The southern tip of India witnessed severe anti-government protests during the past few weeks by hundreds of thousands of people demanding the removal of nuclear power plant in state of Tamil Nadu. Kudankulam Atomic Power Project is under construction in the Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu. The construction of the plant has been delayed due to anti-nuclear protests by the locals and People's Movement against nuclear energy.

The massive non-violent anti-nuclear protest movement are spreading across the area and has already engulfed the three southern Tamil Nadu districts of Tirunelveli, Kanyakumari and Thootukudi. The protesters, belonging to the vicinity of the plant, have used various means to protest against the plant fearing a Fukushima like disaster. The people base their objection on the residential areas housing more than one million people living within the 30 km radius of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KK-NPP) which far exceeds the AERB (Atomic Energy Regulatory Board) stipulations. They claim that India is not ready to handle any nuclear emergency. Its hospitals are not equipped with such facilities and it is quite impossible to evacuate so many people quickly and efficiently in case of a nuclear disaster at Kudankulam.

The Government of India, on the other hand, is all set to suppress the movement against the plant and is adhering to use of force to stop people from raising their voices. As India has a long history of gross human rights violations, starting from Kashmir to Assam and from Nagaland to Manipur and areas of Tripura, Meghalaya, Mizoram, a forced suppression of people’s voices by Indian government, once again, may not be a surprise. With about 4,000 policemen surrounding the area, in March 2012 alone, Indian police claimed to have arrested hundreds of protesters, objecting resumption of work at the plant. Instead of paying attention to the very valid concerns and fears of the people, both the Indian government and the state government in Tamil Nadu have now taken to harsh repressive measures, after declaring that the plant will soon commence operation. Weeks ago about 20 activists and protesters - including 12-13 women - were beaten up while they were going to meet the Government representatives in the District Headquarters on Government invitation.  Some of them, including the women, had to be hospitalized. The legal advisor and other support group people have been arrested, including the Parish Priest Fr Suseelan, just because he was sympathetic to the genuine concerns of the people who came to the church.

The expert group formed by the people's struggle (People's Movement against Nuclear Energy - PMANE) have submitted a list of valid concerns including the fragile limestone bedrock (where limestone mining was continuing till recently. The concerns also include in-adequate medical facilities in India to handle any emergency like Fakushima. The Indian government failed to respond to these concerns adequately, except claiming that everything is safe, while secretly signing an agreement with the Russian government, exempting them of liability in case of an accident.

This goes against Indian Supreme Court's judgment about 'absolute liability' and 'polluter pays' principle. The area is also home to tens of thousands of fishing families, who fear that the radiation leaks and the huge heated water discharge from the cooling system of the 2000 megawatt nuclear power plant will drive away fish and other economically useful marine life, apart from killing off many such by higher temperature and lower oxygen. This will also have adverse impact on their livelihoods. Hundreds of thousands of people live in the vicinity of the plant - who also fear for their lives and livelihoods.

It is about time that the government of India learned to listen to the voice of people and adhered to the human rights practices. It has long been victimizing people in Kashmir, Assam, Nagaland and so many other parts of the country for raising voices against their rights. The world should take notice of the situation and must stop to transfer nuclear technology to India.

ASIF JEHANGIR RAJA,

Islamabad, April 4.