Nuclear power plant hums to life; tribal families disappear
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.
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].
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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