More than 10,000 people are camping in Idinthakari village, nerve centre of people’s agitation
In a relief to people protesting against the Tamil Nadu government’s go-ahead to Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant, the Madras High Court has directed the state police to ensure uninterrupted access to essential commodities.
The armed forces deployed in Radhapuram Taluk in Tirunelveli district, where the plant is located, are alleged to have imposed a virtual embargo on water, food, milk and fuel by blocking roads to Idinthakari village. The village is the nerve centre of people’s agitations against the plant. About 10,000 villagers, mostly women, have been camping in the area for the past four days in the area.
The court order on March 22 came in response to public interest litigations (PIL) filed by two lawyers, P Pugalenthi and S Vanchinathan, and a human right activist A Marx seeking direction to the police to desist from preventing access to essential requirements. The petitioners also sought direction to the police and revenue officials to lift the prohibitory orders issued under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure in the locality, besides restraining the police from harassing villagers who are fasting peacefully.
Radhapuram taluk, where prohibitory order is in force, comprises of 50 villages. “In the guise of exercising powers to maintain law and order, the collector has deprived people of the taluk of their fundamental right to move freely from one place to another,” argued the petitioners. Thousands of villagers are virtually under house arrest even as the protests are non-violent and peaceful, and no untoward incident has been reported so far, they added.
The court has reserved order on lifting the prohibitory orders till March 26.
Fifteen activists, including S P Udayakumar and M Pushparayan, two top leaders of the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE), are on an indefinite hunger strike since March 19, the day the Tamil Nadu government led by Chief Minister J Jayalalitha gave a go-ahead to the controversial nuclear power plant. The leaders have been imposed with charges of sedition and the police have so far arrested about 180 activists.
The main demands of the leaders on the hunger strike are immediate release of those who have been arrested, withdrawal of the Tamil Nadu government's resolution giving approval to the plant, a thorough and complete probe by geologists, hydrologists and oceanographers into the safety issues of the Kudankulam plant, release of the Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) signed secretly by the governments of India and Russia on liability in February 2008. They also demand conducting safety drills and evacuation drills in the 30-km radius of the plant.
In a statement issued on March 21, the Tamil Nadu Director General of Police (DGP), K Ramanujam denied the reports that the police have blocked supplies of essential commodities. According to the statement, the deployment of police around Kudankulam was only to maintain peace and law and order.
But the protesters say the police are exercising all kinds of pressure tactics to crush the agitation. On the night of March 21, they allege, a group of people protected by the police, entered the premises of SACCER Matriculation School outside Nagercoil town, run by a trust formed by Udayakumar, and vandalised the premises and threw away school books. According to Udayakumar the attack on the school was an action of revenge on him and people on protest.
Meanwhile, after the plant reopened scientists and other support staff have been engaged in cleaning the reactor and equipment. According to S A Bharadwaj, director of the National Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL), the two reactors lying unused at the plant since its closure in October last year are safe and functional. Around 700 workers are working in three shifts and staff from other projects like Kalpakkam has been deployed to catch up with the lost time. The Rs 13,000-crore Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KKNPP) is being built with Russian collaboration.