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2836Report on the Koodankulam Public Hearing: A Small but Significant Victory

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  • Sukla Sen
    Oct 6 6:47 PM
      Report on the Koodankulam Public Hearing

      The Koodankualm nuclear power project authorities had
      planned to conduct a secretive public hearing on
      October 6, 2006 at the Tirunelveli collector’s office.
      They had published a small ad in the most obscure
      Economic Times newspaper which almost nobody reads in
      our part of the country and in the Tirunelveli edition
      of a Tamil daily, Dinakaran, which is also not the
      most popular Tamil newspaper. The Koodankulam
      authorities had planned to keep the number of the
      public small so that they could manipulate the outcome
      as they wished.

      They had also chosen a Friday afternoon ( 3 P.M. to be
      precise) so that they could hurry up the meeting and
      wrap it up in less than two hours. With the formality
      completed in a few hours with a few people, they
      thought they could merrily add four more mega nuclear
      power plants that would generate 4,000 MW electricity.

      Alas, things turned out to be very bad for them. Some
      700 to 800 people had turned up and the group included
      many rural women who were not reluctant to speak their
      minds. In fact, they were so sincere to the cause,
      articulate and hence very forceful.

      At 3 PM , the Koodankulam authorities had taken their
      seats with bottled mineral water in front of them to
      face the afternoon heat in a relatively small-sized
      concrete hall. They did not even bother to arrange a
      pot of unsafe river water for the public. The small
      hall was teeming with people from Tirunelveli,
      Thoothukudi and Kanyakumari districts.

      As soon as the district collector showed up at around
      3:15 PM , one of the public asked the Koodankulam
      authorities what arrangements they had made to select
      the speakers from the public. Realizing their
      unpreparedness, one official started collecting the
      names of the public who wanted to speak their minds.
      Then another officer started their 30-minute
      slide-show with the first slide depicting the various
      uses of nuclear power. No sooner did he show the first
      slide when a prominent person from Kanyakumari
      district stood up and said that we were not there for
      a lecture on nuclear power.

      Some sections of the crowd started shouting slogans,
      asking the Koodankulam authorities not to kill the
      Nature, not to kill the people and to terminate the
      whole nuclear power project at Koodankulam. It was so
      noisy and confusing that nobody could speak anything
      or hear anybody.

      Several members of the public approached the district
      collector and expressed their concerns both
      individually and collectively. The sitting MLA from
      Radhapuram constituency, one Mr. Appavoo, tried to
      play the big brother role and undertake the task of
      facilitating the public hearing. Unhappy with his
      track-record, the public booed and shouted him down.
      After almost an hour of chanting and sloganeering, the
      district collector managed to find a brief break to
      announce that he was asking the Koodankulam
      authorities to take out ads for the public hearing in
      all the major daily newspapers with enough lead time
      for the people to prepare for the public hearings and
      to hold the public hearings in all the three affected
      districts. Some members of the public also asked for a
      Tamil translation of the Environmental Impact
      Assessment report and public hearing in
      Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam and Pathanamthitta
      districts of Kerala.

      Several members of the public raised objections to
      taking the Pechiparai dam water (which is in
      Kanyakumari district) to the Koodankulam plants. The
      EIA clearly mentions that the dam water would be taken
      to the plant through embedded pipes. When some members
      of the public brought this to the collector’s
      attention, the nuclear authorities claimed that they
      were not going to take the dam water but would use
      desalination plants instead. When the unambiguous dam
      water plan in the EIA was pointed out, the nuclear
      authorities claimed that the EIA was outdated. Then
      the question was how they could conduct a public
      hearing with an outdated EIA. Thus the Koodankulam
      authorities’ bluff was called.

      However, the biggest joke of the day was some of the
      Koodankulam authorities asking us in private and
      friendly conversation to be “democratic and fair”. We
      asked them back if they were democratic and fair.
      Their nervous smile answered that question.

      The public dispersed around 4 PM with the satisfaction
      that a small but important battle was won. But there
      are many more “miles to go before we sleep, and miles
      to go before we sleep.”

      S. P. Udayakumar
      October 6, 2006

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