The protesters included environmentalists, villagers and farmers, who do not want to give away their land for the mega project in the coastal Ratnagiri district.

With less than two days for French President Nicolas Sarkozy's visit to Mumbai, protests against the Jaitapur nuclear power plant on Saturday grew severe here and at Madban — the village in Ratnagiri district where the project is slated to come up. The police detained at least 800 protesters at Madban.

Activists and other sources claimed that more than 1,500 people were detained from among hundreds of protesters, who included environmentalists and local villagers. Members of the Konkan Bachao Samiti (KBS) and the Janahit Seva Samiti, organisations that are spearheading opposition to the project, were also detained.

The police refused to provide details of the protest. “The process is still going on,” a policeman at the Nate police station told TheHindu. Ratnagiri's Superintendent of Police could not be contacted despite repeated attempts. When contacted, even the State's police control room could not say anything about the protest.

Activists alleged that all important leaders were arrested. “I have been arrested from Madban. I don't know where they are taking me and what charges will be slapped on me. Kolse-Patil [former High Court judge B.G. Kolse-Patil, one of the leaders of the protest] has also been arrested, I have heard,” KBS convenor Vaishali Patil told TheHindu soon after she was arrested.

Ms. Patil said that an externment order under Section 144(3) of the Criminal Procedure Code had been issued against her. According to the order, she was prohibited from entering Ratnagiri district from December 3-5. She defied it to participate in the anti-Jaitapur protest on Saturday. A similar order was issued against Mr. Kolse-Patil as well, she added.

“Two of the KBS leaders, Madhu Mohite and Arun Velaskar, seemed to have been detained even before they reached Madban. Their cell phones have not been reachable,” KBS co-convenor Adwait Pednekar told TheHindu.

Section 144 of the Indian Penal Code had been imposed in and around Jaitapur. Villagers and activists, however, defied the restriction to participate in the protest.

In Mumbai, members of various trade unions and social organisations came together to protest against the project.

The protesters have raised serious doubts about the objectivity of the Environment Impact Assessment Report, which forms the basis of environmental clearance for the project. Parallel studies by the Bombay Natural History Society have shown that the project will cause substantial environmental damage.

Doubts are also being raised about its techno-economic viability. At a conference organised here on Friday, the former chairperson of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, A. Gopalakrishnan, questioned the wisdom of India entering into a contract with Areva “for the European Pressurised Reactor which is unproved and is plagued by delays and cost overruns.”