People in the village, despite their degrees, do not get jobs at the plant

The Adivasi women of Moticher village in Surat district have knocked on every door with their complaints. They want easy access to water, jobs for the youth and schools for their children. With none willing to lend a ear, they have decided to boycott the Lok Sabha elections.

About 25 years ago, many Adivasi families at Moticher, Nanicher and Ratania lost their land for the building of the Kakrapar Atomic Power Station (KAPS). The promise of development made at that time remains unfulfilled, they say.

“None of us will vote. How long can we bear this injustice? We have the backing of the men in the village as well as women from other villages. Earlier, we did not have much knowledge about the power plant, but today we are organised,” says Nanduben Choudhary, president of Moticher Mahila Audhyogik Sahakari Mandli Ltd., a registered women’s organisation.

The village falls in the Bardoli Lok Sabha constituency, reserved for the Scheduled Tribes. Tushar Chaudhary, Union Minister of State for Road Transport and son of former Gujarat Chief Minister Amarsinh Chaudhary, is the Congress candidate. With the BJP fielding his former aide and Congress rebel, Prabhu Vasava, the going looks tough for Mr. Chaudhary.

The women’s group has officially conveyed its decision to abstain from voting in an April 21 letter to the tehsil administration.

“We sent two letters. First, stating our problems and warning them of the boycott if there is no satisfactory response. When there was none, we wrote again announcing our decision,” Saraswatiben Choudhary says.

Faced with a strong demand for boycott, Moticher’s sarpanch, Sunanben Choudhary, has “no choice” but to second the decision. “It’s a question of everyone’s jobs,” she agrees.

When the two phases of the power station went operational in the early 1990s, some project-affected persons in the villages got jobs. But they were few in number. Thinking of the project as an employment avenue, the semi-literate people of the villages started investing in technical education for their children. Years later, the youths have degrees, but no jobs.

“Somehow, the children of the employees at the power plant are qualified. And people in the village, despite their degrees, are not. I agree with the women’s decision to boycott the polls,” says Vijay Choudhary, a youth in Moticher.

Ms. Nanduben Choudhary’s own children are engineers, but none has a job.

“Even primary education is in the doldrums,” she points out. “The village lost one school to the power project during the acquisition project, but a new one was not built. The edifice of the existing village primary school is crumbling. When we approach the State government, they direct us to the power plant administration. The project people in turn say they have no jurisdiction outside the boundary wall of the plant,” she points out.

In a letter in March, the KAPS administration says: “There was no agreement executed between land-affected persons and the State government or the Kakrapar Atomic Power Project for providing employment to the members of the land-affected families.” However, under corporate social responsibility, “Rs. 2.12 crore has been spent towards education, healthcare, drinking water and infrastructure.”

Radiation concerns

The people are also concerned about their close proximity to the power station, which stands in the heart of Moticher and Nanicher. Houses are located at a stone’s throw from it. They allege that at the time of commissioning the plant, the area was shown on paper as a forest area, although it was residential land.

Official silence on the condition of water that flows from the Kakrapar dam into the Tapi river and the radiation levels in water sources is causing much anxiety.

“Officials come and take water samples and we are never told anything. The government, the project administration or any leader is paying heed to our problems. Who has the responsibility of this village?” Ms. Nanduben Choudhary asks.