It was not long after the meeting we attended for us to experience and realize more bitter facts regarding the nuclear projects adopted by the Indian government. We joined our professor and others from the Lok Raj Sangathan on a tour to Tarapur, the site of India’s first ever nuclear power plant. 40 eager souls, on a mission to uncover the truth! We were accompanied by two activists who are fighting against nuclear plants.
The plant was started in 1965, putting India on the nuclear map of the world. Tarapur falls in the Konkan, the land of beauty and serenity. The silent coast and roaring sea outlined the lush greenery, with the pleasant climate and varied wild life, all telling the story of its past glory. The point to think about is why that became ‘past’?
Our first stop was Mr. Jeetendra Raul’s bungalow. Mr. Raul had been a victim of resettlement due to the Tarapur project and has also been the Sarpanch of the concerned village for 15 years. He told us many startling things which were a slap on the government’s pathetic façade regarding nuclear power plants. In the sixties, when he was just 12 years old, many villagers, fired by patriotism, gave away their precious lands, while some of them hesitated as their livelihood depended on it. The government, however, made sure that they won’t resist by threatening them with its police force.
To this day this remains the only nuclear power plant in the world that was built so close to human habitation. Despite this, the nearby villages have daily load shedding for 8 to 10 hours. They were given a mere sum of Rs. 300-600 per acre of land. They were promised a free water supply for 25 years, but after 5-6 years water tax was imposed. The water supply system in this area is pathetic. People have to go down into a ditch made by the government to get water through a pipe. The so called “welfare fund” was utilized for the locals’ benefit. Scientists against the project were maligned and termed insane by the government.
We were shocked to find out that the working life of these plants was supposed to be just 25 years. Despite that, they have been running for 20 more years and there is no sign of them being closed down! What would happen if these plants broke down defies imagination!
Our next stop was village Dandi, a village of more than 10, 000 inhabitants. Two youth guided us through it. There is only one road going to the village. It runs very close to the plant. In case of any mishap, the villagers have no alternative but to run towards the death spewing plant before they can go anywhere else! Local residents have been asking the government to build a small bridge across a deep creek, which would allow them to escape from the plant, but this superpower-to-be can apparently not afford it!
When the plant was being built, the displaced people from the surrounding villages were promised employment, but never explained what type of work they would have to do. The villagers are hired on contract basis and always have to do dangerous tasks. They have to enter very high radiation areas which are forbidden for permanent employees. Medical reports of workers, whether contract or even permanent, are not shown to them. If a contract worker is exposed to very high radiations then he is no more considered as capable of work and is sacked. No medical treatment is given to such workers, and neither is any compensation. Children of contract workers do not get admission in the CBSE school built for the wards of regular employees.
Most of the residents in these villages used to depend on fishing for their livelihood. Due to the plant, the catch these days has been reduced by about 90%! The hot water from the plant is disposed off into the ocean. We saw no birds in the area, and no sign of crabs and other mollusks.
Recently the media carried reports of a “mock drill” being successfully carried out in the village. The locals told us that they knew nothing about it till they read about it in the papers the next day! Was the drill for the villagers or for the media?!
Then we went to Ghivli, a village very close to the fence of the plant. It is an international rule that there should be no human settlements within 1.6 km from the plant, but Ghivli is within 1.2 km! All the nuclear waste from the country is reprocessed and dumped in Tarapur. According to an international law no one should inhabit an area of around 6 km radius from a dumping ground. Between the coast of Ghivli and the sea there is a small belt of mangroves. We saw that these mangroves have small leaves and a yellow tint even during the monsoon.
There are many minor accidents which are not reported. At times radioactive iodine is released into the air. There are many medical problems because of radiations. The rate of cancer in all the nearby areas has been drastically increased since the power plant was built. Young children are also being detected with cancer. We met a man with a giant foot, which can only be caused due to genetic mutations from nuclear radiation. There has also been a rise in the rate of miscarriages. Even children complained about joint pain. There are no medical facilities or a government hospital in this area.
Locals in these areas are suffering greatly. They have been betrayed – the promises made by the government were never kept. How can we call such a system democratic which does not even care about civilians’ lives?
Many activists of the area have now developed a desperate type of patriotism. They say they have lost everything, but let others like the inhabitants of Jaitapur benefit from their experience! Mr. Raul, the cultured senior citizen who met us first even said, “Sometimes I wish that there is an accident here. Lakhs of people like me would die, but at least the crores of our countrymen and women would be saved!”
LRS Mumbai Correspondent