'No, no uranium'

Will the government lend its ear to Andhra public hearing?

Published: Friday 15 April 2005

a proposed uranium processing plant at Seripally village in Andhra Pradesh's (ap's) Nalgonda district is facing vociferous public opposition. The area's native Lambada tribals, local leaders and many civil society groups voiced their disapproval of the project at a recent public hearing watched over by an unusually large contingent of armed police. The tribals thronged the meeting's venue, despite it being quite far from the village, and filled the air with rants of "we want water, not uranium" and "no, no uranium". But the government's response to the dissent was unclear. The hearing was organised by the Andhra Pradesh Pollution Control Board (appcb) and the Uranium Corporation of India Limited (ucil).

ucil and appcb officials could not convincingly answer any question raised by the speakers during the hearing held on March 3, 2005. ucil decided to shift the processing plant from Mallapuram in Pedda Adisarlapally mandal to Seripally in Devarkonda mandal due to protests from the public and environmentalists against possible contamination of the nearby Nagarjunsagar reservoir. The reservoir is the source of irrigation and drinking water for five districts of ap . The Mallapuram plant was 18 kilometres (km) from Peddagattu, the mining site. The site at Seripally is 55 km from Peddagattu and 28 km from Nagarjunsagar. ucil officials claim that because of its distance from the reservoir, the Seripally plant will not pollute its water. But experts disagree.

ucil had earlier conducted a tour of a team of people from the area to the Jadugoda uranium mines in Jharkhand to show them the "development and prosperity" there. But Devarkonda's member of legislative assembly (mla) Ravindra Naik and some other team members say they were not made aware of the problems faced by the people: " ucil officials gave us a blinkered view of the development. They showed us the plants, colonies, schools, recreation facilities and clubs."

Apart from the tribals and local leaders, the public hearing was attended by students, researchers, scientists, environmental experts and activists of many non-governmental organisations, led by the Movement Against Uranium Project. Sanghamitra Desai, a doctor who has worked in Jadugoda, said her study had established widespread occurrence of congenital deformities among children there: "The mothers of Jadugoda are suffering a lot...I don't want that to happen to the mothers of Nalgonda," she implored. Some speakers alleged that the only people supporting the plant were those with huge land holdings in its vicinity.

People urged district collector Vijayanand, who chaired the meet, to spell out his stand on the issue. They also wanted to know what he would tell his superiors about the hearing's outcome. But the collector and the local mla slipped out of the meeting just before it ended, leaving them guessing.

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