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The Koodankulam Struggle and the 'Foreign Hand'

The Government of India is bent on maligning the struggle against the Koodankulam nuclear power plant in Tamil Nadu because it cannot comprehend that ordinary citizens can understand issues and wage a spirited struggle to protect their lives and livelihoods. One of the leaders of the movement writes about their struggle and addresses the allegation that the protests are being funded by foreign organisations.

COMMENTARY

The Koodankulam Struggle and the ‘Foreign Hand’

S P Udayakumar

made up their minds and took to the streets on their own on 11 August 2011. Then we all together decided to organise a day-long hunger strike on 16 August at Idinthakarai and a three-day fast on 1719 August at Koodankulam.

On 17 August itself the authorities

The Government of India is bent on maligning the struggle against the Koodankulam nuclear power plant in Tamil Nadu because it cannot comprehend that ordinary citizens can understand issues and wage a spirited struggle to protect their lives and livelihoods. One of the leaders of the movement writes about their struggle and addresses the allegation that the protests are being funded by foreign organisations.

This is a revised version of an article that was first posted on the website DiaNuke.org.

S P Udayakumar (Koodankulam@yahoo.com) is coordinator of the struggle committee, People’s Movement against Nuclear Energy, Koodankulam.

Economic & Political Weekly

EPW
march 24, 2012

W
e, the fi sherfolk, farmers, shopkeepers, dalit workers, beedirolling women and others near the southernmost tip of India, have been fighting against the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Project (KKNPP) since the late 1980s.

This Russian project was shelved right after the Soviet Union’s collapse and taken up again in 1997. The Government of India and the Government of Russia have constructed two huge reactors of 1,000 MW each without any consent of or consultation with the local people. We have just obtained the outdated Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report after 23 years of a long and hard struggle.

The nuclear authorities of the Government of India have not shared any basic information about the project with the public. They do not give complete and truthful answers to our questions on the “daily routine emissions” from these reactors, the amount and management of nuclear waste, fresh water needs, impact of the coolant water on our sea and seafood, decommissioning costs and effects, Russian liability and so forth. We are deeply disturbed by all this.

Causing Panic

We the people in the villages in the area watched the Fukushima accident of 11 March 2011 on TV in our homes and understood the magnitude and repercussions of a nuclear accident. Right after that on 1 July 2011, the KKNPP announced the “hot run” of the fi rst reactor that made so much noise and emitted smoke. Furthermore, the authorities asked the people, in a mock drill notice, to cover their nose and mouth and run for their life in case of an emergency. As a result of all these, the people in Koodankulam and Idinthakarai villages

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i nvited us for talks and asked us to postpone our struggle to the first week of September because of the upcoming Hindu and Muslim festivals. Within a few days, the chief of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) announced that the first reactor would go critical in September 2011.

So we embarked upon an indefi nite hunger strike on 11 September 2011 and the women in the movement blocked a state road on 13 September for a few hours when the central and state governments continued to ignore us. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa invited us for talks on 21 September and passed a cabinet resolution the next day asking the central government to halt all the work until the fears and concerns of the local people were allayed. We ended our hunger strike on the 22 September but went on another round of indefinite hunger strike from 9 to 16 October when the talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Prime Minister’s Offi ce failed.

We laid siege in front of the KKNPP on 13-16 October 2011 when the plant authorities did not halt work at the site as per the Tamil Nadu state cabinet resolution. We ended both the indefi nite hunger strike and the siege on 16 October in order for our people to participate in the local body elections on 17 October. From 18 October 2011, we have been on a relay hunger strike continuously for more than 140 days now. We have been conducting massive rallies, village campaigns, public meetings, seminars, conferences, and other demonstrations such as shaving our heads, cooking on the street, burning the models of the nuclear plants, etc. This struggle has been going on for the past 200 days and the morale of the people is still very high.

Instead of understanding the people’s genuine feelings and fulfi lling our demands, the Government of India has

COMMENTARY

foisted serious cases of “sedition” and “waging war on the Indian state” on the leaders of our movement. As many as 180-200 cases have been fi led against members of the movement. There has been police harassment, stalking by intelligence officers, concocted news reports in the pro-government media, abuse of our family members, hate mail, death threats and even physical attacks. The Government of India does not want to acknowledge the simple fact that even “ordinary citizens” of India have a mind of their own, can take a stand on policy issues and “development” projects that affect their lives, and stand up for their rights to life and livelihood.

Although India is a democracy, our government in Delhi has been keen on safeguarding the interests of the multinational corporations (MNCs) and pleasing some powerful countries such as the United States, Russia, and France, etc. The welfare of the “ordinary citizens” of India does not figure on their list of priorities. The central government and the ruling Congress Party stand by the nuclear agreements they have made with all different countries and consider us as stumbling blocks on their road to development. The main opposition party, Bharatiya Janata Party (Hindu nationalist party), is interested in the nuclear weapons programme and making India a superpower and hence loves everything nuclear. It is ironic that these two corrupt and communal forces join hands with each other against their own people. They bend backwards to please their US and other bosses but question our integrity and nationalist credentials.

Our leaders and a group of 15 women were physically attacked on 31 January 2012 at Tirunelveli by Congress Party thugs and Hindutva fascists when we had gone for talks with the central government expert team. Now the government cuts electricity supply so often and so indiscriminately in order to drive home the message that the nuclear power plant is needed for additional power. They try to create resentment and opposition among the public against our anti-nuclear struggle.

To put it all in a nutshell, this is a classic David-Goliath fight between the citizens of India and the powerful government supported by the rich capitalists, MNCs, imperial powers and the global nuclear mafia. They promise foreign direct investment (FDI), nuclear power, development, atom bombs, security and superpower status. We demand risk-free electricity, a disease-free life, unpolluted natural resources, sustainable development and a peaceful future. They say the Russian nuclear power plants are safe and can withstand earthquakes and tsunamis. But we worry about their sideeffects and after-effects. They speak for their scientist friends and business partners and have their eyes on commissions and kickbacks. But we fight for our children and grandchildren, our animals and birds, our land, water, sea, air and the skies.

Foreign Money?

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and some of the ministers in the Government of India have been accusing us of receiving money from some non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the US and Scandinavian countries, and of collaborating with foreigners and so forth. The Government of India even detained a foreign tourist from Germany at Nagercoil recently and deported him without proving anything. He has been talking to the Indian press saying that he has had nothing to do with funding any antinuclear activities in India. A few local NGOs in Tamil Nadu belonging to Christian institutions and Christian individuals have been blacklisted, scrutinised and harassed. All of them have rightly denied that they have had anything to do with our struggle.1

It is pertinent to note that this government has opened up our economy to foreigners, their MNCs and FDI, etc. They even tried recently to hand over all the retail businesses to foreigners. When the whole country opposed the move, they have just put it on hold. And it is quite ironic that they are accusing us of having foreign collaboration and foreign money connections!

The Russian and US diplomats are also freely interfering in our internal affairs and expressing opinions, especially about foreign funding. This presages the “New East India Company” meddling in our affairs from now on and even dictating terms to us, Indians. While accusing us of receiving foreign money for our struggle, Russian ambassador to India, A lexander Kadakin, does not bother to

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march 24, 2012 vol xlviI no 12

EPW
Economic Political Weekly

COMMENTARY

explain why his country and his country’s companies do not want to give any liability whatsoever for the Koodankulam reactors. If these reactors are “the most secure, the best and the safest” in the whole wide world, why cannot Russia offer the maximum and unlimited liability for the Koodankulam reactors? Why do they hide behind the secret Inter-Governmental Agreement they signed with the Government of India in 2008?

Authorities from the US have clarifi ed that NGOs in their country do not support any anti-nuclear activities in India. If the US is so earnest in all its business dealings, why do they keep pressurising the Indian politicians and bureaucrats to water down the Nuclear Liability Act? Why does the Government of India not stand up and fight for the best liability package for its citizens instead of trying to please their foreign masters? What moral legitimacy do these “Merchants of Venice” have to talk about foreign funding and other people’s fi nancial dealings?

Our Funds and Personal Records

As the coordinator of this genuine struggle of ordinary citizens of India, I would like to clarify that we have not received any money from any Indian or international NGO or business house, or political party. Our activities are funded exclusively by the voluntary contributions of our fishermen, farmers, shopkeepers, workers and beedi-rolling women.

Our own people sustain our simple Gandhian struggle on our own. Our needs are very few and the expenses therefore are also very little. People who come to our protests/activities arrange their own transportation. We, the organisers of the relay hunger strike, offer nothing more than drinking water. The Koodankulam people have offered rice porridge or a simple vegetarian meal on a couple of occasions (when we laid siege) from their own contributions. We do not offer any daily wages, or food, or alcohol or pocket money to the participants as some Indian political parties often do in their party events.

A team of 20 individuals from Idinthakarai village handles the donations we receive for the struggle and they keep accounts of what they receive and spend. They have shown the accounts to

Economic Political Weekly

EPW
march 24, 2012

visiting political leaders and have issued the accounts to the press also.

Obviously, our money-minded politicians cannot fathom the spontaneous, powerful and revolutionary uprising of the citizens of India who have had enough of them. Our struggle and our people speak a totally different language of truth and justice which these power-hungry unruly elements cannot and will not understand.

As the coordinator of the ongoing struggle, I would like to state here that I have not solicited or received or handled any money from anybody for this struggle. To demonstrate this point, I am giving below my and my family’s income details, properties, bank accounts and loans.

  • (a) Income: My wife and I depend on agricultural income from our lands, and occasional speaking and teaching fees, researching and writing fees. We both have PAN cards, audit our personal accounts annually, and pay income taxes.
  • (b) Properties:
  • Inherited From father: 5 cents land and house Nagercoil, Kanyakumari district, Tamil Nadu. From mother: (i) 7.5 cents land and house Nagercoil, Kanyakumari district; (ii) 14 cents land paddy fi eld Thiruppathisaram village, Kanyakumari district.

    Purchased (date of purchase, area,

    location). 26 March 1994, 10 cents land Nagercoil village, Kanyakumari district. 21 December 1994 to 30 March 2000,

    3.77 acres Neendakarai village, Kanyakumari district (10 pieces). 1 July 1998 to 23 March 1999, 8.435 acres Azhagiapandiapuram village, Kanyakumari district (4 pieces). 9 September 2005, 7.5 cents land and house Nagercoil, Kanyakumari district 2 May 2008, 91 cents Azhagiapandiapuram village, Kanyakumari district (2 pieces).

  • (c) Bank Account: (Bank name, branch, account number, balance as most recently (early March) recorded).
  • (i) S P Udaykumar: State Bank of India (SBI), Nagercoil HO, a/c 10843375998,
  • vol xlviI no 12

    Rs 4,953.84, Tamilnad Mercantile Bank (TMB), Edalakudy, a/c 92100050084848, Rs 1,703.05.

    (ii) Meera Udayakumar (my wife) SBI, Nagercoil HO, a/c 10843378900, Rs 1,380.72, TMB, Edalakudy, a/c 92100050303549, Rs 309.00, Canara Bank, Kottar, a/c 1111101027576, Rs 2,331.00.

    (iii) SACCER Trust a/c SBI, Kottar, a/c 10663109330, Rs 5,716.07.

  • (iv) SACCER Matriculation School a/c I ndian Bank, Meenakshipuram, a/c 460443812, Rs 12,632.00 (The SACCER Trust runs the SACCER Matriculation School; does not have a Foreign Currency (Regulation) Act registration; accepts legal donations from local individuals and institutions; audits the accounts annually. The school owns two vans.)
  • (v) S Paramarthalingom a/c: TMB, Edalakudy, a/c 92100050018652, Rs 714.19.
  • (vi) S Ponmony a/c: SBI, Nagercoil HO, a/c 10843329464, Rs 35,566.26.
  • (d) Jewel Loans: (Bank, name of the person, loan amount, due date) TMB, S P Udayakumar, Rs 1,06,000, due date 30 March 2012, Canara Bank, Meera Udayakumar, Rs 98,000, due date 15 April 2012, TMB, Meera Udayakumar, Rs 1,05,000, due date 23 April 2012, TMB, Meera Udayakumar, Rs 1,20,000, due date 6 May 2012. TMB, S P Udayakumar, Rs 98,000, due date 8 June 2012, TMB, S Paramarthalingom, Rs 70,000, due date 25 October 2012 and loan against deposits, Indian Bank, Meenakshipuram, Rs 50,000, due date 22 December 2015 (deposit amount Rs 1,20,000). My wife has some 25 sovereign gold jewels, and we have 2 small fixed deposits in our boys’ names, and two 2- and 3-storeyed buildings at our school.
  • The approach of the Government of India so far has been: “Give the lame dog a bad name and hang it”. They try to malign the names and reputation of the leaders of the struggle, undermine our credibility and acceptance, and isolate us from our own people. They try to confuse the people about the goals and objectives of the struggle by diverting their

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    COMMENTARY

    attention from the real issues to the sensational, fake and non-issues. Appearing to be credible and responsible, the government cracks down on the movement and the dissension. But as a friend Farai Maguwu from Zimbabwe said, “the ‘ordinary people’ are extra-ordinarily intelligent; they can read between the lines”. When they read between the lines, they refuse to fall in line as in the recent Uttar Pradesh and other state elections. The writing on the wall is clear! If only the Government of India could read it!

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    Note

    1 Accusing the dissidents of collaborating with foreign powers, receiving foreign funds and being disloyal to their own country has become a trend all over the world. Farai Maguwu, a personal friend from Zimbabwe, has written to me recently: “Your description of the government reaction to your constructive non-violent struggle reflects some sort of desperation on the part of your government and the strategy is to isolate you from the people by insinuating that you are working for foreign agents. Take comfort in knowing that unaccountable governments use the same manuscript in silencing citizens and bulldozing their catastrophic agendas and programmes. Your description of the situation resonates very well with our struggle here in Zimbabwe where a prefi x has

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    been added to NGOs to read ‘Western Funded NGOs’ or ‘agents of regime change’. All this is a propaganda campaign to mislead the people into believing that we are their enemies. But please be encouraged that the ‘ordinary people’ are extra-ordinarily intelligent, they can read between the lines”. Another common friend of Farai and me, Janyce Konkin from Canada argues: “It appears that this tactic has become a worldwide phenomenon. Our Conservative Harper government in Canada has recently used this same shameless accusation against not-for-profi t environmental organisations standing up against faulty oil gas development applications, pipelines, etc. They are totally trying to discredit the hard-working, dedicated, know ledgeable and honest volunteers who are working to hold the government and the oil companies to account”.

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    march 24, 2012 vol xlviI no 12

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