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Take your pick: N-power or darkness

 | March 2, 2012

Protests against Kudankulam, built with Russian help, have prevented the plant from opening.


The southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu is in the grip of a power crisis which is crippling industry and distressing life in general.

I was in Coimbatore last week. Often called “Second Madras”, because of its geographical size, population and industrial activity (looms, hosiery, etc), the city is reeling under 10 to 12 hours of power outage every day.

The picture is as bleak elsewhere in the state, and even in the suburbs of the capital city, Chennai. In Chennai, electricity is switched off for two hours every day.

It is widely believed that had the Kudankulam nuclear power plant, ready for commissioning, begun operating, it could have generated 1,000 megawatts – easily transporting Tamil Nadu from darkness to light.

But protests against Kudankulam, built with Russian help, have prevented the plant from opening.

Those against the Kudankulam project argue that nuclear plants close to densely populated human habitations pose serious safety hazards. Last year’s nuclear plant catastrophe in Japan following an earthquake and tsunami is being cited as an example.

But the former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and head of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, MK Karunanidhi —   whose government had been determined to build the plant in time — quipped that Chennai had co-existed with the neighbouring Kalpakkam nuclear power plant without any accident.

In typical political one-upmanship, he accused the present Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, Jayalalithaa, and her All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam of tacitly supporting the protesters.

What is of graver consequence is Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s charge that American non-governmental organisations (NGOs) were fuelling the agitation against Kudankulam.

It has since then been found that funds meant for social development were being diverted for keeping the protest alive, and stalling the plant’s progress.

Church groups active

A report in First Post says: “Although Singh did not mention the faith-based affiliation of these NGOs, it is an open secret that church groups based in the coastal districts of Tamil Nadu, which receive crores of rupees in donations from overseas, have been active in backing the anti-nuclear agitation.

”Two of the NGOs have been working in the area of fishermen’s livelihood, and their support for the anti-nuclear protest draws on the fears to the fisherfolks’ livelihood from the nuclear power plant.

“…although the agitation against the nuclear project began as a secular movement, intended to raise awareness about the dangers of nuclear plants, the protest has in recent months been appropriated by the church”.

A book, Breaking India: Western Interventions in Dravidian and Dalit Fault lines, contend that American and European churches are now pumping in money to fund movements like those against Kudankulam.

Tamil Nadu politicians have never spoken against churches, because Christians have been an important vote bank.

However, with the church reportedly interfering in politics, Singh must have been so angry that he spoke out, although he never linked the NGOs with any religion.

In the final take, Kudankulam has been certified by experts as absolutely safe. Yes, but then, nothing can be 100 per cent safe, I suppose, and if we are going to wait for that, we may as well live in darkness. As Tamil Nadu now is living – as do many other regions in India.

Gautaman Bhaskaran is a Chennai-India based author, columnist and film critic, and can be contacted at [email protected]. He is an FMT columnist.


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