People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 23

June 05, 2011


Jaitapur Project: Wrecking People's Livelihoods


G Mamatha


WITTINGLY or unwittingly, the union minister for environment has spilled the beans out of the bag, as he  himself reportedly admitted in December 2010 to the people opposing the Jaitapur nuclear power project: “I can’t stop the project. It is going to come up because it is not just about energy but also about strategic and foreign policy.” The Jaitapur project and many more of such, together with the related political compulsions and obligations are the natural outflows of the signing of the Indo-US nuclear deal. In fact, it would become the first place where these will be put into effect. It is coming up at the cost of our sovereignty and independent foreign policy and by putting the health, lives and livelihoods of millions of our people at risk.


The project which would be the largest nuclear power station in the world is under construction in Jaitapur, in Maharashtra’s Ratnagiri district. The clearance to the project was hastily given only six days before French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s visit to India in December 2010, betraying the urgency of the ruling class.


Ratnagiri district is abundant in natural resources and is rich in  bio- diversity. It  comprises seven fishing villages – Sakhari Nate, Tulsunde, Ambolgad, Sagwa, Kathadi, Jambhali and Nana I­ngalwadi. More than 15,000 people in this region are dependent on fishing. The a­nnual fish catch from these areas is 1,25,000 tonnes and the annual turnover from fishing in these villages alone is about Rs 15 crore. The fishe­ries eco­nomy generates enough  i­ncome to pay unskilled workers a daily wage of Rs 300 to Rs 400, a rarity in India and Maharashtra.


The Jaitapur nuclear power project will ruin their livelihood. Fisheries will be affected since the plant will release 52,000 million litres of hot water into the sea e­very day. Water discharged from the plant will be around 5 °C hotter than the ambient sea temperature. And even a 0.5 °C of a rise in temperature will lead to the killing of marine species, like the prawn, mollusc and fish resources. Tight security in the coastal r­egion would also severely restrict the use of the Jaitapur and Vijaydurg creeks, where the fishermen get a draft of 20 fathoms, usually found only at a distance of two to three nautical miles.


The construction of the jetty for building the Jaitapur nuclear power project will destroy the mangrove forests in and around the creeks. This will destroy the fish breeding grounds and reduce the fish populations. The passage of large sea vessels will destroy marine ecology. Security requirements will place further restrictions on the movement of boats and fishing vessels. All this will have severe adverse impact on the fishing communities in and around the project.


Fish exports are likely to be affected because they will not be in a position to meet the stringent r­equirements of “catch certificates” which demand a declaration of the location, depth, temperature, and time of fishing. Consumers in the developed countries would resist eating produce grown in the neighbourhood of nuclear reactors.


When the NPCIL and Maharashtra government o­fficials recently tried to tempt the fishermen in Nate with 500 boats and with ­offers of alternative jobs, they   retorted by asking, “Will you give us another Arabian Sea?” They said they have learnt from their brothers and sisters in Tarapur, the site of India’s first two nuclear reactors, which is not far away. Three fishing harbours there have vani­shed, the once-prosperous farmers have b­ecome paupers, and there has been no rehabilitation worth the name.


Moreover, the project itself will o­ccupy over 968 hectares in five villages – Madban, Niveli, Karel, Mithgavane and Varliwada. It will affect the livelihoods of around 40,000 people, including farmers, horticulturists, fisherfolk, agricultural workers, loaders, transporters, traders, street-vendors, and providers of many other services. Farmers have invested large amounts of money in mango, cashew nut, coconut, kokum and betel nut cultivation. Ratnagiri has 15,233 hectares under mango cultivation, with an estimated annual turnover of Rs 2,200 crore. The mango crop is extremely sensitive to the minutest changes in temperature and soil chemistry. A good deal of mango would be lost if the project comes up.


It seems the UPA government has not learned any lessons from the Fukushima nuclear disaster and become wiser in any sense, from it. World over there is a serious rethink on the viability of nuclear power and its long term consequences. Jaitapur is located in a seismically sensitive region. It comes under Zone IV in the earthquake hazard zoning map of India, ranging from I to V in growing seismic intensity. This zone is called the High Damage Risk Zone and the possibility/probability of earthquakes is not just a theoretical assumption but as historical experience has shown, is a practical reality. In the last 20 years alone, there have been three earthquakes in Jaitapur exceeding 5 points on the Richter scale. In 1993, the region experienced one reaching 6.3, leaving 9,000 people dead. In 2009, the bridge to Jaitapur collapsed due to an earthquake. None of this was taken into account when the site was chosen.


Apart from this, the cost of the energy produced from this plant would be much higher. Depending on the capital cost, the unit cost of electricity to be generated at Jaitapur would be between Rs 5 to Rs 8 per unit. This is more than double, even triple, the cost of electricity from coal or gas-fired plants (about Rs 2 to 2.50 a unit). Indeed, nuclear power is far costlier than electricity from renewable sources like wind power, biomass and solar-thermal. Thus, from all plausible evidences it appears that the project is neither cost-sensitive nor people-sensitive. It is only sensitive to the profits of foreign private nuclear corporations, who are nothing short of 'merchants of death.'


The technology that has not been tested and certified in their own home countries is being used on us. Our government that swears by the famous, 'of the people, by the people and for the people' democratic axiom, is making guinea pigs of its own people to serve its imperial masters. The people of Jaitapur are already heroically resisting all these attempts of the government, which made intimidation and coercion intrinsic to its efforts to suppress the popular discontent. It is time for us to show that Jaitapur doesn't stand alone in its struggle. The people of the entire country have to stand up together and say unitedly 'We won't let Jaitapur happen.' We should understand that Jaitapur is not an isolated case, but only a bead in a closely knit chain. Remember this chain is not ornamental, but is intended to tie us in perpetual bonds of exploitation and oppression. Jaitapur has already sacrificed its precious sons and daughters in this struggle. Now it is the turn of us all 'human beings' to show that their sacrifice would not go in vain. Let us rise to realise their dreams - a dream for a better world, safe environment and secure lives.