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Rediff.com  » News » How the Koodankulam stir ended with a whimper

How the Koodankulam stir ended with a whimper

Last updated on: March 28, 2012 18:31 IST

How the Koodankulam stir ended with a whimper

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A Ganesh Nadar

Rediff.com's A Ganesh Nadar visits Idinthakarai, the site of hunger strikes opposing the controversial Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant in Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu, and tells us how the nine-day long high-voltage agitation came to a rather tame end on Tuesday.

The roughly 20-year journey preceding the controversial Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant in Tamil Nadu has been full of road-blocks. Finally, in July 2011, construction of the Indo-Russian joint project was somehow completed.

But stiff opposition by the people of the surrounding villages, which escalated following the Fukushima disaster in Japan, delayed the construction for eight months.

Some protestors blocked the entrance gate while others courted arrest; some went to court while others started mass hunger strikes -- all this happened while Tamil Nadu was reeling under nine-hour power cuts a day!

A Russian scientist working in Koodankulam plant said the delay cost $1 million (about Rs 5.2 crore) a day, which works out to be $240 million (Rs 1,248 crore) till now. Can a country like India afford such astronomical losses? 

The fast onto death agitation by S P Udayakumar, coordinator of People's Movement Against Nuclear Energy -- an NGO spearheading the protests at the KNPP -- and 14 others had a rather tame ending on its ninth day on Tuesday in Idinthakarai near the plant site, after the Tirunelveli district authorities accepted some of their demands.

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Image: A large number of protestors, mostly women, can be seen at the pandal at Idinthakarai, where 12 people sat on hunger strikes, against Koddankulam Nuclear Power Plant
Photographs: A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com

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Jayalalithaa the main cause of delay of the nuclear plant

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The anti-KNPP fast initially provoked a police over-reaction. They surrounded the village. The villagers in turn put thorn bushes on the road leading to the village and also dug up the road in one place. The police immediately blocked all essential supplies to the village.

The villagers immediately removed the thorn-bushes to let one vehicle pass at a time. They couldn't do much about the dug up road. The police finally realised that the fasting people were 10 kilometers from the nuclear plant and were not affecting it in any way. Thus they withdrew from the village.

The main cause of the delay in the launch of the plant was not the protestors but Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, who in a fit of bravado a couple of months back had told the protestors when she first met them, "I will be one of you".

The second time she met them, she changed her tune to that of supporting the plant.

On March 19, the Tamil Nadu government declared that the nuclear plant was 'safe' and its operation would go ahead. It was then when Udayakumar launched his fast unto death. It was his last option.

In the meanwhile, the police presence outside the plant continues to be scary. Armed multitudes of Tamil Nadu police, Central Industrial Security Force and Rapid Action Force have barricaded the plant.

The Tirunelveli district administration has promulgated Section 144 in the area, which prevents the assembly of four or more persons. In protest all the shops had shut down.


Image: The Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant has been barricaded by multitudes of armed security personnel
Photographs: A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com

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'Stopping the nuclear plant is not among our demands'

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The dusty road to Idinthakarai, the site of Udayakumar's hunger strike, was full of thorns, stones and holes.

A huge pandal was the first thing one noticed in front of the church where Udayakumar and his associates have been fasting. The pandal has been there since the protests started eight months ago, and continues to be filled with women and children -- as many as 10,000, according to some estimates.

The 12 persons fasting were lying down on mats on the church verandah.

The men among the protestors were hostile to outsiders. After seeing my press card one said, "We thought you were a police informer".

Udayakumar was sitting at a computer, sending e-mails to the United Nations, the International Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Greenpeace, and several other international fora, updating them with the developments.

Nine days of hunger strike has taken its toll -- weakness, fatigue was clearly visible on Udayakumar's face, as he declined a request to do a live-chat with Rediff.com readers.

"May be tomorrow," he said with a frail smile.

Udayakumar told rediff.com, "We have seven demands to give up our fast; and stopping the nuclear plant is not among them."


Image: S P Udayakumar is seen sending out mails to international organisations during his fast onto death agitation
Photographs: A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com

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'They are trying us for waging war against nation'

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"Our two main demands are to withdraw the cases against us and also to release 200 of our people who are in jail. They are trying us under Section 121, which means we were waging war against the nation," he adds.

Meanwhile, District Collector R Selvaraj was ready to hold talks with the protestors at Parameswaram (some 10 kms from Idinthakarai) despite initially having a strong objection to the presence of Arimavallavan, the head of the delegation, the local tehsildar informed Udayakumar. When Udayakumar strongly reacted against any move to omit Arimavallavan from the delegation, the meeting was finally fixed. "I spoke to the collector again. Now you can send anyone you wish to the talks," the tehsildar later said.

Braving initial hiccups, the protestors reached the Parameswaram panchayat office and sat down. They were given tea and then the collector turned up.

He said the room was too small and they should come to the taluka office in Radhapuram, which is 2 kms away.


Image: The fasting people at Idinthakarai
Photographs: A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com

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'I'm giving up the fast; but not the agitation'

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The meeting in Radhapuram taluka office lasted three hours. Arimavallavan told the waiting media that the collector had promised to place their demands before the state government.

The meeting was also attended by the archbishop of Madurai. The archbishop later said that he would convey the collector's message to Udayakumar and the others who were on fast.

The collector had also told the delegation that they were withdrawing Section 144 from all areas in Radhapuram except the place where the nuclear plant was situated.

"The rest of the demands would be considered by the government. I cannot decide on them," the collector told the delegation.

Tirunelveli Superintendent of Police Vijayendra Bidari said that those cases which were with the police could be withdrawn if the government decided so. "But the cases which are in courts cannot be withdrawn by us" Bidari added.

When asked about the charges under Section 121, Bidari clarified, "That case is not against everyone. It is against only those who entered the nuclear plant area. That is not allowed. We will not allow it".

Udayakumar finally gave up his fast when the archbishop requested him to do so. A tame end to a 20-year-old saga.

However, Udayakumar had a mild warning. "I'm giving up the fast; but not the agitation."


Image: Tirunelveli District Collector Selvaraj and SP Bidari stepping out of the peace meet.
Photographs: A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com

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