(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
March 20, 2011
CPI(M) Delegation Visits
Affected People of Jaitapur
WATCHING plumes of smoke gushing out of Japan’s nuclear power plants on the TV screen in Amjad Bhai’s home in the village of Sakari Nate in Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra, just across the creek from the proposed 10,000 megawatt Jaitapur Nuclear Power Plant was an unnerving experience for Khagen Das (MP) and myself. We expected to see fear written on the faces of our host, his family members and other ‘affected’ people but all we saw was determination; a determination that was getting strengthened by the minute; a determination to protect their lives and livelihoods and oppose the power plant to their last breath.
Khagen Das and I were visiting the area as a two member CPI(M) delegation. We were accompanied by state secretariat members, Kiran Moghe and Ajit Abhayankar and also activists, Advait Pednekar and Mangesh Chauhan. Another comrade, Dr Vivek Monteiro, was to have been with us but he had been served an order by the district collector by sms, informing him that his presence in the district had been banned for a week. This was not unusual. The district administration had, a week ago, disallowed retired judges of the Supreme Court and High Court from entering the area and listening to the people.
We were met at Ratnagiri station by a large police contingent and were informed that no gathering of more than five people was permitted in the affected area and that, not only would two policemen accompany us throughout our visit but police and administrative officers would be keeping a close watch on our movements to ensure that the prohibitory orders were complied with!
We went first to the largest ‘affected’ village – Mithgavane – and stopped at the home of Dr Milind Desai, a much respected person who is also the president of the local temple committee. He had been released on personal bond from jail a few days before our visit. Several farmers from the village and also from another ‘affected’ village, Madban, had come to his house to meet us. We were also joined by Ibrahim Kazi, a much respected Congressman of the area.
We asked Dr Desai about his arrest and he told us that the chief minister, Prithiviraj Chauhan, had arrived in the area on February 26 and addressed a public meeting at the site of the proposed power plant. More than 5000 people – more than half of whom were women – walked to the meeting from their villages in the burning sun. All of them wore black badges in protest against the Plant. They gathered at the meeting place. The sub-divisional officer himself invited Dr Desai to speak on behalf of the villages. He went to the mike and made a very short speech: “ I have come as the son of a farmer, not as a doctor. The ‘trailer’ that you are showing us is so frightening that we dread to think of what the actual ‘picture’ will be like. You are telling us that this project costing at least Rs One lakh crores is the biggest of its kind in the world and you are throwing Rs15 crores of compensation money in our faces. You should be ashamed of yourselves because you are doing all this without asking us in the first place and now against our will. I know that because of what I am saying, I will definitely be arrested in a few days but that is not going to deter me. Jai Bharat, Jai Maharashtra!”
And, sure enough, more than 50 policemen surrounded his home in the middle of the night of February 27-28 and took him away to a filthy lock-up where he was kept for several days before being sent to jail. He was not alone. 17 other persons of the area were also arrested and kept in similar conditions before they were released on personal bonds of Rs 25,000. All of them were charged, among other things, under Sec 307 (attempt to murder) but the person they were accused of attacking was never named. Altogether 250 identical notices have been served now. One of the recipients, 70 year old Pandurang Sadu Bange of Nival village had a heart attack on receipt of the notice and died. He is considered the second ‘martyr’ of the movement.
The first ‘martyr’ is the young Irfan Kazi, nephew of Ibrahim Kazi. He was home for a short holiday from Dubai and was returning home on his motorbike after dropping his children at school. At 10.00 am on December 18, a car hired by the local police, rammed into him. He was badly injured and died soon after at the PHC. The car was being driven by a policeman who was immediately removed from the area and the actual driver was arrested by the police and taken to the PHC where a huge crowd had collected. The driver was then released into this crowd by the police. He was saved from lynching by local people whom the police know very well. The enraged people who were gathered there were convinced that Irfan had been deliberately targeted by the police and they engaged in some stone-throwing etc but they were soon dispersed. Dr Desai and others arrested along with him, including those who had saved the life of the driver, have all been charged as being involved in the violence of that day. It is just a co-incidence that they were arrested immediately after the CM’s public meeting where they had all demonstrated their intense opposition to the power plant.
We were given one example after another to demonstrate the total opposition of the ‘affected’ people to the project:
Only 112 persons (out of 2000) who owned only 2 per cent of the total land in Mithgavane have accepted compensation from the state government. None of them reside in the area. Even after minister Narayan Rane announced an enhanced compensation of 10 lakh rupees per acre, not a single person has come forward to accept it.
In 2010, all the sarpanches and gram panchayat members of the five ‘affected’ villages resigned their posts after all five gram sabhas had passed unanimous resolutions opposing the project. Manda Wadekar, a gram panchayat member of Madban told us that she was the first to resign and then all others followed suit.
On December 22, Akha Teej, a public hearing was held by the Maharashtra Pollution Board which had done a survey in the area. Against the norms, only one English copy of their survey report was made available to one panchayat. Despite this and the fact that the day chosen was considered the most auspicious in the year and there were many weddings, between 800 – 1000 people attended and all of them opposed the project.
In December 2010, all the 70 primary and secondary schools in the area observed a total strike by the students.
The entire area boycotted all government celebrations of January 26 saying that when there was no democracy in the area why should they celebrate Republic Day.
The feelings of those whom we met in Dr Desai’s house were echoed even more vehemently by the fisherfolk from Sakhari Nate. They included many women, one of whom was wearing a burkha. The entire fishing population of more than 7000 is Muslim. These women along with many others from their village had already faced police lathis and teargas when they were walking to a protest meeting held in the Bhagwati temple at Madban a few months ago. They told us in no uncertain terms that they were willing to face bullets. Zubeida, Shahnaz, Zuleikha, Hajra, Barkat, Fatima, Rukhsana – all of them are involved in the fishing industry. They dry fish and they also sell fish house-to-house in Rajgadh and other places several kilometers from their homes. It is very hard work but they said that even if they earned Rs 20 a day from their ‘honest labour’ they preferred that to the crores that the government was talking about. Majid Gowalkar told us, “ I employ 11 people. The government says that they will give us jobs after the project comes. But we are already giving more than 10,000 people from outside work at 250-300 rupees a day. And we are feeding our own families. So why should we accept ruination and then beg for jobs that we will never get.”
It is important to understand the total opposition to the project. People are not opposed to development. They said – there is not a single college or hospital in this area. We would contribute to the government building colleges, universities and hospitals but there is no talk of these things. They are opposed to a project that they know, despite all the lies and prevarications that the government is resorting to, will displace them and destroy their livelihoods. They are extremely well informed. They know all about the report submitted by the NEERI which has relied only on secondary date; which has falsified facts about the fisherfolk; which has not studied the impact on marine fauna and flora; which has not done a cost-benefit analysis. They know that the environment clearance given by Jairam Ramesh mentions that the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board’s own study has not even started. They know that the water to cool the plant is going to be pumped out of the estuary bordering their village where all the fish and prawns of the waters around use to spawn. They know that the six lakh litres of water per second that will be pumped out will be full of fish eggs and babies and that this water will come back into the sea, hot and polluted. The farmers know that their delicate crops of Alfonso mango and cashew will be ruined by the pollution that the plant will bring. Local fishermen and farmers have visited other sites and have seen for themselves what the government means by ‘resettlement and rehabilitation’ and they want none of it.
The ‘affected’ areas that we visited are extremely prosperous. The farmers and fisherfolk produce the best mangoes and also the best fish and sea food in the region. They are responsible for exports running into crores every year. They employ more than 12,000 migrant workers all year round and their villages exude prosperity and hard work. The landscape around is lush and the waters sparkle. The attachment of the people to their land and to their professions is extremely strong and it is this that explains their determined resistance and willingness to sacrifice. They have made an open offer to the state government to hold a referendum in the area – as was done in the area of the proposed Reliance SEZ. The government has responded with repression, arrests, unaffordable bail bonds, threats and externment orders that are being processed. To please Sarkozy during his visit to India, it has gone to the extent of transferring the land of farmers who have NOT accepted compensation to the NPCIL.
After hearing the people of the area and in the light of many facts of the case, including the fact that this French technology is so far completely untested, our delegation expressed its full support to them and to their three demands – 1) Cancel the Jaitapur Nuclear Project, 2) Return the lands which have been forcibly acquired and 3) Withdraw all police cases filed against the movement activists and also the ban orders and create a suitable environment for dialogue.