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 collectors 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 collectors
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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