People protesting against the Jaitapur nuclear power project told a team of visiting Congress members on Wednesday their opposition to the project would continue, and that the team should inform the Centre and Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan about their stand.
While people did not stop the team, tempers were running high and there was slogan shouting. The villagers were clear that the team should not try and convince them about the merits of the project but listen to their grievances and report back correctly.
The Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee had appointed a six-member team, comprising MLAs and party members, to get feedback from the protesting villages. Accompanied by local Congress workers and elected representatives, the team visited the fishing villages of Sakhri Nate and Mithgavane and interacted with people from the five affected villages and the nearby areas. The team did not visit the project site at Madban.
Amjad Borkar from Sakhri Nate, who heads the local fishing community, told The Hindu over phone that nearly 1,000 people, including women, gathered in the village to speak up against the project. Though Sakhri Nate is not in the project area, the fisherfolk share a common creek with Madban, the project site, and fear loss of livelihood if the nuclear plant comes up.
Mr. Borkar asked how the project was cleared by the Centre despite the people protesting at the public hearing in May. Even though the Madhav Gadgil Committee on the Western Ghats is yet to give its report, the project was cleared. There was no mention of the impact on fishing in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report.
“The team heard the people for nearly two hours. We told them to tell the Chief Minister to scrap the project,” Mr. Borkar said.
Milind Desai from Mithgavane, one of the affected villages, said a memorandum was handed over to the team. “We spoke out against the process of land acquisition, poor land prices, and the sham public hearing where no one supported the project.” Dr. Desai said the people were particularly vociferous about preventive arrests and cases slapped against activists. “This is the death of democracy if the people cannot protest, and we told the team that everyone was very upset about the way the police behaved with the protestors.”
Some of the protesting activists have been charged with attempt to murder, and strong protest was voiced over this. The team promised to speak with Maharashtra Home Minister R.R. Patil. Resolutions of gram sabhas against the project were also handed over to the team. “We have also decided to resign from local bodies if our demands are not met,” Dr. Desai added.
Terming the visit successful, advocate Nirmala Samant Prabhavalkar, who was part of the team, said it was more like a study tour to find out about people's grievances. The team was looking at why the people were opposing the project, if their reasons were genuine and if they were suggesting any alternatives.
“We did not go to convince them, but get feedback on their opposition,” she said. “We found that the people were not just opposing the project but they also had some genuine fears, which we have recorded.” Besides opposition to the project, the people complained about the meager compensation offer for their land. The main concern was the impact of the project on fishing and agriculture. Ms. Prabhavalkar said the idea was to have a dialogue. The team will prepare a report and submit it to the Pradesh Congress Committee, which in turn, will inform Mr. Chavan and hold meetings on the issue.
When asked if this should have been done earlier, Ms. Prabhavalkar said some people did point out that such an interaction should have taken place before the project was approved. She said genuine concerns, like the impact on fishing, would have to be dealt with by experts. The report will be submitted within three or four days for further action. Besides Mr. Chavan, the report is expected to go to the Ministry of Environment and Forests.