Fear has gripped people in Mandla district of Madhya Pradesh where the authorities plan to set up a 1,400-MW atomic power station. Residents say the nuclear crisis in Japan, triggered by a tsunami, is one more reason why the plant should not come up in their area.
Mandla, which is tribal-dominated and is over 400 km from Bhopal, is also prone to earthquakes and had experienced a tremor measuring 8 on the Richter scale in 1997.
The plant is to be set up by the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL).
Members of the Chutka Parmanu Sangharsh Samiti claim NPCIL and state government officials had conducted a survey in Chutka and four other villages furtively.
They say villagers and gram sabhas were not taken into confidence despite village committees having the right on deciding developmental activities in accordance with the Panchayati Raj Act.
“After the sanction of this project in October 2009, NPCIL officials approached three villages of the area in December that year but were chased away by villagers. Later, the villagers urged the district collector to halt the project,” Navratan Dubey, a member of the Chutka Sangharsh Samiti, told .
“As many as 38 tribal villages will be affected if the project takes shape. We were already displaced when the Bargi dam on the Narmada river was conceived. We will not allow this project to come up.”
Chutka as well as Tatighat, Kunda, Bhaliwara and Patha villages are in core areas of survey, says the Samiti members.
“The district collector and local MP Basori Singh Markam assured us that this project would come up only if the gram sabhas gave a nod. However, both have changed their stand and furtively allowed a survey in other areas. We have not been contacted since then, but the government cannot force a nuclear power project on tribal people,” said Dubey.
The Bargi Bandh Visthapit Sangh, another organisation that works for the Bargi dam displaced, is also backing the villagers’ fight to spike the government’s plan to set up the plant in the most bio-diverse area.
The district not only has a dense forest cover but also the Kanha National Park.
“The Mandla project not only poses a radiation risk but also a threat to the rich tribal culture, bio-diversity and that treasured possession of the stone era,” Sangh activist Rajkumar Sinha told.
“Villagers have strongly protested the project since inception as they have not been informed about its radiation risk.”
Residents are rather shaken after Japan suffered a 9 magnitude earthquake and tsunami March 11 that caused radiation leaks in its Fukushima nuclear plant.
“Mandla district had also suffered an earthquake of 8 magnitude on the Richter scale in 1997. Narmada valley in this area has records of an earthquake of similar intensity; how can the central and state governments ignore facts?” he said.
“Why have the NPCIL officials planned to construct a residential complex of project officials 7 km away from the site, if it poses no risk,” he added.
Sinha said it is also a question of livelihood of those 2,000 fishermen who survive on the nearby Bargi reservoir.
NPCIL officials were not available for comment but Jabalpur Commissioner P.K. Parashar confirmed that a survey has been completed and they have been informed that NPCIL will demand 600 hectares of land.
“We are waiting for their formal request,” he said, adding: “Villagers have been taken into confidence.”