It will be a mistake to construe the people's struggle against the proposed Jaitapur Nuclear Power Project as an agitation for higher compensation, says a social impact assessment report prepared by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences.
A majority strongly believe that the project will harm their environment and lives. The people are insecure about the location of nuclear plants in seismic areas, fearing they may lead to a major catastrophe, the report says.
In the first assessment of its kind of the project, the report says higher compensation and better packages will not pacify villagers. A large part of the land planned to be acquired at Madban in Maharashtra's Ratnagiri district is being used for farming and grazing. With government support, horticulturists have spent lakhs on making the land cultivable.
Lack of transparency
Another matter of concern is the lack of transparency on the part of the government and the company that is going to execute the project. The issues are much more complex and the people's concerns raise some fundamental questions about the so-called ‘development,' the report notes.
Mahesh Kamble, assistant professor and officiating chair of the Jamsetji Tata Centre for Disaster Management at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, which has prepared the report at the behest of two people's organisations, says the report was ready by November. A copy was sent to Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan a few days ago, but there is no communication from his office.
Mr. Chavan has announced plans to visit Jaitapur to convince the people of the need for the project, but Mr. Kamble feels this is not the right approach: he wants the project halted, and Mr. Chavan to understand what the people's concerns are instead of pushing for it.
Calling for a participatory method of studying impact, the report says the concerns at the development model and social equity have to be addressed. Among the key issues that are not addressed includes the fact that the region falls in seismic zone three — a fact acknowledged even by the government. All seven villages studied have frequently experienced minor seismic activities. One of the 123 villagers interviewed for the report sought, under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, data on the frequency and severity of the seismic activities over the years. But there was no response to any of his queries.
The Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL), in charge of the project, has denied that it is a seismic area. According to an activist of the region, the report of the Vengurlekar Committee, submitted in 1972, sets forth the criteria for establishing nuclear reactors in seismic regions. Reactors can be set up only in seismic zones one and two.
The government had proposed a baseline survey for the social impact assessment and rehabilitation to be carried out by the Yashwantrao Chavan Academy of Development Administration (YASHADA), but the study has not yet started what with local protests. The final Environmental Impact Assessment is not available to the people; there is no information either on a Cost Benefit Analysis (CBA), the report points out. The people believe that the government is rushing the project through without proper impact assessments.
The report says the people's concerns are related to the project's possible impact on their health, livelihoods and environment, and their lack of faith in the government is evident. Instead of a conventional rehabilitation package, the report notes, the government could think of some innovative ways by making the people “partners” or shareholders in the project. The main occupations of the people in the area are farming and horticulture, especially mangoes and cashew, besides fishing. According to the report, the NPCIL said that of the 938 hectares acquired mainly in the villages of Madban, Mithgavane, Karel, Warilwada and Niveli, 626.527 hectares is non-productive. But the people maintain that this land is used for horticulture and rice cultivation, and as pasture. The data secured under the RTI Act showed that the government paid out Rs. 1,37,07,000 in compensation for the loss of mango production in the 2007 floods. In the Rajapur block, which includes Madban, Karel, Mithgavane, and Niveli, 33,283 farmers received compensation again in 2009.
The likely impact of the project on health is one of the prime concerns of the villagers. People are aware of Hiroshima, Chernobyl, Pokhran and Jadugoda, where radiation is believed to have harmed the people's health and the environment.
There are fears of damage to the environment, too. The area lies in the Konkan belt that boasts a long seashore, creeks and dense deciduous forests, with more than 150 species of birds and 300 species of plants. Some rare species of birds and plants are on the verge of extinction. There are concerns at the cumulative impact of the more than 12 power plants proposed on the coastline. The region borders the tourism district of Sindhudurg; Ratnagiri has been declared a ‘horticultural district' by the State government.
The people are also afraid that the project will have a negative impact on fishing: heated water disgorged by the plant will impact the catch, forcing fishermen to migrate.
The experience from the other mega projects around the area in the past is an important factor that has led to protests against the Jaitapur project. The people expect the government to explore renewable and alternative sources of power such as tidal and wind energy, the report says.
But a small minority supports the project, but it too is not convinced that the health and livelihood of those living in the area would not be harmed. It believes that a mega project will have the potential to spark development in an underdeveloped Jaitapur.