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#India – One man’s fight against nuclear power

In Haryana’s Fatehabad district one farmer is holding out against the Union government’s ambitious 2,800 MW nuclear power plant. Reports Sai Manish
In Haryana’s Fatehabad district one farmer is holding out against the Union government’s ambitious 2,800 MW nuclear power plantRam Phal and his extended family, that includes a stallion, is the only one left standing on the land where four nuclear reactors producing 2,800 MW of power will be set-up in the next decade, Photo: Ankit Agrawal

As the world readies for a renewed debate on breaking the taboo over , two men in two different corners of the world will become the faces of this debate. One of them, Robert Stone, director of a recently released documentary Pandora’s Promise, which advocates nuclear power for the future. The other is Ram Phal, a middle-aged farmer from Badopal village in  district of the Indian state of . Stone’s documentary, backed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and Virgin honcho Richard Branson, is wowing American audiences and forcing a re-think on the US moratorium on developing nuclear power stations. Ram Phal and his extended family, that includes a stallion, is the only one left standing on the land where four nuclear reactors producing 2,800 MW of power will be set-up in the next decade. While Stone is a convert from a vocal anti-nuclear activist to a fierce proponent, Ram Phal is a man who refuses to part with his land and has turned down a handsome compensation of Rs 2.07 crores for his 4.5 acres of irrigated farm land even as all farmers in his village have taken the money and left. While Stone’s film is being touted as a game changing force multiplier for Bill Gates nuclear power firm Terra Power that aims at bagging big nuclear business in the developing world by using nuclear waste in its new generation travelling wave reactors, Ram Phal’s defiance is based on a moral predicament. “I would have given my land if they wanted to build a university or a hospital or a sports complex. But a nuclear power plant is not something I will give the land of my ancestors for. I dare anyone to evict me. My sons and I will drive them out with laths (sticks)” says Ram Phal. He however will have little option. The government has already cut off electricity to his house and fields, which were irrigated by pumps drawing water from the Bhakra breach canal. His drinking water supply too has been cut-off. The under-construction Fatehabad nuclear power station, has therefore become a symbol of what big money can do to kill the culture of protest.  On 15 June, social activist and former Ramon Magsaysay award winner Sandeep Pandey came to Fatehabad to revive the weaning movement against the nuclear power plant. A small group of activists and farmers congregated in the basement of a hotel under the banner of “Parmanu Sanyantra Virodhi Morcha” to expound their views against nuclear power. “There is no doubt that a lot of farmers whose lands have been acquired are no longer associated with the protests. This clearly shows how the government has managed to bribe people and stifle their voices in its mad rush for nuclear power. However farmers living downstream of the canal from where water will be drawn for the cooling towers are worried. We will carry forward this movement with them,” says anti-nuclear activist Kumar Sundaram. There is a feeling among the villagers that the 854 farmers who accepted Rs 419.82 crores from the government for giving 1,503.5 hectares betrayed the larger cause of surrounding villages whose lands would not be acquired, but would still be put in a vulnerable position owing to the hazards of living near a 2,800 MW nuclear plant. Ideological opposition against nuclear power, it seems, had been sacrificed for money. What started out in 2010 as a people based movement, slowly declined as the farmers for whose cause political leaders, activists and party cadres were protesting on the streets withdrew from the movement after getting their fat compensation cheques. The farmers who started off this agitation under the banner of Kisan Sangharsh Samiti headed by farmer leader Hans Raj Siwach had officially ended the 2-year protest against the plant on September 17, 2012. However, another group was formed under a local farmer to carry on the protest for the remaining villagers who had rejected the compensation. In fact, so confident was the PMO about the death of the opposition to the plant that in a reply to a question in Rajya Sabha in December 2012, V Narayanswamy, Minister in-charge of the PMO stated, “Initially, a section of the farmers whose land was being acquired had expressed discontent over the compensation and related issues. The compensation package for the land acquired, finalised in consultation with the state government is quite attractive and most of the farmers have collected their compensation cheques. As such, there is no general discontent among the farmers.” This however was not always the case. Before the majority of the farmers withdrew from the movement, Fatehabad and the three villages of Gorakhpur, Badopal and Kajal Heri, where lands were to be acquired for the nuke plant were witnessing mass agitations and violent protests. There were two kinds of farmers in this protest. One category was those like Ram Phal who were unwilling to part with their ancestral land at any cost. The others, who formed the majority, were the ones who were distraught with the abysmal compensation. In 2010, farmers were being offered a compensation of Rs 11.65 lakhs per acre of land. Most of the land in these villages is irrigated by the waters of the Bhakra breach canal and is so fertile that it can produce up to four crops a year. Considering the amount too paltry for such fertile land, farmers staged infinite sit-in protests outside the mini secretariat in Fatehabad and continued to mobilise surrounding villages for their protest. “The farmers had the support of 29 village panchayats who had vowed to defend their land with all their might. But after taking money, these farmers did not want the support to continue, as it would create problems for them. The resistance movement broke down eventually,” says Ram Niwas a farmer with 17 acre holding from Kajal Heri village. As a consequence of the continuing mass protests, a decision was taken in July 2012 to hike the compensation to Rs 46 lakhs per acre. The compensation of land was fixed at Rs 30.73 lakh per acre. As an insurance against legal action, those farmers, who did not indulge in litigation in case of acquisition of land, were promised Rs 4 lakh as non-litigation amount. Also, under the Land Acquisition Policy of the Haryana government, an annuity of Rs 21,000 per acre was given for 33 years with an annual increase of Rs 750 which amounted to an additional Rs 10.79 lakh. Surprisingly a few days after this decision was announced, former army chief VK Singh joined the protests in support of the farmers of Fatehabad in August. However, barely a month after he put his weight behind the farmers, the agitation was called off after farmers agreed to the compensation amount. In-between, various political leaders like Kuldip Bishnoi and Abhay Chautala joined the protests. None of them re-joined the protests after majority of the farmers backed out. The Indian National Lok Dal’s general secretary Ajay Chautala had opposed the nuke plant saying, “We will not allow the plant to come up at any cost. Nuclear power is unsafe for humans as well as wildlife in adjoining areas. Even developed countries like Japan had faced nuclear disaster.” After Siwaich and other farmers called off the protest, the INLD too backed out of its ideological discourse. Ajay Chautala was meanwhile arrested in January 2013 for his role in the JBT scam and the main opposition of Haryana now seems to have completely disappeared off the protest radar. And even as activists like Sandeep Pandey are trying to re-group other concerned villagers, the situation remains quite ironic. The very farmers who kickstarted the protest are now opposed to the opponents of the nuke plant, fearing loss of the lucrative compensation. While farmers in surrounding villages are attached to their land and consider it sacred, they remain unfazed by the debate over nuclear power, since not many are directly affected by its location. However, the Fatehabad nuclear plant is also an example of how the stalemate over the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2011(LARR) has allowed a free license to government and corporations across India to acquire land on a massive scale while the limbo continues. The land for Fatehabad plant was acquired under the British-era Land Acquisition Act, 1894. The land on which the nuclear plant will come up is fertile, multi-cropped and irrigated by the Bhakra breach canal. Moreover, these villages are home to the Chinkara, Nilgai, Barasingha and other animals that have been protected by the local Bishnoi community for centuries. In fact, Badopal and Kajal Kheri village are dominated by the Bishnoi community, who are known to protect wildlife even if it means sacrificing their own lives for the cause. The LARR Bill, 2011 states that no irrigated, multi-cropped land shall be acquired except under exceptional circumstances as a demonstrable last resort. In Fatehabad’s case, even though barren land is available in the vicinity, only fertile irrigated land was chosen for the project. Moreover, the same chapter 3 of the bill (Clause 10, subclause 3) explicitly states that whenever such land is acquired from farmers, an equitable area of cultivable wasteland shall be developed for agriculture. Since the LARR has been stuck in Parliament for 2 years, none of these measures have been implemented in the case of Fatehabad. In effect 1305.5 acres of cultivated land producing wheat, rice and cotton have simply disappeared off India’s agricultural map. The LARR Bill (Chapter 3, Clause 31) states that all the displaced families in addition to the compensation will have to be resettled in a resettlement area where the collector shall provide basic infrastructure. Since Fatehabad’s fertile land was taken under the colonial era Act, the district administration has simply given the farmers their compensation cheques and washed their hands off everything else. While many farmers of these villages have gone to Rajasthan to buy cheap barren land, many others are yet to figure out ways to invest the money. Another concern about the Fatehabad plant is its proximity to Delhi and the discharge of water with the possibility of tritium contamination back into the Bhakra canal. “There are major concerns for Delhi,” says Sandeep Pandey. Earlier there was just Narora, now the Fatehabad nuclear plant will be barely 150 kms as the crow flies to Delhi. We would also want the people of Delhi to wake up and be aware of the hazards of nuclear power in the vicinity” The coming weeks will witness fresh propaganda in the international media and dialogue in civil society over the merits of nuclear power and how innovations in nuclear technology by some corporations will benefit the world. In Fatehabad’s case though, one farmer holding fort on his ancestor’s land on the edge of the under-construction nuclear plant, might well show the world that the debate on nuclear power has more to it than meets the eye.   source- tehelka.com

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