In Election Year, Campaigners Against Proposed Nuclear Plant in MP Hope to Be Heard

The Chutka nuclear power plant will likely displace 70,000 people in 54 villages.

“Jaan de dengay, par zameen nahin dengay” (We will give up our lives but not our land), declared Meera Bai, women’s morcha head of the Chutka Parmanu Virodhi Sangharsh Samiti, who along with thousands of other women has been leading a resistance against the Chutka nuclear power project in Madhya Pradesh.

Speaking at the launch of the ‘Community Conversations Report on Resistance Revisited: The Chutka Anti-Nuclear Power Plant Movement’ by the Women’s Regional Network in New Delhi, which sought to bring together voices from the ground and of experts to discuss the forcible displacement of persons in the name of development and modernisation, Meera Bai recalled how women of her village and those of surrounding villages, whose land had been acquired for the nuclear power plant, came together to protect their rights.

Women join hands against the project

Meera Bai said when they first came to know about the land acquisition for the project, the women got together and gathered information about the project. “We then joined the fight against it, organised dharnas (sit in demonstrations) and then we got together to even resist the deployment of machines for the project,” Mira Bai said.

Another member of the morcha, Sona Bai, said the women of the area did not want to part with their land as they do not know how they will raise their children and survive without it. She said though the women had refused to share their Aadhaar details, the government had obtained it through their banks and submitted the compensation amounts directly into their accounts. “However, we have not touched that money and have written to our banks that we do not need it.”

‘Chutka project would displace huge populations along Narmada’

Opening the discussion, women’s and civil rights activist Abha Bhaiya said the Chutka Anti-Nuclear Power Movement in Mandla district, which was initiated in 2009, should be seen in a continuum with displacements along the Narmada river because of development projects. She said the people of the area, especially the women, have struggled hard over the last nine years against “increasing deceitful actions and circumventions of the constitutional framework” as their land was sought to be forcibly acquired.

Bhaiya said though the district comes under the Fifth Schedule extension of the Indian constitution, whereby land cannot be acquired without the consent of the gram sabhas, this clause was grossly violated.

‘Why a nuclear plant in MP, where there is power surplus?’

The 1,400 MW project was proposed by the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd in 2009. The activists said while the project would have an annual requirement of over seven crore cubic metre of water, which would come from a reservoir on the Narmada, it would release radioactive water, which would pollute the river.

Bhaiya said Madhya Pradesh already has several hydroelectric power plants and 19 thermal power plants and has an electricity surplus. This brings one to the basic question, they said, as to why the government felt the need to build a nuclear plant – with potential human and environmental costs – despite people’s protests. With state assembly and Lok Sabha elections due soon, Bhaiya hoped that the voices of these protesters would finally get heard.

Some people would be thrice-displaced

Rajkumar Sinha, the convener of the Bargi Bandh Visthapit Sangh, said what needs to be remembered is that people of the region, who comprise a large number of Dalits and Adivasis, were primarily engaged in agriculture and yet there were no suicides of farmers reported from this area. “What we are doing is depriving them of their land when they possess no other skill except farming and this would force them into only taking up professions like pulling rickshaws.”

Sinha also recalled that people of the region had been displaced twice before also due to the construction of the Bargi dam.

Seventy thousand people in 54 villages to be displaced

Secretary of the Samiti, Navratan Dubey, explained how, while 600 families living in Chutka, Tatigath and Kundla villages face displacement due to land acquisition for the power plant, a total of about 70,000 people in 54 villages would ultimately have to leave since there is an exclusion zone of five-kilometre radius from the centre of the nuclear reactor.

He said a paltry compensation of Rs 41 crore has been earmarked for land acquisition at the rate of Rs 1.50 lakh per acre while about Rs 200 crores have been marked for rehabilitation. But, he said, no one wants to give their land or wants the nuclear power project to come up anywhere close. “The Samiti members had also visited other nuclear power plant sites and interacted with villagers residing close to them. We learnt that water pollution, malnutrition, disease and deprivation of fishing or farming rights had taken place everywhere.”

Chairperson of the Samiti, Dadu Lal Kudape, said the government and the administration have turned deaf ears to the protesters who want the project to be scrapped and allowed to live peacefully with their land, water and forests. “We had also fought for rehabilitation, but the administration did nothing,” he said.

The Women’s Regional Network (WRN) highlighted that the “people’s resistance” against the proposed Chutka nuclear power plant was “part of a continued struggle against the predatory form of development and multiple displacements.”

(L-R) Sandeep Pandey of Asha for Education; S.P. Udayakumar, founder of People’s Movement against Nuclear Energy (PMANE); and Soumya Dutta, convener of Climate and Energy Group – Beyond Copenhagen Collective listening to a video statement of rights activists Admiral (Retd.) L. Ramdas. Credit: Gaurav Vivek Bhatnagar

Peace activists recall similarities with other nuclear projects

The launch also saw peace activists, environmentalists and scientists turning out in support of this movement. S.P. Udayakumar, the founder of People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy, narrated his experience while being a part of a similar movement in Kudankulam, the role of the women in the movement, the demands and recommendations as put forward by the people to the state.

Another speaker, Soumya Datta, provided key inputs regarding development-induced displacements and also how people living in a large area around such nuclear power plants end up getting displaced due to the existing laws.

A message from peace activist Admiral (Retd.) L. Ramdas was also screened during the event in which among other things he spoke about how Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 (PESA) was enacted to protect the rights of the marginalised tribal communities from further loss of access to forests, land and other community resources due to development projects. And while PESA was initiated to prevent the further land acquisition from and displacement of such vulnerable communities, he noted that it had been largely ignored and this was reflected in the way land of tribal communities was being acquired. He also cautioned against nuclear energy projects saying: “Let us not forget that every nuclear power plant is a potential nuclear bomb factory too!”