Proposed Nuclear Power Plant Spurs Protests and Repression in India

June 3, 2012

Indian activists protest nuclear power. DIBYANGSHU SARKAR/AFP/Getty Images

The struggle for the right to information, local consent, and a healthy environment has gone on for years at the site of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant – at India’s far southern tip. Now, after the disastrous failure of the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan, and with the Kudankulam plant nearing completion, the protests have intensified.

And so has the repression of over 100,000 protesters’ rights to gather peacefully and speak up against the plant.

On one side are opponents of the plant, mostly local, who fear that proper safety precautions have not been taken at a site affected by tsunamis and earthquakes. They would surely bear the heaviest burden should anything go wrong at the plant.

Some have asked why the plant is being built in remote rural Tamil Nadu instead of near Delhi. They have not been properly informed or consulted by authorities about the plant and its risks, which threatens the lives and livelihoods of these fishing communities. Protesters have peacefully demonstrated, carried out extended hunger strikes, and surrendered their voter IDs in protest.

On the other side are proponents of the plant – including the governments of India and the state of Tamil Nadu – who argue that it will supply power that a rapidly growing India needs, that the health risks to local communities are exaggerated (though safety reports have not been made public), and that anti-India foreigners have duped locals into speaking up against the plant.

Conspiracy theories and nationalist pride have stoked hostility towards the plant’s critics.  Hundreds of protesters have spent time in jail, hundreds have gone on hunger strike, and thousands face charges such as sedition, ‘waging war against the state’, conspiracy and ‘rioting with deadly weapons’ for their peaceful opposition.   These charges carry life sentences, and if India wishes to take its place as a global moral leader, as well as an economic leader, as its founders wished, it cannot resort to such repressive methods to silence its critics.

Ask that the Indian and Tamil Nadu governments free those who remain in jail, and to protect the rights of these peaceful protesters to gather peacefully and speak freely. It’s what Gandhi would have wanted.