Kudankulam nuclear protest called off — for now

October 16th, 2011 - 8:44 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh Chennai, Oct 16 (IANS) The dragging protest against the Kundankulam Nuclear Power Project (KNPP) in Tamil Nadu was temporarily called off Sunday evening, and officials made hurried preparations to relieve employees and their families confined in the plant due to blockades.

The dramatic and sudden halt to the campaign, which had drawn global attention, was linked to Monday’s local body elections, People’s Rights Movement coordinator S. Sivasubramanian told IANS.

“We have decided to call off the agitation temporarily so that people can take part in the elections. The work at the nuclear plant has come to a stop after our agitation,” Sivasubramanian told IANS.

The decision comes as a huge relief to the hundreds of families inside the KNPP complex as they had been virtually cut off from the outside world since Thursday.

“We are under house arrest, without drinking water and even milk for our children,” a housewife inside the KNPP site had earlier told IANS, adding: “Our stock of provisions is running out and we do not have vegetables.”

Just after the People’s Rights Movement announced its decision, the Nuclear Power Corp of India Ltd (NPCIL) took immediate steps to relieve its employees confined in the plant premises because of the protest.

“We are making arrangements to relieve around 50 employees in the plant trapped since Oct 13. We are assessing the situation near the plant and whether it would be safe to send our officials,” a NPCIL official told IANS from Kudankulam in Tirunelveli district, around 650 km from here.

The NPCIL is building two 1,000 MW capacity nuclear power reactors with Russian technology and equipment in Kudankulam. The first unit is expected to go on stream in December. It has run into local opposition.

“The total project cost is estimated to be around Rs.13,000 crore,” S.K. Jain, chairman and managing director of NPCIL, told IANS.

Anti-nuclear activists started blocking the entry points to the power plant Oct 13 charging that the central government was not concerned about the life of 106 fasting protesters and demanding the scrapping of the project.

The fasters, including 22 women, started their protest Oct 9.

The Oct 13 blockade began a day after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh wrote to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa stressing that scrapping the nuclear power project would affect the state’s industries.

In the process, around 1,000 people, including school students and the elderly, were confined to the Kudankulam plant site since Thursday. Around 50 children have not been able to attend their schools.

Families of hundreds of contract workers and employees of contractors Larsen and Toubro Ltd have resided on the KNPP campus for the past several years.

According to NPCIL officials, contract workers from states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal had begun leaving Kudankulam village after facing social boycott.

Earlier, life for families in the project complex turned a little easy as they got milk for children and fresh essential provisions Sunday morning.

“With the help of police, essential items were sent to families and workers,” a NPCIL official told IANS.

“Provisions for the canteen and change of clothes for our employees were also sent in police vans,” he said.

Explained Sivasubramanian: “We knew provisions were being sent to people inside the complex but we did not object on humanitarian grounds. However, police or NPCIL officials did not discuss the supplies with us.”

Around 2,000 villagers, including women, have maintained vigil day and night since the blockade started to turn back employees trying to get into the project campus.

On Sep 22, the Tamil Nadu government formally asked the central government to halt work on the reactors till local fears over safety were allayed.

More than 100 protesters were on fast during the first phase of the protest in Idinthakari village for 11 days in September.

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