Posters bearing this intriguing question and the sight of the “32 Idiots” standing on the beach with concern writ largely on their faces appeared in several places in V.G.Vaze College, Mumbai in the last week of July. Alongside were invitations by the Students’ Council of the College, the Science Association as well as the NSS to attend a discussion on “Development for Whom? Who Pays? Who Gains?” in the college auditorium. As the students went around, inviting their associates as well aas teachers and non-teaching staff, a buzz was generated in the college. Many teachers took strong for and against positions on the anti-nuclear movement that has been going on in the country in general and in Maharashtra in particular regarding Jaitapur nuclear power project.
The questions they raised fuelled further discussion in the team that was doing the presentations, and these kept getting modified till the last day. The NSS conducted a survey among the students regarding the anti-nuclear movement, and the results showed that by far the majority were for nuclear energy. They knew nothing about why the protesters were against it. The survey helped in arousing the curiosity of the students and many of them decided to attend the program and learn what their fellow students had discovered.
On August 2 the Auditorium was packed with around 300 students. Around 40 of them were part of the organising team. The form they chose was very attractive and held the audience spell bound. Nine students were interviewed by their friend who had been unable to make the journey to the environs of Tarapur, the site of India’s first nuclear power plant. They took the audience on their physical as well as mental journey of discovering the truth. What they expressed was very interesting.
A few of these students had been attending a discussion group of LRS during the vacations. When the topic of Jaitapur was discussed, they were shocked. Nuclear energy is the best – cheapest, cleanest, safest – is what they had been taught in the schools. The nuclear power plant is a symbol of our country’s progress – people have internalized what the media has been drumming up for ages. Our students (and the teachers of our college) were mo exception to this perceived or received “knowledge”. So they did not believe what the LRS activists were saying in the discussion and decided to find out for themselves. To that end, 3 of them attended a public meeting in which Dr. Anil Kakodkar, the erstwhile chief of India’s nuclear program, held the stage. They way in which the program was carried out (See the report “Lies, Utter Lies and Statistics: on our website) – with no comments from the audience allowed, only those written questions answered which the speaker wished to, machine gun toting “security” to reinforce the speaker’s point of view, and subsequent discussion with activists and others form Jaitapur whose voices were suppressed in the actual program, angered the students and convinced them that the government was trying to fool the people, using eminent scientists and technologists.
The discussions that these “3 idiots” had with their fellow students is what made ten times their number join them on their journey of discovery to Tarapur. Those who came had plenty of doubts about the intentions of LRS activists as well as those of the Konkan Bachao Samiti who briefed them.
These doubts dissolved when they saw the truth with their own eyes, when they were taken to the affected villages and given a chance to talk to whosoever they wished to. What they discovered in Tarapur has already been reported on our website (Uncovering the truth). In this program, in addition to that, they took head on the issue of nuclear energy in general and Jaitapur in particular. (See box)
Our study revealed that all the claims of the proponents of nuclear energy in general and of the JNPP in particular are false!
Claim: Jaitapur plant is safe from tsunami because it is on a high plateau
Claim: “Land being acquired is unproductive!”
Claim: “The major portion of electricity is generated from nuclear power plants”
Claim: “Nuclear energy is safe.” Some diehard people support this claim even after Fukushima.
Claim: Nuclear energy is non-polluting!
Claim: “Nuclear energy is cheap.”
Claim: “Nuclear energy is needed for the progress of our country.”
The point is that when people become aware of the great threats posed by nuclear power plants, they start opposing them.
Of course, we are only talking about nuclear power plants. It does not mean nuclear energy should not be used for other purposes such as nuclear medicine, irradiation of food to preserve it, research, and so on!
The students, responsible young citizens that they are, also expressed great concern about the abuse of power by the government, about how various authorities including their so-called representatives tried to fool the people, and the total disregard for democratic norms exhibited by the government in trampling upon all protests, and even killing 3 non violent people in the process. They raised the very legitimate question– Why should ordinary people pay for the development of a handful of ultra rich?
Before the question and answer session, which generated a lot of discussion, they asserted that “We should care because we believe in justice!” They also told the audience what the angry ex-sarpanch in Tarapur had declared: “If there is a major accident in the Tarapur plant … sure, we people living close by would die. But our agony would last for a matter of minutes. People in Mumbai would also die, but they would die an agonizingly slow death! They would undergo such tortures that they would feel it is better to be dead!”
Some of the teachers were so impressed with the work and dedication of the students in raising this important issue that they arranged a further two editions of the same program for the benefit of the Junior College students. Teachers from other colleges who have heard about this program have invited these students to come and hold it in their institutes.
As a supplementary activity decided upon by the youth who went to Tarapur, distributions of a leaflet on this issue was prepared and distributed to people travelling by train to Konkan. This activity is going on.