Former President's visit has changed the tone of the discourse but protesters still sticking to their guns
10 suggestions by Abdul Kalam
1. A four lane highway should be constructed connecting Koodankulam and the area covering 30 km around it like Madurai, Tirunalveli, Kanyakumari.
2. World class hospital with 500 beds capacity, and mobile health services for locals shall be provided.
3. 10,000 jobs shall be given for the people living close to the area.
4. Bank loans at 25 % subsidised rate must be given to youth.
5. Basic amenties like green house, multi-storeyed apertments and playgronds shall be given.
6. Motor boats, cold storages and small lodging zone must be built for fishermen.
7. 10 lakh litres of drinking water should be provided by desaltination of sea water.
8. Five schools with hostel facility shall be established covering CBSE, State government syllabus.
9. All villages must be connected with Broad band internet connectivity.
10. Disater management center and protection forces must be established.
Former President APJ Abdul Kalam has achieved what the central government's assurances failed to do. The former president's claim that the controversial Koodankulam plant was safe and there is nothing to worry seems to have cut the ice with the villagers who were protesting against nuclear installation.
Soon after Abdul Kalam's certificate, the Congress and the centre government intensified its attack on the civil society organization spearheading the agitation.
Kalam had recently visited the nuclear power project site and endorsed the foolproof safety measures put in place. After the visit, he told mediapersons that people should have faith in the government and there was no cause of worry. His endorsement had changed the tune of the discourse and a large section of the people was carried away by the benefits of the plant.
Kalam suggested the development of surrounding villages and creating 10,000 jobs.
Tamil Nadu government has been moving cautiously as it does not want to be seen as working against the public sentiment. Chief minister Jayalalitha had attacked the centre for not coming clean on its commitment on allaying security concerns of the people, though the state government is in favour of the plant. DMK chief M Karunanidhi, who has warned against going ahead with the project without addressing people's fears, said, "Kalam is a former president and thinks before he talks. The Centre should take his views into account and the panel constituted by the Centre should also consider his statements".
Kalam said, "Don't have even nano-sized doubt about the nuclear-plant".
Kalam's suggestions to the Centre included development of the region where the plant is located, including construction of a four-lane highway connecting Kudankulam and the villages situated in a 30km radius with Madurai, Tirunelveli and Kanyakumari; a world-class hospital with over 500 beds; mobile medical facilities to locals; creation of 10,000 jobs for villagers living within the 30km to 60km radius of the plant; and bank loans for youth with 25% subsidized interest rates.
The former president also suggested creating infrastructure facilities like construction of green houses, multi-storeyed housing complexes and playgrounds. Kalam also outlined the reasons of the protest thus: "local residents' truthful questions, dynamics of geo-political and market forces and the people, who are not thinking that the nation's interest is more important than their interest."
However, a section of the protesters still hold on to protest even though the government has been at pains to drive its point home. Earlier, a15-member panel constituted by the Centre met in Chennai and took a decision to interact with the agitators at the earliest.
K Balu, former director of Nuclear Waste Management Group at Barc and a member of the committee, told TOI, "We have with us experts constituted by the Union government and we will meet whomsoever the Tamil Nadu government wants us to meet in Tirunelveli on Tuesday. It is very unfortunate that even when someone like Kalam says he personally inspected and is satisfied with the safety of the nuclear plant, it has failed to convince the protesters. It is necessary for us to find out what are the issues they are afraid of."
But many comments supporting Kalam's view on the Kudankulam nuclear power project have been posted on social networking sites and web portals. "The public perception appears to be changing. I can see that a lot of people, who had angrily reacted to the government on the issue, are changing their views now. They believe Kalam is a credible leader and scientist," said a Chennai-based software professional S Nagaraj. "Dr Kalam has received hundreds of mails appreciating his intervention at the right time," said Kalam's adviser V Ponraj.
Meanwhile, Udayakumar, anti-nuclear activist, has termed the allegations against him as baseless. "Rumours are being spread to discredit people's movement. We have been working here for more than 10 years. It is true that the movement gained momentum in the last few months. Following the Fukushima nuclear accident that took place in March 2011, the fishermen have awakening near a nuclear facility and are now demanding their right to live peacefully. The most recent trigger was the announcement of a mock drill when the public were asked to cover their face and mouth and run for cover following an alarm. The long list of do's and don'ts released by the Nuclear Power Corporation of India has finally enlightened them of the perilous situation."
Another protester said, "The government has failed to instill confidence in us. The plant is unsafe. The safety analysis report and the site evaluation study have not been made public. No public hearing was held. It's an authoritarian project that has been imposed on the people. There have been serious lapses in the environmental impact assessment. A report commissioned by the Russian government reveals that there are 20-25 defects in the reactor design."
Meanwhile, the Roman Catholic Church, which has been on the forefront of the movement against the plant, is slowly distancing itself. There has been pressure on the church also not to play an active role.
On September 22, the Tamil Nadu government passed a resolution urging the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the central government to halt work at Koodankulam till the people's fears are allayed.
According to NPCIL officials despite the resolution, the Tamil Nadu government is keen on knowing the project progress as it would ease to a major extent the state's power crunch. NPCIL officials told that the state government had written to the company to take necessary measures to increase the power generation at the Madras Atomic Power Station (MAPS) located at Kalpakkam.