Land acquisition for nuclear plant in A.P. faces stiff resistance

It is the same old story of development versus displacement and the haplessness of the infirm against the might of the state.

With the Indo-U.S. civilian nuclear agreement paving the way for India to purchase uranium from the global market, the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) has lined up a series of nuclear plants in different parts of the country, including one at Kovvada in the backward Srikakulam district of Andhra Pradesh.

Following the tsunami-triggered disaster at Fukushima-Daiichi plant in Japan last year, opposition to nuclear plants is growing in the country. While fierce and widespread protests were witnessed in Kudankulam (Tamil Nadu), where one of the two VVER-type reactors ( 2,000 MWe) is ready for operation, people in and around Kovvada are also resisting the proposed establishment of six reactors (1,594 MWe each) to generate 9,564 MWe with an investment of Rs. 1 lakh crore.

Authorities are gearing up to acquire around 2,000 acres at Pedda Kovvada, Chinna Kovvada, Tekkali and Ramachandrapuram. Despite promises of attractive compensation packages, land acquisition is facing stiff resistance from 3,000 families likely to be displaced and civil society groups.

Although Kovvada plant project director G.V. Ramesh claims that 90 per cent of the people are in favour of the project and had given their consent to the Joint Collector, the former Sarpanch, Mylapalli Polisu, rejects any package on the ground that a majority of the people were opposed to the project. “The problem will not end with announcement of the package,” he warns.

"Bleak future”

Another villager, M. Appanna, who was among the group of people taken on a guided tour to the Kalpakkam atomic power project in Tamil Nadu, says he is not convinced by the officials' argument. “Our future will be bleak as land rates are skyrocketing and many restrictions have been imposed on fishing,” he adds. A local leader, A. Ramulu, says villagers are unable to raise loans or sell properties, leaving them with no choice but to accept the package.

Mr. Ramesh says 1,200 acres to be acquired belonged to the government and it is quite possible to negotiate and meet most of the demands. NPCIL will implement whatever is listed by the government's policy laying down that land compensation should be four times the existing rates. “They will get a very good package,” he says.

Mr. Ramesh says the technology of the six reactors is the latest — generation III Plus. They are absolutely safe and automatically shut down in case of an earthquake of over 7.2 magnitude. Besides, all the systems are passive. “Once it gets shut down, the reactor's cooling would take place on its own for a fortnight. Only then, human intervention would be required.”

The former Union Power Secretary, E.A.S. Sarma, a vocal critic of the Kovvada plant, accuses the Andhra Pradesh government of violating rules and ordering forcible acquisition of 2,252 acres. He terms it a ‘decide-and-announce' approach.

According to him, however low be the probability of a Fukushima-like disaster at Kovvada, the outcome of an accident will not only be extensive but affect future generations too. People exposed to radioactivity can have genetic disorders and cancerous diseases. The low liability cap in the civil nuclear liability law also raise doubts about the safety of the imported reactors.

He says Kovvada is densely populated and within the “exclusion” zone up to 1.5 km from the project site, where no one is expected to live, there are five villages, mostly of fishermen, with 3,504 people, and 560 acres of agricultural land.

Within the “sterilised” zone up to 5 km, where no development will take place, there are 42 villages. In the “emergency planning zone,” up to 16 km, there are 66 villages, while a large number of people are residing in the “impact assessment” zone up to 30 km. The threat of evacuation in the event of an accident will constantly hang over them.

Dr. Sarma says it is premature to start land acquisition even before the Ministry of Environment and Forests has an opportunity to evaluate alternative sites, get an Environmental Impact Assessment study done, hold public consultations and get the project appraised as per the requirement in the Environment (Protection) Act. Those residing in the four zones are yet to be informed of the dangers.

The Department of Atomic Energy has failed to comply with the disclosure norms set out in Section 4 of the RTI Act. “Forcible land acquisition against this background amounts to gross violation of human rights,” he says.

(With contributions from M. Melly Maitreyi, K. Srinivasa Rao & Santosh Patnaik.)