Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh said here on Sunday that he had a few objectives to consider while giving clearance to the Jaitapur nuclear power complex.
“I tried to balance four objectives: the amount of energy required to sustain a growth rate of nine per cent; the proportion of fuel mix; strategic diplomacy, especially after the Civilian Nuclear Deal; and the environmental concerns raised by a large number of groups,” he said. The clearance was granted within 80 days after the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) submitted the Impact Assessment Report.
“I know the environmentalists will not be very happy with my decision, but it is foolish romance to think that India can attain high growth rate and sustain the energy needs of a 1.2 billion population with the help of solar, wind, biogas and such other forms of energy. It is paradoxical that environmentalists are against nuclear energy,” he said.
While highlighting the environmental concerns about Jaitapur plant, which will come up at Madban village of Ratnagiri district, he said that a balanced view had to be taken for community development. “We should study the carrying capacity of the region and look at the cumulative impact assessment.” He hinted that easy permission may not be given to other power plants based on coal in the region.
The Jaitapur nuclear power complex is located in the ecologically sensitive coastal Maharashtra region which includes Raigad, Sindhudurg and Ratnagiri districts. Mr. Ramesh said that a very large number of developmental projects were planned in the ecologically fragile Western Ghats area.
“The total power generating capacity proposed on a narrow strip of coastal land 50 to 90 km wide and 200-km long is around 33,000 MW,” he said. The environmental problems would increase in these areas. Except for the nuclear power plant and a gas-based plant, all other proposed power plants were coal-based.
Both Mr. Ramesh and Maharashtra's Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan highlighted the importance of nuclear energy as a cleaner source of energy compared to coal. “At present, nuclear energy accounts for nearly three per cent of our electricity generating capacity. We plan to double it by 2020,” Mr. Ramesh said.
“Today, 38 per cent of India's greenhouse gas [GHG] emission comes from the power sector. If we have to implement our commitment to climate change, we need to change the proportion of energy mix,” he said.
Mr. Ramesh said that he was for a sustainable development and slammed a section of the media for calling him ‘no development minister.'
“I am not a no-development minister. Neither am I anti-Maharashtra,” he said. He gave environmental clearances to projects within the time frame stipulated by the law.
“As per law, my Ministry has to clear an environmental clearance proposal in 105 days. In the case of the Navi Mumbai airport, it took us 115 days because we had to do some hard negotiations with CIDCO [City and Industrial Development Corporation of Maharashtra],” he said.
He said 95 per cent of the projects submitted to his Ministry get environmental clearance and 85 per cent get forest approval. “I admit it is more difficult when it comes to forest. It has to be. We have to take care of our forests,” he said.
Expressing concerns about marine biodiversity, he said that it was India's weakness. “I hope NPCIL's Environmental Stewardship Programme will be strengthened to protect marine biodiversity, especially near Jaitapur project.”
Mr. Chavan said the energy consumption in India was one-fourth the global standard. “For increasing the energy capacity of the country four-fold, we need to tap every source of energy,” he said, emphasising on the importance of a clean source like nuclear power.
He admitted that the Rs.15-crore award for compensation was not enough. “We will give adequate compensation to the people.” He said the State would also address the local community's fears about radiation.
There are 23 specific conditions for the Jaitapur nuclear power complex and 12 general conditions that it would have to follow. This included monitoring the implementation of environmental management measures, preparing a comprehensive biodiversity conservation plan and designing a proper cooling water discharge system which would discharge water with only five degrees Celsius temperature difference into the sea.
Local groups have protested the decision. “India is buckling under international pressure,” Vaishali Patil, convener, Konkan Vinashkari Prakalpa Virodhi Samiti, told TheHindu. “This decision is a result of it and we protest it. We will now take our fight to the people's court.” The project is the result of India's civil nuclear agreement with France.