Since 2005, Ratnagiri, a coastal district in Maharashtra, has become a hotbed of protests against what will be the world's largest nuclear power plant.
Jaitapur, a village in the districts Rajapur tehsil, was among the six sites recommended by a site selection committee for setting up of the nuclear power plant in 1984.
In 2005, the Government of India gave an in principle approval to two light water reactors (LWRs) of 1,000 megawatt each and in 2009 gave another in principle approval for setting up six LWRs of 1,650 megawatt each.
Upon completion, the Jaitapur power plant will be the worlds largest nuclear power generating station, with a net capacity of 9,900 megawatt.
The construction of the plant requires land from five fishing villages in the vicinity: Madban, Varliwada, Karel, Niveli and Mithgavane as well as a residential complex for its employees. Over the years, marine biologists, nuclear scientists and environmental activists, along with the project affected people, landowners, fishermen and farmers have opposed the project and protested against the lack of public consultation; procedural violations, such as non-receipt of the environmental impact assessment (EIA) up to a month prior to the public hearing; land acquisition by invoking an emergency provision and under coercion; techno-commercial viability of the project; threat of radiation leaks; lack of a plan for disposal of nuclear waste; environmental damage to orchards and the release of hot water from the facility that will adversely affect fish population and the livelihood of 15,000 fisherfolk in the area.
According to media reports and analyses by experts, while the EIA of the project rules out any adverse impact on the flora, fauna and human inhabitants of the area and states that the proposed site is rocky and barren, parallel studies by the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) show otherwise. In its preliminary report, Diversity of Coastal Marine Ecosystems of Maharashtra, the BNHS says that the nuclear project will adversely affect the ecology of the area and lists 16 ecologically sensitive sites within a 10kilometre radius of the proposed plant.
Scientists and activists have also flagged the need for a cumulative EIA for the Konkan region and an assessment of the regions carrying capacity.
Meanwhile, experts, activists and the residents of Jaitapur have opposed the project as Jaitapur falls under Seismic Zone III. The accepted norm as per the Vengurlekar Committee recommendations is that nuclear power plants should not be built in areas beyond Seismic Zones I or II. Between 1985 and 2005, there have been 91 instances of seismic activity at the proposed nuclear plant site, some measuring as high as 6.3 on the Richter scale. The seismicity has shown an upward trend every year from 1990 onwards, says a note of the Indian Peoples Tribunal on Environment and Human Rights, which also raises concerns about postaccident radioactivity of the Jaitapur plant that is 10 times the size of Chernobyl. However, the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) and the Department of Atomic Energy maintain that the nuclear site does not fall within an earthquake-prone zone.
Civil society organisations, such as Konkan Bachao Samiti and Janhit Seva Samiti, have filed a public interest litigation in the Bombay High Court challenging the process of granting environmental clearance to the project as per the EIA notification of 2006 and without an assessment of nuclear pollution, safety and technology of the project by the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board. The petition was admitted by the Bombay High Court in March 2018.
In the same month, when French President Emmanuel Macron visited India, the leaders of the two countries reiterated their resolve to begin work on the plant by December that year. India and France had signed an agreement on peaceful use of nuclear energy on September 30, 2008, for building the Jaitapur plant. But even a decade later, the project is still at the negotiation stage. One of the primary reasons for the delay is the fierce opposition to the plant by the local people.
In the past years, Jaitapur has witnessed several violent protests. According to media reports, protests against the project first began when a notification for a joint land survey was issued on December 14, 2005. Section 144 was imposed and 55 people were arrested when a group of protesters went to the site to interrupt the survey.
In January 2006, the Maharashtra government issued a gazette notification for land acquisition, which was done by invoking Section 17 of the Land Acquisition Acta provision for emergency acquisition that expedites the process to 15 days, and by doing away with Section 5(A), which gives a landowner the right to raise objections.
Violence broke out on January 22, 2010, when a meeting by the project affected families was held in Madban village in Ratnagiri district. Government officials and police were prohibited from entering. Violence ensued after the police arrived in large numbers, and 72 people were reportedly arrested.
In October that year, the NPCIL signed a rehabilitation package for the project affected persons with the Maharashtra government, offering 5 lakh per hectare or choice of employment to the affected families. A majority of the landowners refused to accept the compensation.
Amjad Borkar, who strongly opposes the project, told Mongabay that the nuclear project would prove disastrous for the regions marine life as processed water released in the sea will increase the sea temperature.
Protests against the project escalated in 2011 after the Fukushima accident in Japan in March and garnered international support and criticism. The district administration imposed Section 144 and issued orders restricting the entry of activists and protesters. This included a retired High Court judge and a Supreme Court judge. One person was killed during police firing on April 18, 2011.
In August 2018, the residents of Madban held a protest opposing the land acquisition for the project. One of the protesters was quoted in a news report as saying, The use of nuclear fuel, its impact on global warming and potential threat to fishermen are issues not being properly addressed by the government.
Opposition to the project continues to date.
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