High court stays land acquisition for Kovvada nuclear power plant

Petitioner alleges violation of norms, demands land acquisition should be permitted only after environmental clearances are secured

By M Suchitra
Published: Tuesday 12 March 2013

In an interim order, the Andhra Pradesh High Court has directed the state government not to issue any notification for acquiring land for setting up a nuclear power plant at Kovvada in Ranasthalam block of Srikakulam district. The interim stay was issued on March 11 in response to a public interest petition filed against a government order notifying the villages that would be affected by the project.

The petition was filed by J Rama Rao, a well-known environmental activist based in Hyderabad, in January this year. The petitioner has pointed out that the proposed site for the nuclear plant is extremely backward, and the residents, most of them poor and illiterate fishers, farmers and wage labourers, are not in a position to protect their rights. “They requested the petitioner to take up their cause and stop the possible displacement of people, destruction to the environment and adverse health hazards,” says the petition. The petition has also alleged that villagers don’t have clear information about the project and the possible risks.

The Rs 60,000 crore plant being set up by the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) will have six light water reactors of 1,000 MW capacity each. The state government issued an order on 27 December, 2011 to acquire 1,000 hectares (ha) of land from farmers and fishers of the region, ignoring widespread public protests.  Village people who would be displaced or affected are on a relay hunger strike since December 18 last year.

The Andhra Pradesh government issued an order on November 1 last year (Government Order No. 42), notifying the villages that would be affected fully or partially by the proposed plant. The notified villages are Ramachandrapuram, Gudem, Kotapalem, Tekkali and Jeeru Kovvada. According to the order issued by Mrutunjay Sahoo, principal secretary of the state energy department, 1,916.27 acres (775.48 ha) of land will have to be acquired for the project. As per the government’s estimates, 1,983 families and 7,960 people in five villages will be displaced by the nuclear plant.

Violation of norms

According to the petitioner, both the state government and NPCIL have violated rules and norms related to setting up of nuclear power plants. It is alleged that NPCIL violated the guidelines of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB), the national authority which is responsible for giving approval for construction, commissioning, operation and decommissioning of nuclear power facilities.

The Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) constituted a site selection committee chaired by the managing director of the NPCIL, for identifying possible sites for nuclear power plants. Based on the recommendation of the committee, DAE gave "in principle" approval in October 2009 for setting up the nuclear power plant. It was based on this approval and a request from NPCIL that the state issued the order notifying the villages, claims the petitioner.

As per the guidelines of the AERB issued in March 2007, NPCIL is required to submit a site evaluation report to AERB. This is passed on to a site evaluation committee, and the observations of the committee are referred to the Advisory Committee for Project Safety Review. This committee reviews the findings and makes recommendations to AERB. The petitioner claims that in the present case, NPCIL had not obtained the necessary site clearance from AERB, and the Andhra Pradesh Energy Department should not have issued an order notifying the villages and permitting land acquisition.

An application filed under Right to Information Act has proved that NPCIL has not submitted any application for site clearance by AERB, claims the petitioner. “Until and unless the site is approved by AERB from the environment and safety point of view, the question of acquisition of site does not arise,” contends the petition.

The petitioner argues that the risks associated with setting up a nuclear power plant cannot be compared with that of any other industry or projects. “Treating hazardous nuclear power projects like industrial projects and permitting land acquisition prior to getting environmental clearance from the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) cannot be justified because of inherent high risks of radioactive contamination and potential for cumulative and adverse impact of radiation hazards,” says the petition.

The petitioner has appealed to the court to quash the government order of November 1 last year and direct the state government not to proceed with the land acquisition process for the nuclear power plant before it completes the mandatory procedure and obtains the required clearances from the MoEF.

The government’s counsel said in court that the authorities have no intention to immediately issue any notification for proceedings to acquire land under the Land Acquisition Act. It has only notified the name of the villages that would be affected. The court recorded this statement.

The court has issued notices to the Central and the state governments to file their counters within two weeks.

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