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Massive Satyagraha at Jaitapur-Madban against Nuclear Power Project

November 7, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

Vivek Monteiro in People’s Democracy

November 7, 2010

THE people’s struggle against the Jaitapur Nuclear Power Project (JNPP) reached a qualitatively higher stage on October 29 with the massive response to the Jail Bharo call issued by the Jan Hit Seva Samiti — an organisation of the project affected people. On October 16, the Maharashtra government and the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd declared a fresh compensation and rehabilitation package of Rs 650 crore. On the occasion, GoM minister Narayan Rane made the statement that the opposition to the project was from outsiders only and that the local people were in its favour. The October 29 satyagraha and Jail Bharo call was given in response to the minister’s statement. It was termed by the press and the media as a “shakti pradarshan” (show of strength).

Understanding that this would be a crucial trial of strength, the state administration and NPCIL went all-out to thwart the satyagraha. Prohibitory orders were issued by the police. Preventive arrests and detention commenced immediately thereafter. However, no important leader could be arrested, as the main leadership had gone underground. Despite the repressive measures, the work of mobilisation continued uninterrupted.

In an earlier article on Jaitapur, we have reported about the challenge to the Enivronmental Impact Assessment made by the Konkan Bachao Samiti. KBS activists Arun Velaskar and Mangesh Chavan evaded the police dragnet to hold meetings of villagers in all the neighbouring villages.

From October 28 itself, all roads leading to Madban village (the site of the proposed JNPP) were sealed. Police forces from three districts — Raigad, Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg — were deployed on all roads and major intersections in Rajapur taluka. The vehicles of Admiral Ramdas (Retd) and Supreme Court Justice P B Sawant (Retd) were stopped and prevented from reaching the venue of the satyagraha.

On the 29th morning, the police twice stopped and searched the state transport bus in which this correspondent — along with Pramila Manjalkar and Sugandhi Francis, president and secretary respectively of Janwadi Mahila Sangathana, Mumbai — were travelling to Madban from Rajapur. We could evade the police cordon around Madban by dismounting at the nearby village Mitgawhane and walking to the site through a hilly jungle path. Mitgawhane is Pramila Manjalkar’s ancestral village. When we reached there, it was deserted. We were told that everyone had gone to join the satyagraha.

When we reached Madban, more than 1500 satyagrahis had already arrived. They had reached the site by walking up paths in the hills or coming by boats through the sea route. The local Bhagwati Devi temple was jampacked with women. It was clear that the preventive orders had failed completely to prevent the satyagraha.

At the appointed time of 11.30 a m, Jan Hit Sewa Samiti president Pravin Gawhankar — against whom an arrest warrant had been issued several days earlier — appeared in the midst of the temple and addressed the crowd,  while the heavily outnumbered police watched as bystanders. The demonstrators were holding placards reading “Areva, Go Back,” “Sarkozy, Go Back” and “Obama, Go Back.”

Addressing the media, Gawhankar said the enhanced package was meaningless because we were not negotiating about the compensation amount, nor had we asked for compensation. People are opposing the nuclear project.

Vivek Monteiro stated that the JNPP had not been subjected to scientific scrutiny and would fail the scientific test. The decision to build the JNPP is not scientific but political. He informed the media that the Trade Unions Joint Action Committee had passed a resolution to support the struggle and that soon the campaign would be taken to other districts of Maharashtra.

Addressing the crowd, Arun Velaskar said that the JNPP is an outcome of the Indo-US nuclear deal and that Sarkozy and Obama would be coming to India to sell expensive reactors that nobody in their own countries was willing to buy. The court arrest began in a disciplined manner at around 12.30 p m. At around 2 p m, Justice Kolshe-Patil reached the venue and addressed the demonstrators. He too was arrested.

The police arrangements for transporting the demonstrators to a detention centre at the Abbasaheb Marathe College at Hativale, 25 kilometres away, collapsed in the face of the growing numbers of satyagrahis. An estimated 500 to 600 fisherfolk, including 250 women, arrived from the neighbouring Nate fishing village by boat after offering the morning namaaz, adding to the crowd. In the face of the growing crowds, after two rounds of arrests and transportation, in which around 800 persons were arrested, the deputy collector had to request the leadership to stop courting arrest.

The successful satyagraha was a resounding rejoinder to Narayan Rane and the government. The spontaneous mass mobilisation in the face of prohibitory orders, arrests and detention, not only by the affected villages but also from the neighbouring villages whose lands have not been acquired, is an indication that the appeal of those opposing the JNPP is broadening. The message of the satyagraha is clear. Those supporting the project will face political isolation in the coming days. The struggle against the JNPP is now emerging as a democratic mass struggle which has the potential to change the political landscape of the Konkan coast districts in Maharashtra.

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