Jaya must step up

Events surrounding Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant in last couple of days have been very interesting. In no time, like other similar issues, the event reached a point of National Significance. Heres what the issue is about, in the words of The Hindu’s report:

After the Jaitapur nuclear power project in Maharashtra, it is now the turn of the 2,000-MWe Kudankulam atomic plant in Tamil Nadu to run into serious opposition.

As protests by local residents and activists intensified, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa on Monday urged Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to order the halting of the project until concerns and fears about the plant’s safety were addressed.

As expected the usual suspects were all over the place! They kept the pressure on Tamil Nadu government to halt the project. But the most astonishing point is Prime Minister’s “order” to halt the project until concerns and fears are addressed. Isnt he the man of great integrity who put his reputation at stake for passing the Nuclear Deal, shamelessly passed through the ordeal of Cash for Votes, muffled voices? So why isnt he today helping Tamil Nadu Government in resolving the issue? If UPA 2.0 were serious about solving power problems that India facing, wouldnt it have taken up the task to allay fears, ensure the project gets commissioned in time?

History of Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant

Let us step back for a moment and look at the history of Kudankulam plant. Basic information from Wiki says:

An Inter-Governmental Agreement on the project was signed on November 20, 1988 by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. The project remained in limbo for 10 years due to political and economic upheaval in Russia after the post-1991 Soviet breakup, and also due to objections of the United States on the grounds that the agreement does not meet the 1992 terms of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).[2]

There are negotiations over the possible addition of a naval base at the site, both safeguarding the project and as a presence in the southern tip of the country.[3] A small port became operational in Kudankulam on January 14, 2004. This port was established to receive barges carrying over sized light water reactor equipment from ships anchored at a distance of 1.5 kilometres (0.93 mi). Until 2004 materials had to be brought in via road from the port of Tuticorin, risking damage during transportation.[4]

While this remains the history of Kudankulam plant, what does the director of NPCIL say about the project? Heres another report from The Hindu:

The Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KKNPP) will provide “clean, safe and economical power to Tamil Nadu and we are confident that the Kudankulam reactors are safe and they have the latest technology,” said S.K. Jain, Chairman and Managing Director, Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL).

Tamil Nadu would be a major beneficiary of the project, getting 925 MWe out of 2,000 MWe to be generated by the two Russian reactors there. Karnataka would get 442 MWe, Kerala 266 MWe, Puducherry 67 MWe and 300 MWe remains unallocated. The NPCIL would sell the electricity generated at Kudankulam to State Electricity Boards for Rs. 2.50 a unit — which is “one of the cheapest tariffs,” Mr. Jain said on Friday. It was the NPCIL which built the two VVER-1000 Russian reactors at Kudankulam and “we want to showcase our achievement,” he said.

So fundamentally, three states in the south are going to benefit immensely from Kudankulam and its current plans. Curiously enough, despite so much promise for Kerala, UPA is not backing the project! That really puts the question back to us as “what is UPA’s game plan?”. Only Sonia Gandhi may know.

If Manmohan Singh is so certain that Nuclear power will solve power issues that India is facing, why is he opposing Kudankulam project? NPCIL Chairman is giving a lot of reasons why Kudankulam is safe. Despite this, UPA is not helping Jaya to face the issue. Why is UPA 2.0 not helping Jaya’s government sort out issues and ensure the project gets executed successfully? Is Kudankulam another classic case where it literally means “if INC does it, it is chamatakar and if somebody else does it, it is atyaachar!”

Jaya Should not Budge

Initial reaction of Jayalalitha to Manmohan Singh’s orders to halt power production at Kudankulam is quite interesting to look at. Read her response here. She doesnt mince words. Her first salvo is served right in 3rd paragraph:

The scope and magnitude of this issue is creating a fear psychosis among the people and villages surrounding Koodankulam. It is surprising to note that till date no responsible Minister or concerned higher authorities from the Government of India have visited the people or even attempted to assuage their misgivings.

It is unfortunate to see that the Centre is abdicating its responsibilities. The Prime Minister should have sent a high level team to allay the fears and misgivings of the people in the Koodankulam area.

It was naturally expected that at least the Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests, Ms. Jayanthi Natarajan, who hails from Tamil Nadu, would have made an attempt to visit these people. Instead, in an interview to the press, she said that the subject comes under the purview of the Atomic Energy Commission and her Ministry has nothing to do with it, thereby abdicating her duties as a Minister and absolving herself of any responsibility. Her remark that the Government officers would take care of the issue is callous in the extreme.

It is true that Government of India didnt even care for the concerns of the protestors so far. It is indeed refreshing to see that another CM of a state, like Modi, is ready to call the bluff of Central Government. The attitude is not just refreshing but also heartening. UPA needs to be shown its place and duty as the one leading Central Government.

As a side note, little opposition was shown to this project when, in 2008, construction started and we know who was leading the Government of Tamil Nadu in 2008. It is always after the project is months away from being commissioned that Medha Patkar and her cohorts find it necessary to burst upon the scene with their own judgements, concerns and fears. Is it to cause maximum financial damage to the Governments, we cannot tell. This is exactly the reason why many of the activists are at best “hurdles in national development”.

Narmada Bachao redux?

Please do note that similar protests happened in the name of “Narmada Bachao” when Sardar Sarovar was being constructed in Gujarat. However, after Sardar Sarovar was opened, it is said that the same people who supported Narmada Bachao closed doors on the face of Medha Patkar and her henchmen. A few months after Sardar Sarovar was opened, many asked “whither Narmada Bachao!?”

During the farce of Narmada Bacho, Modi adopted a brilliant strategy. It seemed to have constituted two steps:

  1. Keeping himself off the media spot light. A few justifications, but no debates, no press conferences etc.
  2. Pumping data about what good Sardar Sarovar can do to Gujarat into public debate and media, so that people are not misled.

This is the strategy that Jaya must adopt. That seems to be happening because today fast has been called off by the protestors. The Hindu reports:

The 11-day-old fast by locals demanding the scrapping of the Kudankulam nuclear power project was called off on Wednesday after Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa agreed for a cabinet resolution to request the Centre to halt the project.

In more ways than not, Kudankulam is what Sardar Sarovar was to Modi. It is necessary and vital to Tamil Nadu that Jayalalitha passes this hurdle unscathed. The problem with the “activists” is that one victory helps them pump more money into their treasury – thanks to the opposition parties that can pump in money required for newer and more creative “protests”. Many called for institutionalizing Modi’s methods. We are about to know if that is possible and do-able. Jayalalitha’s victory in ensuring Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant is commissioned successfully would be a very important step towards this.

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2 comments

  1. Persuasive argument, but I think Jaya has pulled off a master stroke – you see the idea of those agitating are to hold the CM to ransom during a crucial pre-local body polls. Their plan is to set up a confrontation with the CM & Centre to see if they can create ruckus.

    Jaya refused to bite the bait. She’s saying “Fine, have it your way for now. You’re right after all”

    That completely takes the winds out of the sails in the agitators camps and the crowds will go home.

    Agitation defused but hey, work on reactor not stopped at all.

    1. Exactly. Jaya is on her way. I do hope the reactor 5,6 are also back on road map and Jaya pulls that one off too.
      Unfortunately today, a responsible state government is not only required to govern the state but also ward off agitations, face central government’s apathy etc.
      As we can see Jaya seems to be on track. I hope she pulls it off.

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