Fight for survival: MP's Chutka village holds out against proposed nuclear power project

Dadu Lal Kundapa has galvanised 54 tribal villages to say no forced evictions for the second time in four decades

By Anil Ashwani Sharma
Published: Monday 24 February 2020
Dadu Lal Kundapa galvanised 54 tribal villages to say no to forced evictions. Photo: Anil Ashwani Sharma

“The government duped us once. We won’t let it happen again,” alleges Dadu Lal Kundapa, a member of the Gonda tribe in Madhya Pradesh. The resident of Chutka village in Mandla district has been spearheading a campaign against the setting up of a nuclear power plant in the region for the past decade. He alleges that the Union government has resorted to almost all the dirty tricks in the book to once again relocate 54 tribal villages in the district.

The villages were earlier displaced in the 1980s when the state government decided to construct the Bargi dam on the Narmada river. “The  government had promised compensation, houses and assured employment to every household. What we finally got was just Rs 1,300 per family,” Kundapa recalls. The villages, which have close to 0.13 million people, belonging to the Gonda tribe, were relocated to a region flanked by the Narmada from three sides.

“In October 1984, a team of government officials visited and told us that the government had decided to set up a factory to generate employment,” he recalls. Teams would regularly visit the village, camp for a few days and dig up the ground. The residents got to know the truth on October 14, 2009, when local newspapers carried stories that the Union government had given the nod to a 1,400 megawatt nuclear power plant.

Six days later, Kundapa formed the Chutka Parmanu Virodh Sangharsh Samiti by roping in gram sabhas of all 54 villages. Ever since, it has been a constant tussle between the village residents and the government. The plant requires 497 hectares, of which it has only 209 ha. So initially, government officials tried to arm-twist the residents into handing over their land.

When it did not work, they called three public hearings between 2013 and 2014 to obtain people’s consent for the project. “The first hearing had to be called off due to our protests. As a result, the authourities changed the venue of the second hearing hours before the meeting to ensure that we stayed out of it. In the last meeting, held in February 2014, the police closed down National Highway-12 for half a day to stop us,” he says.

In 2015, the government clandestinely transferred compensation money to bank accounts of people. “It transferred some Rs 41.6 crore to 450 families in four villages. Initially, we thought it was transferred as part of Narendra Modi’s campaign promise to bring black money and give it to people. Once we understood the ploy, we decided not to use the money,” he says.

In September 2019, earth movers came into the villages unannounced and started digging the ground. The residents forced the labourers to flee. “Madhya Pradesh has laws that say individuals can be displaced only once in their lifetime for government projects. Yet, the government is illegally trying to displace us once again,” rues Kundapa.

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