Stepping up their protest against the Koodankulam nuclear power plant, agitators on Thursday staged a roadblock in front of the plant site, preventing entry of scientists and workers into the complex.
The protest hitherto confined to fast took a new turn even as Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa assured the local population that their sentiments would be respected.
"As far as Koodankulam Nuclear Power Project is concerned, Tamil Nadu government will certainly act respecting the local peoples' sentiments. I will be one among you in the issue," she told a campaign rally ahead of next week's civic polls.
Jayalalithaa's remarks during her speech at neighbouring Tuticorin came a day after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh wrote to her cautioning that the state's development would be hit in the absence of power from the Indo-Russian project.
Singh's second missive on the issue to Jayalalithaa in a week came days after the anti-project activists hardened their stand, insisting on scrapping the project and launching the second phase of indefinite fast, which entered the fifth day on Thursday.
Earlier, the prime minister had written to Jayalalithaa after a multi-party delegation, including representatives of the protesters, met him in Delhi on October 7. Speaking after the more than three-hour long road blockade, Pushparayon, one of the convenors of the agitation, said the stir would be intensified further if the Central and state governments did not take steps to scrap the project.
He told mediapersonsthat the anti-nuclear energy movement was firm in opposing the plant and Singh's letter had irked them. "We are worried about the impact of the plant on the people and the environment," he said.
Noting that the government was working on several fronts to streamline labour legislation, the Prime Minister said he was aware that there were many aspects of the issue that may require reform to encourage business and enterprise.
We will move ahead only in those areas where a consensus for reform is built and will ensure that the interests of our workers are fully protected in doing so," he said.
Singh said the National Skill Development Mission has put in place a coordinated action plan for skill development which lays down a solid foundation for future work in the area.
"During the 12th Plan, we must identify the gaps in the institutional arrangements for skill development and plug them," he said.
The government has established the National Skill Development Corporation which, along with initiatives at the state level, will provide the bulk of the skill development results, particularly in the unorganised sector, Singh said.
"However, for this to happen, support to NSDC would have to be significantly enhanced and state skill development missions in all states would have to be fully operational and effective during the 12th Plan," he said.
Singh said sufficient attention must be paid to skill development so that our growing youth population is provided decent employment opportunities.
He highlighted steps the government had taken for the benefit of workers in the unorganised sector. The Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana was already benefitting about 25 million workers and the government was in the process of covering more categories of workers under the scheme, Singh said.