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Koodankulam: Ad campaign vs wailing protest

The fight between the Central government and local residents over a commission-ready Koodankulam nuclear power plant in Tirunelveli district of southern Tamil Nadu has spilled on to the streets with both adopting creative advocacy campaigns and alleging motives.

The frustrated Nuclear Power Corporation India Limited (NPCIL), which has constructed the plant with Russian collaboration, has launched 60-second shots on Tamil channels to allay the fears of the local community. It is also supporting pro-plant debates in colleges and academic activities.

On the other hand, the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE), the organisation spearheading the agitation against the plant are planning a "wailing protest" on 30 January on Mahatma Gandhi's death anniversary. Giving a feminist twist to the issue, they have also written to the three women chief ministers of India asking them to intervene. Women will better understand the issues concerning the women in Koodankulam, the leaders of the agitation said.

Waiting to start.

The pro-plant TV-advertisement has Dr V Santha of Adyar Cancer Institute, a highly revered cancer specialist in Tamil Nadu, along two leading marine experts speaking directly to the fisher-folks and others in Koodankulam reassuring them that the plant is absolutely safe.

Preceding the TV campaign, the nuclear establishment and ancillary industries have supported public campaigns in support of the plant. To back them politically and to strengthen the Centre’s stand, the state unit of the Congress has formed an outfit to organise a series of public events to counter the protests of PMANE across the state.

Interestingly, the plant should have been commissioned by now if the assertions of the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on 17 December were serious. He was visibly affirmative when he said in his mission to Moscow that the plant will be commissioned in two weeks. Built at $3 billion based on a three-decade old agreement between the former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi and Soviet president Michael Gorbachev, the design and development of the plant have gone through several ups and downs. After considerable publicity and controversies, construction began in 1997.

The present agitation, which brought almost all activities related to the Koodankulam plant to a standstill, began about five months back mostly catalysed by the Fukushima disaster in Japan.

Lobbies opposed to the protests attribute motives to PMANE because they came to the streets when the plant was ready to go on steam. However, the agitators say they have always been protesting and their voice, always overlooked.

The Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KNPN) at present has two reactors. The reactor that was ready for commissioning has a capacity of 1,000 MW. The second reactor which was nearing completion will have an equal capacity. On completion, the complex will have the largest installed nuclear capacity in India. Four more reactors with a capacity of 1,000 MW each have also been planned at the same site. The pro-Koodankulam lobby claims that the plant will have dramatic developmental impact on southern districts and will transform the power situation in the region.

Chief Minister Jayalalitha has displayed her sympathy with the protesters and has asked Prime Minister Manmohan Singh not to go ahead with the plant without allaying the fears of people.

Meanwhile, Union Minister V Narayanasamy alleged foreign funding behind PMANE, which was strongly condemned by its leadership. Its convener, SP Udayakumar termed it a smear campaign and asked the Centre to prove its charges. The technical panel of the Centre, which was asked to go into the safety of the plant, also had picked holes in the questions and motives of the agitators.

Speaking to the media in the city on Monday, Udayakumar has alleged that the Congress was trying to "book profits in the form of commissions secret agreements". He said he was "forced to fight fire with fire" by singling out the Congress.

Apparently, the home ministry has sent enquiries to several NGOs in the southern districts asking for various details of their operation including funding, expenditure and activities. With PMANE locking horns with the Congress and the Centre, one can surely expect more smear campaigns.

Updated Date: Jan 10, 2012 18:41 PM

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