Does the Supreme Court care about Indian lives?


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This week, a bench of the Supreme Court (SC) cleared the commissioning of the nuclear power plant at Koodankulam, against which the residents of the area have been protesting for the last 630 days. We find this verdict to be highly unfortunate, and feel that it doesn’t take into account the value of Indian lives.

Ten days before the judgment, our supporters Poovulagin Nanbargal (friends of the earth) filed an affidavit before the Court that ZiO-Podolsk, which has supplied much of the equipment to the plant, is a discredited and corrupt company. Sergei Shutov, the procurement director of the company, was arrested in February 2012 on charges of using substandard metal in their equipment. When we filed an RTI with Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) this January, they denied having received equipment from ZiO-Podolsk, and it was only after repeated enquiries that the NPCIL was forced to admit the truth. This is a very serious matter; if anything were to go wrong, crores of lives would be lost. Yet, the SC refuses to consider this issue while announcing its verdict.

Even accepting, for the sake of argument, that this matter came to light after the Court reserved its judgment, and thus cannot be admitted, what about waste management? The Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) told the Court that the waste would be buried under the Kolar gold fields in Karnataka, but the plan was dropped after the residents protested. And that was that. The Court didn’t ask again what alternative the DAE had, and passed its judgment without settling the question. So what happens to this highly toxic waste?

As for liability, an inter-governmental agreement of 2008 holds that the Russians would not be liable in case the faulty equipment malfunctions. What a great deal! You buy whatever rubbish they give you, and you exempt them from liability. So much money has been stolen by both rich Indians and Russians, and the poor locals have to bear the brunt of the greater risk. Who is liable? Is Manmohan Singh liable? He might not be in power two months from now. Would it be the DAE? The KKNPP site director Kasinath Balaji has disappeared, and someone else is in his post. The NPCIL? SK Jain, who was the chairman, is now leading a cushy life in Tokyo as the chairman of the governing board of the World Association of Nuclear Operators. Who will be here to answer for something going wrong? We do not trust these bureaucrats and officials, and now we can’t even trust the SC. If the SC cared about Indian lives, it should have asked these questions.

But no, the Court says that a balance has to be struck between the right to life and sustainable development, that the larger public interest should prevail over minor inconveniences caused to local people. If the inconvenience is really minor, why don’t they build the plant near Parliament? The “larger public interest” it speaks of is nothing but the interests of large corporations for which poor fishermen, women and children should apparently sacrifice their lives and livelihoods.

Regardless, our struggle continues. We may not be successful in closing the plant tomorrow, or in the next few months, or few years. We are patient. We shall persevere. For we have persevered despite the government’s campaign to spread lies and libel us. They have claimed that those who oppose the Koodankulam plant are foreign stooges and that we receive money from abroad. VS Achuthanandan, the former chief minister of Kerala, opposes the plant. Did he take money from abroad? Dr A Gopalakrishnan, the former head of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, has written extensively against the plant. Does he do so for foreign money? Admiral (Retd) Ramdas opposes the plant. Medha Patkar is against it. So is Aruna Roy. Who paid them? Why, when such luminaries have stood up against the government’s anti-people stance, should nameless, faceless Udayakumar be singled out by the Americans for payments?

I don’t take the government’s vilification seriously, because I have nothing at stake. I am not trying to join politics, and I don’t need a certificate of approval from anybody. It’s not me anyone should be worried about, but the people of Idinthakarai, of Koothankuli, of other villages that will be affected, who have lost so much because they chose to take a stand. They have lost their incomes, they have been arrested, they have been attacked by the police. With the opening of the plant, things will only get worse.

But we persist, because we firmly believe that we are fighting for the good of our country, for which we have an enormous amount of love. India needs development, we agree, but in seeking that development, we must not undermine our natural resources, or the basic health of our people and our nutrition security. What are our priorities, after all? Half of our population lives under 20 a day, half of our population barely has any sanitation. We don’t have the basic necessities. People are dying for want of safe drinking water. Instead of addressing these issues, why does our government persist in its obsession with nuclear power, which only adds to the suffering of the poor? Yes, we need electricity, but there needs to be leadership in how we go about harnessing it. If a country like Germany can develop so much electricity from solar power, why can’t we? We have been vilified as fighting against the interests of our country. We have been called Luddites standing in the way of progress. But it must be made clear that we are not against electricity, only nuclear power. We are not against development that benefits Indians, but against that which benefits corrupt Russian companies. We want our people to live as human beings, in a State that does not compromise their safety or on the basic necessities of life.

The greatest challenge we have faced in the course of our protest is the power differential between the people and the State. We celebrate our country as the world’s largest democracy, but its people are hopelessly powerless. Nobody listens to the people. The Parliament wastes our time, energy and resources. Even to ask a question in Parliament, we must bribe MPs, and even when they ask the question, it is just a ritual. No serious debate takes place. This democracy we speak of is a sham. It works only to cheat the poor of their rights.

As told to Ajachi Chakrabarti


  1. No answers to our Questions and millions of life is in true danger.

    Nuclear Market is too much lucrative for the indian bureacracy and people’s life is very cheaper.

    Kudos to the comrades Udayakumar and Sundarajan, others who are still fighting to save humanity and and our lands.

  2. NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) phenomenon is not something new or unique to India. Whenever an industrial unit is constructed anywhere in the world, such opposition is encountered. So what does one do – not build the plant? Ridiculing atomic energy is negating all scientific developments of past. Three fourth of all power generated in France is atomic, so is 20% of US electricity. Agreed that there have been controversies regarding safety aspects but most of them have been addressed in last two decades. China is building atomic plants on a massive scale, so is South Korea and Middle East. We are an energy starved country and if we don’t use every means to generate power, we will not be able to pull out our people from clutches of poverty.

  3. These Tamil people are protesting for more than 600 days in peaceful way. But the India Govt keep on suppressing the people.
    Govt construct a non-quality nuclear reactor of worth 22000croes.
    The reactor parts were a supplied by a corrupted Russian company.
    Govt want to pollute the land and water. So the ppl oppose it. This nuclear plant should be closed. This is not secured one. We can get the electricity with many alternative ways like Solar, Tidal power, Hydro power, Thermal, etc

    • Its not Tamil people who are protesting. Tamil people are struggling without power. Its mostly foreign funded money that’s leading this protest.Show me one country ( which has substantial population) where renewable energy provides more than 80% of power supply. What is the cost of the power if we use renewables? Would you be willing to may 20 per unit?
      This kind of discussion can be good in Scandinavian countries with high standard of living and low population. If people are so enamored of renewable source of energy, ask them to show a prototype that will give more power than this nuclear plant and costs the same.

  4. Why the govt only looks at dangerous nuclear and pollutable thermal power sources when energy crisis arises? There are a lot of potential in renewable power sources. At present only 12% of total energy is generated from solar and wind power. Why cant the govt invest more in renewable energy sector? The emmission from nuclear power plant may be small in quantity,i.e. 2-3%. But 300 years is needed for these emmitted elements become non-radioactive. In India there are only 3 or 4 nuclear waste recycling units. Hence, it is risky to set up more and more nuclear power plants.

  5. To all the people asking that we scrap nuclear plants:

    1. Your contention that we can use renewable energy such as wind, solar etc. is flawed. Here are the reasons:
    a. Wind, solar etc. are only 20% – 30% efficient at best. That means even though India has nearly 15 GW of wind power installed and lots of solar (in GW) as well, the actual units of electricity produced are very less. For every GW of nuclear/coal etc that you install the production is much more than a GW of renewable.
    b. The production from renewable sources is intermittent and cannot be switched on and off. These 2 factors lead to a lot of issues with managing demand and supply and create problems with the grid. Thus they cannot replace base load power plants such as coal/nuclear
    c. Renewable power is extremely expensive as the capital costs are high. Every MW of wind power is roughly rupees 6 crores and every MW of solar is roughly rupees 10 crores. Capital costs have fallen but as long as efficiency of renewable power sources is low the tariff charged per unit has to be higher, in order to recover the capital costs. Power derived from wind will cost Rs 4 – 5 per unit, solar power will cost Rs. 7 – 10 per unit. Power from nuclear and coal will cost Rs. 1 – 2 per unit. Indian consumers will not bear the extra costs willingly.
    d. Places like Germany can push renewable power because they have a far better grid, far more aware people who are willing to pay a premium for power from renewable sources and can afford to subsidize power consumption as it is a richer country

  6. Nuclear Energy is the best. There are relatively less environmental problems when you make it. There is however an element of risk. If there is a defect in construction, then it will be catastrophic.

  7. Where will you hoard the wastes of nuclear power plants? No one can destroy it for 300 years.. If there is large no of nuclear power plants,the large will be the nuclear waste.. India currently has only 3-4 nuclear waste recycling units..

  8. The People who advocate for Nuclear energy for India’s power crisis should do a little bit of homework on the impact of nuclear accidents also, like that of chernobyl,fukushima etc and the irrevocable destruction of natural resources (land, water and air). chernobyl still remains inhabitable even after 25yrs since the accident besides taking the toll of thousands of lives with cancer and various dreadful diseases due to radiation. All these propaganda of solving power crisis is a myth cultivated among the general public when the projected power output from these plants remains a hugely controversial (low)figure when compared to the huge investments being made. if the supreme court thinks inconvenience of few people (in this case, a large fishermen community) shouldn’t be the barrier for the country’s growth, then the question comes whose growth is this anyway?

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