On 23 September, they undertook a massive rally starting from Jaspara village despite heavy rains. Shouting “let it go, let it go, let the nuclear power plant go”, “allow us to eat our hard earned rotlo (bread)”, “we will give up our lives, not our land”, “let bajara and cotton grow, allow the greenery to flourish”, and “Not here, not anywhere; not in any country in the world”, their number grew as they traversed the villages along the 40 km. stretch to Bhavnagar where the rally turned into a public meeting. There, a representative group comprising the leaders of the affected villages presented a memorandum to the Collector, and described the situation in detail to him.
The residents do not want their lands to be converted into a nuclear plant because it is very fertile and provides for their needs sufficiently. But the government is going on with a process that violates basic procedural norms such as conducting illegal public hearing and not sharing important details of the plan with the people (lack of transparency).
The Collector or land revenue officer assured them that the memorandum would be sent to the Prime Minister, the Minister for Environment and the Secretary, Ministry of Environment at the earliest. The affected communities want the world outside India to know about this latest ‘nuclear’ move by Indian government and to help them retain their lands.
*** Please respond before 24 October 2013 ***
Please write polite letters expressing your concern and request the authorities to protect and uphold the rights of communities opposing the Chayya-Mithi Virdi nuclear plant, in particular:
· Respect their rght to livelihood as farmers, fisherfolk, hired labour
· Respect their right to information – transparency in the development plans involving and touching their lives
· Respect their right to know resettlement and rehabilitation plans if land is acquired for the project
3. Chairperson National Human Rights Commission Faridkot House, Copernicus Marg, New Delhi-110001, INDIA
Fax: +91 11 2338 4863
4. Diplomatic representatives of India in your country.
Please avoid typing ‘cc ACPP’ at any part of your letter but send copies to us separately for monitoring purpose.
It has come to our attention that several villages in Gujarat are strongly opposed to the proposed nuclear power plant project of NCPIL and Westinghouse in Chayya-Mithi Virdi. They have expressed their disapproval in various ways, including a massive rally recently, on 23 September, from Jaspara to Bhavnagar where village leaders presented a Memorandum to the Collector to forward to the Prime Minister and the Minister for Environment.
We learned further that the affected villages have also submitted 281 notarized affidavits together with the memorandum. The affidavits state that the land they own is fertile and their only but rich source of livelihood, and that they strongly oppose the land acquisition/sale of their farmland, village waste or fallow and grazing lands to the government of Gujarat, Government of India, or the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) in order to give way to the proposed nuclear power plant in the region. They are requesting that their rights be protected and upheld against a project that will have tremendous, negative impact on their lives and livelihood.
However, the state and federal governments allegedly are pushing for the project, to the point of conducting the Environmental Public Hearing without allowing the peoples’ representatives to speak or being given the vital details of the project, which made the villagers walk out on that public hearing they deem illegal and invalid.
Their fears are likewise magnified upon receiving media reports that the Prime Minister has assured the US government and Westinghouse that the Nuclear Liability Act will be amended by Congress to be more favorable for the international nuclear corporations. Apparently, a similar step had been taken by the government before to placate nuclear corporations by framing rules that go against the spirit of the Constitution of India. That is a shameless sell out of Indian peoples’ lives. We register our strong protest against any further dilution of the Nuclear Liability Act that endangers and puts the lives of common people of India in great peril amounting to selling off Indian people’s lives and safety for nuclear profits.
We stand with the Gujarat communities in their decision to keep their lands, lives and livelihood. We join their request that you, as responsible public officials, protect and uphold their rights as peoples and communities who will be affected by the proposed project. In particular, we ask that you:
• Respect their right to livelihood as farmers, fisherfolk, hired labour
• Respect their right to information – transparency in the development plans involving and touching their lives directly
• Respect their right to know the resettlement and rehabilitation plans if and when land is acquired for the project
• Respect their right to self determination.
Thank You for Your Continued Support!
A 6,000 mega-watt capacity nuclear power plant is proposed to be built by Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) and Westinghouse Electric Company (WEC, USA) in Gujarat, India. In 2009, 777 hectares of land in this region were identified by the government as a site suitable for a nuclear plant. The initial Environment Impact Assessment report labeled the land as “barren”; this is remarkably inaccurate as a visit to the highly fertile farms at any time of the year would prove otherwise. This is the main reason why the villagers are opposed to the project: it would mean giving up their fertile lands and being relocated. Most of the farmers take three crops every year and the land is able to provide for their families’ needs sufficiently. They do not need money or employment from the company.
On 5 March 2013, a public hearing was held with about 24 villages within a 10 km radius of the proposed project. Project Affected Persons (PAPs) who will be directly affected wanted civil society members and experts to speak on their behalf at the public hearing but the Collector did not allow this. The 5,000 residents got angry and staged a walkout. Only Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti (PSS), an NGO actively fighting against the plant, drew attention to the mass walk-out and wrote to the authorities about some violations of the basic procedural norms while conducting the Environmental Public Hearing (EPH). However, Chairman and Managing Director (CMD) of NPCIL chose to ignore this fact and presented a totally different picture in his July 5 statement during the Annual General Body Meeting saying, “Public hearing for Chhaya-Mithi Virdi site in Gujarat was completed.”
NPCIL is protected by the antiquated Atomic Energy Act of 1962. The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) recently pulled up the NPCIL for not following guidelines on transparency. Likewise, the Department of Atomic Energy (under which the NPCIL falls) does not share some of the most important details of its plans with citizens, especially the ones who would be directly affected by their projects.
The affected villages are further dismayed by recent media reports after the September 2013 visit of the Prime Minister to Washington alleging that the Government of India is initiating a move to further dilute the Nuclear Liability Act which has stood in the way of sealing a nuclear agreement with Westinghouse. The further dilution of the Nuclear Liability Act will undermine again all democratic and sovereign institutions of India, beginning with Parliament. To assure the US Government and Nuclear Industry that the Government of India will make sure that the operator (NPCIL) will not use its ‘right of recourse’ against suppliers of defective equipments is a shameless sell out of Indian peoples’ lives. While other countries are deciding to go nuclear free, the Indian government is risking citizens lives by opting for nuclear power that contributes only less than 3% of its electricity production.
Mithi Virdi means ‘sweet ponds’ in Gujarati. “But the future being planned for the region now has a bitter taste to it,” says Praveenbhai, a teacher and trustee of the Gram Dakshina Murti Lokshala (school), a tiny utopia run on Gandhian principles. The proposed nuclear power plant will only be a few kilometers away from the Gram Dakshina school. The villages fear their peace will be broken if this project pushes through. And it continues to be a puzzle to them why their government should want this when the state of Gujarat boasts of being the leader in installed capacity for solar energy and claims to generate surplus electric power.