Monday, December 28, 2009

Nucler plant triggers reaction

Residents of five konkani villages are all set to combat the proposed Jaitapur Nuclear Power Project (NPP). The three thousand-odd people from Rajapur tehsil in Ratnagiri district say that there is no transparency in the land acquisition proceedings. While 144 Niveli villagers have rejected the compensation cheques offered by the Maharashtra government - the land acquisition authority - 151 Karel and 112 Mithgawane villagers have discarded the compensation distribution notices.
French company AREVA with the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. (NPCIL) plan to set up a 9900 MWe NPP over 938 hectares (ha) of land. 692 ha is required to build six nuclear reactors, each of capacity 1650 MWe, and remaining 246 ha for building residential complex. The land belongs to five villages – Madban, Niveli, Karel, Mithgawane and Varilwada. But, villagers were not taken into confidence since the beginning. “We did receive notices informing us about the land survey in 2006, accordingly we had gone to the site; but they had asked us to depart saying that assembly is unlawful, we do not have any clue about exactly which piece of our land they have planned to acquire,” said Anil Tirlotkar, a Niveli villager. The land acquisition officials rubbish the villagers’ claims and say that the acquisition process is at its final stage and the land acquired will soon be handed over to the project authority.
These villages have a distinctive konkani way of living. Traditional laterite brick houses with inclined roofs settled on the natural slopes remain hidden in comforting greenery of coconut and Beatle-nut palms, trees and orchards; while farms and grazing grounds are at a higher level, on sadaa (laterite plateau) exposed to harsh sun and rains. People share this landscape with a wide array of flora and fauna. The spectrum ranges from small grassland birds to the Malbar pied hornbill and White bellied sea-eagle; magnificent birds which are protected in schedule 1 under the Wildlife protection Act, 1972. While dolphins can be spotted in the ocean; some of the sea shores provide nesting grounds for sea-turtles. Inimitable mangrove ecosystems have thrived in creeks over the ages. Villagers often catch fish for domestic consumption in these creeks. The land use is diverse here. In recent years, many villagers have planted mango and cashew trees on sadaa. The land provides farmers with bhaajaawal (burnt dry vegetation used as manure). Every monsoon villagers take a single crop; usually rice and/or finger millet, which they say is just enough for yearly family consumption. Grassland ecosystem on sadaa is used for grazing sheep and cattle. On the fringes of village boundaries fishing communities spread out fish for drying. These sites cannot go un-noticed as flocks of egrets often feast on crispy, half-dried fish. A piece of land which is less fertile is sometimes given out on lease for small scale laterite mining. Around eight thousand cheera (laterite brick) can be mined out from one guntha land. Considering the market rate of Rs. 20 per cheera, cost of not so fertile one guntha comes out to be Rs. 1.6 lakh.
The NPCIL has paid the state government around 16.3 crore rupees towards the land cost since 2006. For Karel village, the government has estimated land rates between Rs. 337.5 to 1825 per guntha depending on the quality of land as per the government classification. However, villagers said that they do not wish to part with their lands even if they are offered one crore rupees per guntha. They are convinced that money can’t buy livelihood for their future generations. Dattaram Monde pointed out that many villagers are dependent on money-orders sent by their relatives in Mumbai. So, they surely need employment, but it can be generated through small scale industries, then why insist on big projects?
The NPCIL project will take its toll by making 768 people landless; while leaving another 150 with very small pieces of land (less than one acre of non-irrigated land), besides ten villages in the close vicinity – Tulsunde, Naate, Vijaydurg, Tiware, Dande, Aambolgad, Pangere, Vetye, Sagawa, Katali – will be affected by pollution. The fishing communities will be worst hit. Amjad Borkar, member of Maharashtra Machchhimar Kruti Samiti, Ratnagiri said that there are 15 thousand fisherfolks in Rajapur tehsil. Their average monthly income is three to four thousand rupees. As fisherfolks do not own any land they never qualify for compensation; if the catch is reduced they will be left to suffer. The NPCIL official claimed that there is no fear of catch reduction as the sea-water to be released back to the sea after cooling condensers would be warmer by no more than 5 degree Celsius. Yet, the requirement of seawater for condenser cooling is 100 cu.m/sec for just one unit of 1650 MWe. Looking at the gigantic requirement of water, it is hard for villagers to believe that the catch will remain unaffected.
It’s not only fisherfolks that are ignored, but also mango orchards on sadaa. Almost all land owners have planted on an average 100 to 125 alphonso mango trees, when yields give owners minimum 30-35 thousand rupees a year. Pravin Gawankar, the chairman of Janhit Seva Samiti, Madban, whose more than 43 hectares of land in Madban is identified for acquisition, said that though people have planted these trees on plateau, land acquisition authority does not recognize this land as irrigated. Hence, on paper “no irrigated land” will be acquired.
Now settled in Mumbai, 71 years old Dr. B. J. Vaghdhare has ancestral land in Madban. In an effort to fight the legal battle against the NPP he had filed a writ petition challenging the land acquisition process in Bombay high court in December 2008. But, the court dismissed the petition due to the absence of relevant survey numbers of land, in August 2009. Now, he is trying to appeal against the high court judgement. Armed with the supportive documents issued under the Right to Information (RTI) act Dr. Vaghdhare points out that as per the Maharashtra Project Affected Persons’ Rehabilitation act, 1999 and the MoU that was signed between NPCIL and state government in September 2006, a baseline survey is required to be conducted before proceeding with the land acquisition. When asked under RTI the special land acquisition officer (SLAO) informed that the organization Yashada is conducting the socio-economic survey for Jaitapur NPP; while RTI response dated September 22, 2009 from Yashada states that it is not asked to conduct social impact assessment. The questionnaire for baseline survey was to be finalized and due to protests by villagers Yashada could not conduct the baseline survey till date. Thus, the land acquisition is violating legal norms, he said.
As the SLAO Makarand Deshmukh was on leave, speaking on his behalf Circle Officer K. G. Thakre from Konkan Railway 2, Ratnagiri office claimed, “The procedural format has been followed during the land acquisition proceedings. We did issue notices to each and every affected person. Now, we have prepared a list of those Niveli residents who have rejected the compensation. With the help of this Panchyadi signed by witnesses, we shall soon hand over the land to the NPCIL.”
The policy addresses the demand of energy for rapid urbanization and industrialization, while ignoring nooks and corners of the social fabric in Konkan.

- Reshma