Critical problem

Nuclear power plant hums to life; tribal families disappear

By Nidhi Jamwal
Published: Thursday 31 March 2005

Critical problem

Tarapur Atomic Power Project u March 6, 2005; 12.42 pm. The Tarapur Atomic Power Project unit-4 ( tapp -4) control room resounds with claps. Nuclear scientists exchange congratulations: India's largest and first 540-megawatt electric (mwe) nuclear power plant goes 'critical' seven months ahead of schedule. Anil Kakodkar, chairperson, Atomic Energy Commission, calls it "a turning point in Indian history"; M K Narayanan, national security adviser, calls it a "a great day for all Indians".

March 6, 2005; noon. An eerie silence envelopes a portion of the tapp-4 exclusion zone. A few tribal women and children sift through rubble for their belongings. Their houses have been razed. Two tempos wait to pack off these families. A barbed wire fence will come up here, enclosing the plant.

tapp-3&4 are located near the existing Tarapur Atomic Power Station-1&2, under the aegis of Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (npcil), a public sector undertaking. tapp -4 will now generate power on a trial basis; tapp-3 is expected to achieve criticality by early 2006. tapp-3&4 will generate 1,080 megawatts, to be shared by Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Goa, Daman and Diu at less than Rs 2.65 per kilo watt hour.

Pox on productivity The need to create a 1.6 km mandatory exclusion zone -- inhibiting any form of human activity -- around tapp-3&4 required relocating two villages, Akarpatti and Pofran. Authorities claim all project affected families (pafs) have been compensated and rehabilitated. In the present case, npcil paid the requisite compensation amount to the state government, which in turn was to disburse it. According to npcil, it has paid about Rs 65 crore -- to enable 1,167 pafs acquire land and rehabilitate -- to a state government legally bound to rehabilitate pafs. But what the state government has done with this money, no one knows. Most pafs have not received alternate shelter. Many haven't even got any money. Moreover, since the paf list was made, the number of families rose to 3,000. The government is still haggling over this number, 15 years after the list was prepared.

There's worse. Take the case of 41 tribal families brutally just ousted: "We are the original residents of this area, but when the list was prepared in the early 1990s, our existence was not even noticed. Only recently we got to know of relocation and have prepared a list of 41 adivasi families and forwarded to tehsildar ," said Dattu Bapu Velpada, a 35 year old then resident of Akarpatti village, when this correspondent met him and his clan on March 2. [This correspondent tried looking for him four days later, in vain].

March 2 to March 6 Till March 2, these 41 families had received no compensation. But they were not ready to move out. Their reason? They lived on both sides of the main road. Since only the western side officially fell under the exclusion zone, government wanted to acquire the land of families only on that side. This meant no relief for 8-10 families, on the eastern side. "All we are asking for is rehabilitation of all 41 tribal families together. If we go away, what will happen to these 8-10 families?" Velpada had said.

The state government had offered a piecemeal plan: Rs 15,000 per family as rent for six months, and a plot and constructed house after that. Till March 2, the families hadn't accepted this offer. Four days later, their houses were razed to dust. What happened? Could government clarify? A question mark also hangs over the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board's clearance to the plant, given on March 3. But at that time, the families were still living within the exclusion zone. Said S K Jain, npcil chairperson and managing director during a press conference, "We cleared the 1.6 km exclusion area long time back. The families you see being removed today are not within the 1.6 km area. Some of their people had moved out and these left-over families also wanted to get rehabilitated with them. Hence npcil is doing it out of sheer concern, though it is not mandated by the law."

Clearly, the government has messed up rehabilitation. India may stride into new nuclear territory, but her treatment of poor people is as shoddy as ever.

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