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In Bengal, a village and its nuclear power plans

Before 2006, Haripur, located between Junput and Soula, was like any fishing village along the West Bengal coast. Within months of the Left Front returning to power for the seventh consecutive time in 2006, it shot into the limelight with the Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL) proposing a nuclear power plant there. The Trinamool Congress, then in the Opposition, fought against the project.

When the Trinamool Congress came to power for the first time in 2011, it ruled out the possibility of the project ever taking off. The then Power Minister Manish Gupta said in the Assembly that the nuclear power project would not come up at Haripur or anywhere in the State for that matter.

Why now?

This Monday, however, the NPCIL appeared to have revived the plan, as it released a pre-project aerial survey of the coastline. While releasing the survey, NPCIL officials underscored the necessity of a nuclear power plant in the State. Anutosh Chakraborty, NPCIL official and additional chief engineer of the Haripur Nuclear Park, said the project was never abandoned and remained in a “proposed state.” NPCIL officials said they were hoping for a “positive” discussion with Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and had sought an appointment with her.

How will it help?

NPCIL officials are now emphasising that the project will revive the economy of the investment-starved West Bengal. Over the past few days, scientists like the Director of Variable Electron and Cyclotron Centre Amitava Roy, have also backed the ₹1-lakh crore project, arguing that it will have a huge impact on the State’s economy. Haripur is located in the Contai (Kanthi) subdivision of Purba Medinipur district, where the byelection for the Contai (Kanthi) South Assembly segment is being held on Sunday. The nuclear plant dominated the campaign in the primarily rural constituency. While the Trinamool Congress assured voters that it was still opposed to the plant, BJP leaders insisted that the project was not going to be imposed on the people. “The plant will be a possibility only if the State agrees to provide land,” senior BJP leader Rahul Sinha said.

What’s the problem?

The proposed plant will have a VVER-1000 reactor and generate 6 X 1000 MW. It is being planned with Russian collaboration. It will require 1,300 acres. NPCIL officials said around 1,000 acres would be used for setting up the plant and the rest for creating infrastructure. Even a decade after the plan was put on the back burner, the attitude of the locals remains unchanged. They staunchly oppose the idea of a nuclear power plant being set up in or around their village. Under the banner of Haripur Parimanu Prakalpa Pratirodh Andolan Committee (Haripur Nuclear Power Project Resistance Movement Committee), residents of the area have given a call for a rally against the plant later this month.

The villagers fear that not only Haripur but also a number of villages in the 10-square km radius of the plant will be exposed to radiation. They are also concerned about the loss of livelihood. In November 2016, representatives of the committee held a ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of their movement. On November 17 and 18, 2006, thousands of locals did not allow the then NPCIL Chairperson, S.K. Jain, to visit the site. The protest turned out to be a major setback for the plant and the Left Front government. “Just as in 2006, this time too we will resist any attempt by the NPCIL to set up its plant. We cannot endanger the health of our children and lose our livelihood in the name of so-called development,” said Debasis Shyamal, convener of the committee.

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Printable version | May 3, 2021 11:13:13 PM |

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