The public hearing on the Environmental Impact Assessment of the proposed Gorakhpur Nuclear Power Plant in Fatehabad, Haryana came to an end within 40 minutes of its start yesterday after the local people’s fierce opposition. Irked by the farcical and undemocratic manner in which the EIA hearing was bei8ng conducted, at least 8,000 people from Gorakhpur, Kajal Heri, Khajuri, Badopal and other villages started protesting as the event started. Hansraj Singh Siwach, the President of the Kisan Sangharsh Samiti (Farmers’ Struggle Committee), raised objection on the undemocratic manner in which the hearing was being conducted: the enabling document – the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report which was supposed to be provided to the villagers one month in advance, in local language, was not given.

EIA Report ‘leaked’?

Interestingly, India Today and Mail Online have reported that the EIA was ‘leaked’ by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) a day before the public hearing. The EIA report is a public document that must be made available to the people well in advance. Where does the question of its leak arise? At least, the mainstream media has indirectly highlighted that the EIA report was not made available to people in advance as per the norms.

Public consultation under gun point?

At least 12 units of heavily-armed state and paramilitary forces, water-cannon vehicles and tear-gas etc riot-control gears were deployed at the venue. The speakers’ dias was surrounded by barbed wires. During a rehearsal in the run upto this event, 2 security personnel were reported by the local to have been injured, while mock-practicing with tear-gas shells. Prof. Banwari Lal Sharma of the Azadi Bachao Aandolan (Save the Freedonm Movement) was present at the event and condemned the authorities to reduce the public consultation into a formality and PR exercise conducted by turning the village into an armed cantonment.

Is it just “politics”?

The NPCIL officials and the local authorities later blamed the leaders of the opposition parties for instigating the people and making things unmanageable for them. T R Arora, Chief Project Manager of NPCIL for Haryana, has been quoted as saying: “about 30 persons asked questions on various environmental issues which were answered on the spot.” Deputy Commissioner Mr M L Kaushik reportedly said that the public hearing was successful, adding the authorities had to end the meeting early as they were apprehending mischief ! Sections of the local media have also painted it as a protest led by the opposition leaders.

The truth is, the opposition parties leaders entered the village much later, only after the hearing was already called off. Both HJK leader Kuldeep Singh Bishnoi and INLD leader Abhay Chautala and their supporters were stopped from entering the village. The opposition parties have come to support the protesting farmers – only after 2 years of their independent protest when at least 15 villages have already come out strongly to their support, gradually over last one year. So, it is the parties which are trying to widen their support-base by siding with the farmers protest. The struggle of Gorakhpur farmers is far from being “instigated” by political parties.

Farmers say no to nuclear in Gorakhpur Fatehabad

Initially the government and its supportive media assumed that the villagers are fighting for better compensation of their land. Despite the compensation being raised to Rs. 36,00,000 per acre of land- quite a high amount as compared to the normal market rate in the area- the farmers have not given up on their protest. Hansraj Siwach, who owns more than 80 acres in the area and would become a millionaire if he sells his land to the govt, told “we have three mothers – the mother who gave us birth, our motherland India, and the mother earth which has been supporting us from generations. Even if we die, we wont part with our land. In this struggle, my 3 friends have lost their lives in last 2 years. I will never give up my land.”

Eminent Indians and activists support the farmers’ protest

A day before the public hearing, prominent intellectuals and activists like Vandana Shiva, Medha Patkar, Praful Bidwai, Achin Vanaik and others issued a joint statement condemning the farcical public hearing. The statement said “We condemn this brazen violation of MoEF rules and basic norms of democracy and transparency. Independent experts and popular movements have questioned the safety, viability and relevance of nuclear energy at many places across India and the world.”

The proposed Nuclear Power Project and its hazards

Gorakhpur Nuclear Power Project (GNPP) will create 4 heavy water nuclear power plants of indigenous design, with a capacity of 700 MWs each, two of which will be constructed in the first phase. These would be the biggest indigenous nuclear power plants so far built in the country and the NPCIL has no experience of running such huge reactors. The Project has raised concerns because of a number of reasons – displacement, land-acquisition, environmental damage, possibility of devastating accidents, and appropriation of valuable canal water essential for the thriving agriculture in the district.

Public hearing under at Gunpoint?

A total of over 1500 Acres of land is being acquired from Gorakhpur, Badopal and Kajal Heri villages. Notification for this acquisition was issued last year the land – under ‘urgency clause’ (Section IV) of the archaic & colonial Land Acquisition Act 1894. The agitation in the area started soon after the villagers received this acquisition notice. Far from heeding to the farmers’ demand, the government sent another notice last month under Section 6 of the Act which is a step further and only asks if anyone has any objection to the compulsory land acquisition.

The area around Gorakhpur is densely populated. The village has a population of 25 thousands. A township for the GNPP will is planned in the neighbouring Badopal village, which already has a population of around 20 thousand people, violating Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB)’s own rules which says not the ‘sterile zone’ (a circle of 6.6 km radius around any reactor), not more than 10 thousand people should be living. Also, towns like Fatehabad, Ratiya and Tohana fall in close vicinity of the project and a big town like Hisar (population – 200, 000) is just 30 kms away. The fatehabad district has a total population of nearly 8,00,000. In case of a major Fukushima-like accident, the fallouts would engulf New Delhi also, which is at a ‘as-the-crow-flies’ distance of 150kms.

Veteran Gandhian Mahavir Tyagi in Fatehabad

The proposed power plants would rely on the Bhakhra branch canal’s water. The reactors would suck up huge quantity of water even in their normal operation. And in case of a Fukushima-like accident, the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) has no plans as for the supply of large amount of water required for cooling.

The Bhakhra branch canal lifeline for the famers in the area and gives them better than national average output with three crops every year even when the average rainfall in the district is meagre. Majority of people in the district make their living out of agriculture-based trades and occupations – export, marketing and processing of agro-products, agro-chemical and agro-equipments business and transport required for all this. The farmers in the district and the State as a whole are relatively prosperous than their counterparts in other regions of India.

The Fatehabad district is home to rich bio-diversity. The lush-green landscape and the large number of birds and Black-bucks whom the local Bishnoi community reveres, are threatened by this project.