24 March 2011

CPI(M) Double Standards: No To Jaitapur, Yes To Haripur?

Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity welcomes the CPI(M)’s unequivocal opposition to the proposed Jaitapur nuclear plant and asks for a similar stand on the plans for a nuclear park in Haripur. We demand from the CPI(M) a statement that says that they do not want to put lives of the people of South Bengal and the livelihoods of the people of Haripur at risk with a nuclear plant in a seaside area where the risk of a tsunami is there and which falls within Zone IV of seismic activity. (http://downtoearth.org.in/dte/userfiles/images/Earth_quake_map.jpg.) We demand that the rejection of the Haripur nuclear plant be made part of the Left Front manifesto.
On March 12th 2011, Suhashini Ali, ex- MP and renowned trade union leader from Uttar Pradesh and Khagen Das , MP from Tripura went as a members of a two member CPI(M) delegation to visit Jaitapur. A report of their visit has appeared in the People’s Democracy dated March 20, 2011. (http://pd.cpim.org/2011/0320_pd/03202011_13.html)
Not surprisingly, their report echoes our experiences in Nandigram, Singur and Haripur. We quote below :-
“People are not opposed to development. They said – there is not a single college or hospital in this area. We would contribute to the government building colleges, universities and hospitals but there is no talk of these things. They are opposed to a project that they know, despite all the lies and prevarications that the government is resorting to, will displace them and destroy their livelihoods.”
“The ‘affected’ areas that we visited are extremely prosperous. The farmers and fisherfolk produce the best mangoes and also the best fish and sea food in the region. They are responsible for exports running into crores every year. They employ more than 12,000 migrant workers all year round and their villages exude prosperity and hard work. The landscape around is lush and the waters sparkle. The attachment of the people to their land and to their professions is extremely strong and it is this that explains their determined resistance and willingness to sacrifice. “
“Majid Gowalkar told us, “ I employ 11 people. The government says that they will give us jobs after the project comes. But we are already giving more than 10,000 people from outside work at 250-300 rupees a day. And we are feeding our own families. So why should we accept ruination and then beg for jobs that we will never get.”
“Only 112 persons (out of 2000) who owned only 2 per cent of the total land in Mithgavane have accepted compensation from the state government. None of them reside in the area. Even after minister Narayan Rane announced an enhanced compensation of 10 lakh rupees per acre, not a single person has come forward to accept it.”
“No gathering of more than five people was permitted in the affected area and that, not only would two policemen accompany us throughout our visit but police and administrative officers would be keeping a close watch on our movements to ensure that the prohibitory orders were complied with!”
“The government has responded with repression, arrests, unaffordable bail bonds, threats and externment orders that are being processed.”
“An order(has been given to an activist) by the district collector by sms, informing him that his presence in the district had been banned for a week”;
The report at the end states clearly the demands of this two member team
“1) Cancel the Jaitapur Nuclear Project, 2) Return the lands which have been forcibly acquired and 3) Withdraw all police cases filed against the movement activists and also the ban orders and create a suitable environment for dialogue.”
Dr Anil Sadagopal, eminent educationist and scientist, as a response to the report has asked the CPI(M) three questions, which we give below and which we would like to reiterate:-
1. “Would CPI (M) now endorse your demands and take the Jaitapur people’s battle unflinchingly into the Parliament, insisting on cancellation of the Jaitapur nuclear power plant project irrespective of the Government’s claims of the so-called ‘safety reviews’ and ‘increased’ safety measures?
2. Have the CPI (M)-led governments in West Bengal and Kerala closed the doors of their respective states to moves by the centre to establish nuclear power plants therein? If the answer is in the affirmative, would your party declare this as its continuing stand in the party manifestos in the forthcoming assembly election?
3. Would your party now declare its unambiguous commitment to a national policy of promoting renewable and sustainable energy resources (solar, wind, bio-mass and others) for power production in place of the proposed nuclear power all over the country and raise people’s political consciousness in support of this rational stand?”

15 March 2011

Wanted: Democracy, Not Party Slaves, For West Bengal Assembly Elections

[With the forthcoming Assembly elections in West Bengal, we put forward our charter of demands for consideration by all political parties participating in the elections. We demand that the elected representatives function as servants of the people, not as slaves of their party. Once elected, they represent all in their constituency and, for this, they must rise above sectarian party interests and become true representatives of their constituencies.]

Elections come and go. Ruling groups change with power equations. Projects and programmes are put forward in the name of national development. While different groups traverse the corridors of power, we the ordinary working people realise from our daily experience that the king changes, but our everyday lives don’t. As the juggernaut of development travels faster and faster, the speed of the daily suffering of the working people also increases. Today, development and displacement have become synonymous. Job losses and unemployment go hand in hand with the accumulation of capital and the construction of factories. There is a new addition to the economic dictionary: jobless growth.

The launching pad of development is capital, not people. Water, forests and land are being destroyed behind the smokescreen of development. Nature’s equilibrium is being destroyed. Sub-soil resources, from water to minerals, are being robbed; forests are being cleared. Those who lived in organic relationship with Nature are losing their livelihoods and way of life. Farmlands are being taken over in the name of industrialisation. Food production is suffering and food security is on the brink of an abyss. The interests of the working class are being sacrificed in the interests of capital. The current discourse of development is fundamentally opposed to the interests of the working people. If it falls on some to pillage and to enjoy the proceeds, others are condemned to work, to produce ceaselessly and to starve. The core of this developmental ‘thinking’ is: rob whatever you can.

This cannot change merely by changing ruling groups within the framework of the current state structure. The structure needs to be challenged at its base and the economic thinking transformed. This has to be done in stages, the first of which is the fight for working people’s rights. As part of this struggle, we have to force the ruling groups to negotiate on these rights, to force them to accept those.  Here are our demands which we are placing before all parties standing for Assembly elections in 2011.  Look at Poster    Read More

14 March 2011

Nandigram: Letter To West Bengal Chief Secretary

[This is the letter that PBKMS and the Association for Protection of Democratic Rights sent to the Chief Secretary of the West Bengal government demanding compensation for those injured, raped/sexually molested in the Nandigram incident on 14 March 2007]

The State of West Bengal has so far compensated 159 injured persons and 3 rape victims of the 14th March 2007 incident at Nandigram. However, it has always been the contention of Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity and Association for the Protection of Democratic Rights that these numbers are very few compared to the actual number of people who were injured in the police firing and other atrocities at Nandigram on 14th March. We have therefore collated all the data available from various studies and individuals and have come to the conclusion that a much larger number of people were injured. We are therefore providing you with the following:
A list of 5 rape victims who have not been given the State Government’s compensation so far
A list of 163 injured persons who have not been given the State Government’s compensation so far, along with documents for each one of them to show that they received injuries on 14th March 2007
A list of 287 injured persons who reported being injured to various social organisations who studied the situation after 14th March 2007 and who have not been given the State Government’s compensation so far.

We are also sure that the number of victims is probably even larger than the 455 persons we have listed above.

It has also taken the Government 3 years to provide a small percent of those injured with compensation, where compensation for an incident of 14th March 2007 was released. Such delays have only increased people’s suffering.

We therefore demand that the
The Government should conduct an enquiry to identify all those who were injured and raped/sexually molested and therefore deserve compensation.
The Government should provide compensation to those listed above, after suitable verification.
The Government should compensate all the victims for the delay in providing compensation.

13 March 2011

No To Nuclear Energy

After the Fukushima nuclear plant accident in Japan, Paschim Banga Khet Majur Samity once again demands the withdrawal of the nuclear plant in Haripur. We repeat: “No Nuclear Plant In Haripur; No Nuclear Plant Anywhere.” 

It is time that planners in our country stopped playing God with other people’s lives. The accident at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan has once again drawn attention to the limitations of technology and the greed of the powerful. In its eagerness to promote the profits of nuclear industry of Russia , France and the USA, the Indian government is endangering the lives of its many citizens who live near various nuclear sites. Haripur is a prime example of this. 

The Fukushima accident has shown clearly that even a rich, technologically advanced country like Japan is unable to predict nature’s fury. In Fukushima, in simple layman’s terms, the cooling system at the plant collapsed, with first electricity failing, then fall back diesel generators packing up, and finally even battery operated back up collapsing. With levels of incompetence much higher in India, this does not seem an impossible scenario in our country. S K Malhotra, who heads the public awareness division of the Department of Atomic Energy has said that in case of an accident or a disaster, the design of the plants is made such "that the reactor automatically goes into safe mode, switches itself off but continues cooling the plant". However, after Fukushima, atomic scientist Dr Gopalakrishnan warns that nuclear safety in India is compromised by the lack of independence in the functioning of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB). 

Television coverage tells us that Japan has sensors in the ocean floor to predict earthquakes and tsunami, that all the people in the area affected by the nuclear plant explosion are being tested for radio activity. Can we imagine this level of caring for people’s needs and competence in a country which falters after 64 years of independence in dealing with diarrohea outbreaks and chronic hunger? Can this Government actually promise the security of the people of Haripur, Junput, Contai and surrounding villages? 

While working on the Haripur issue, we have seen that Government agencies have in fact tried to trivialise people’s threat perceptions. To deal with problems of displacement and discontent arising from that, we have seen that the Government has over time reduced the buffer zone from its original radius of 16.5 km, and has told people that it does not need so much of land for a nuclear plant, as safety standards have now improved considerably. There has been an impression created that life in Contai town will not be disturbed and only 9 villages will lose their land. On the other hand, in Fukushima, the Japanese Prime Minister has asked for evacuation of people within 20 km of the plant.  

If indeed nuclear power is so safe, why do people within 20 km of the plant have to be evacuated? News reports tell us that “radiation levels after the explosion reached the equivalent of what a human being is normally allowed to be exposed to over the course of an entire year. Three workers were being treated for severe radiation exposure. Although experts insisted that there was no risk to the wider public, health officials were distributing potassium iodine tablets to residents who, while awaiting evacuation, were told to turn off air-conditioners, stay indoors and not to drink tap water. People leaving their homes were warned to avoid exposing their skin and to cover their faces with masks and wet towels”.

Unlike Jaitapur in Mahrashtra ,  Haripur is not in the middle of a seismic zone prone to earthquakes. However, it is on the shore of the Bay of Bengal. As the past decade has shown, tsunamis are becoming more and more unpredictable. Even if we do believe that human error will be avoided, in terms of using technology in efficient ways for the good of the people of the area,  what about unpredictable natural phenomenon, beyond what technologists and scientists account for? What is to prevent Haripur from being overrun by a huge wave from the ocean at some point in the future- a wave that is beyond the calculations of the scientists? After all scientists are still not Gods who can totally control or even totally understand nature.

What makes the whole thing worse is that the people of Haripur-Junput do not at all want this bitter dose of “development”. Surveys, discussions, television interviews have all shown that the people are refusing to give their land for the nuclear plant. While their fears of safety are one part of it, the other part is that they are not willing to disrupt their lives which are culturally and economically rich. One wonders why the planners, if they are so convinced about the safety of the technology, do not use a site closer to home - for example the lawns of Lutyens' Delhi?

Despite the TMC’s stated opposition to a nuclear plant at Haripur, the UPA is obviously going full steam ahead with its plans. S.K. Jain, chairman and managing director of NPCIL, stated on March 3 2011 that the environmental evaluation process was expected to be over by 2012, to be followed by land acquisition. The first phase of the project will start within the 12th Five Year Plan Period, probably by 2014. On February 23, 2011, Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office, V. Narayanasamy, said in the Lok Sabha that the Government had not decided to shift the location of a proposed nuclear power plant from Haripur in West Bengal.

While the 2011 elections make the TMC-Congress alliance seem inevitable, one wonders, when it comes to Haripur, whether the alliance will prevail or whether the people’s voices will prevail.

The Parmanu Chulli Birodhi O Bheete Mati Jeeban Jeebika Bachao Committee (Committee Against Nuclear Plant and To Save Homes, Life and Livelihood) is organising a protest meeting at Haripur on the issue on March 16, Wednesday.