land.'

Before making any comment of this nature, one has to see the land in person instead of showing something else on documents.

Let me also tell you that two years back the government had awarded compensation of Rs 2 crore (Rs 20 million) to farmers due to heavy rains in this area. This only means that there was plantation in this area and the claim that it is barren land is false.

Further, the government also goes on to say that there are only 40 trees, which again is false.

In addition to this, the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd has also claimed that there is only grass at the site.

If one looks at the area in person, one gets to understand that the grass that the NPCL is talking about is grown by the people which is used as feed for their cattle.

Could you tell us the pros and cons of this project?

It would not be possible for me to say this. I have not conducted a study on this aspect and I need more information in order to answer this question.

The people of the area have understood the impact. It is for them to consider these aspects and for the government to listen to them. Unfortunately, this matter is being discussed in New Delhi when in reality it should be discussed directly with the people of the area.

I want to ask why the people are not involved in the discussion. This is not a good practice in democracy. Only if such an exercise is conducted will we understand the pros and cons of the project.

How many farmers will be affected if this project comes up?

I cannot tell the exact number, but it would be more than 2,200 families. In addition to this there are families on the other side of the creek, like a village named Nate and other areas where families will be affected too. All the villages on that side too need to be considered.

Are you completely against such a project coming up or do you want more transparency from the government while going about this project?

I cannot decide this. All I am saying is that the people should have been consulted on this.

As per my understanding and knowledge very few people are ready for this project. There are very few people who feel that this project would be good for them.

On the other hand the government says it is the outsiders and not the actual residents who are opposing this project. I want to ask you whether you have seen a Medha Patkar there.

This only goes on to show that it is the people of the area who are opposing the project and the claim that the outsiders are behind this protest is false.

The people have decided to protest after consultations and discussions. The government needs to recognise this as a people's struggle, and the lesser the government does this, the more it will instigate the people.

If such a project were to come up, what recommendations would you make to the government?

The major recommendation that I would like to make is to recognise the voice of the people. It would be good on part of the government to listen to the voice of the people.

The chief minister has promised to visit this area and it would be good if he goes there with an open mind and listen to their problems instead of trying to 'educate' them.

A Congress committee had visited the place and the people refused to talk to them. I feel they may open up with the chief minister since he is the supreme authority in the state. I feel the CM should get the project halted until the people are heard out.

Basically the CM's visit to these villages should be to understand the perception of the people.

The nation faces a power problem. Would it be advisable to oppose such projects, with huge electricity generation potential in such an event?

I am not sure about the power shortage. There is a mall near my house and even when there are not many people inside it, there are elevators running continuously and the air conditioning on at all times.

Today when I look at such a scenario, I feel there is only greed for electricity.

Power shortage is not the problem, distribution of power is.

While this is the scenario in our cities, on the other hand the farmer does not have enough power to raise his crop. It is just an assumption that the country needs power.

In the instant case I doubt whether the farmer of the area would even benefit from the project.

How has your report been received by the government? Do you think it will be considered?

I hope it will be considered. I am waiting for the chief minister to respond. I am hopeful and positive that Prithviraj Chavan will understand this problem and consider the report.

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Vicky Nanjappa