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Koodankulam Anti-Nuclear Campaign and the Prime Minister of Multi-Nationals — Manmohan Singh

February 27, 2012


Over the weekend, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh spoke about the Koodankulam Anti-Nuclear movement. Not to the Indian press, nor to the state-sponsored group of scientists charged with checking the safety of the nuclear plant. Neither did he address the villagers affected by the plant or the thousands of activists who have been part of the nationwide anti-nuclear campaign.

He spoke to the American journal, Science. He said:

“The atomic energy programme has got into difficulties because these NGOs mostly, I think, based in the US, don’t appreciate the need for our country to increase energy. The local NGO-led protests have stalled the commissioning of two 1000 mw nuclear reactors. In time we must make use of genetic engineering technologies to increase the productivity of our agriculture. There are NGOs, often funded from the US and the Scandinavian countries, which are not fully appreciative of the development challenges our country faces.”

In a grand-standing move, Singh pretends that India’s nuclear plant program is against US interests (It isn’t. US companies stand to profit enormously from the sale of its nuclear reactors to India.)

As if on cue, the U.S. Ambassador to India, Peter Burleigh, responds by declaring that “his country” supports all nuclear projects in India. American-based NRIs with zero nuclear energy expertise chime in and media picks it up and presents it as “expert” opinion.

Sivramiah Shantharam, Iowa State University, said that the PM was right. “The PM is right on the dot. It is a very well-known fact that international NGOs, both from the US and Europe, who are in alliance with local NGOs, whip up trouble.

The nuclear plant building partner — Russia’s ambassador — Kadakin felt that the local protests were “strange“. He said, “We have been suspecting this all along. I was open to even saying this because it was very strange that six months after the Fukushima tragedy, all of a sudden those protesters raised their voice.”

No new nuclear plants have been built on American soil for decades, almost entirely due to public resistance. However when villagers in India question the logic of building a nuclear plant in an area that was devastated by a tsunami only a few years ago, the phenomena must be conspiratorial and anti-science.

The condescending disrespect would be shocking, if it was not part of the routine dismissal of the lives and livelihoods of the poorest in India.

Manmohan Singh is not interested in addressing any of this. He is not interested in reassuring Indian citizens on the viability and integrity of his rationale or ideas, much less the ones who would be most affected by his development priorities.

If he were, he would have to explain why foreign funding should be an issue at all since Indian NGOs and the Indian government (legally) receive foreign funding all the time. In fact, he might have to explain why the false charges against peaceful, law-abiding activists and police intimidation of scientists like Dr.Pugazhenthi was not worthy of any comment, while a bureaucratic irregularity (with no evidence that it’s even true) demanded a statement on the international stage.

If he was talking to Indian citizens, he might have to answer why the contentious nuclear power plant is scheduled to be opened ahead of the release of the safety report from the state-sponsored team of experts.

If Manmohan Singh was concerned about the development of the Koodankulam villages affected by the plant, he might have had to seek answers to the concerns raised by a recent protest that culminated in a memorandum addressed to him. Incidently, none of these issues have been properly addressed.

* Nuclear power projects will displace a large number of people and threaten the livelihoods of the surrounding areas — notably the fishing communities — by depleting the existing fish population.

* The proposed plants are coming up in coastal regions and areas where ecological balance is already under threat as the government’s own reports admit. Environmental clearances for these projects have been obtained by undermining standard norms and procedures.

* Some of the proposed reactor designs are new and untested. Areva’s EPR has run into trouble in Finland with delays, huge cost escalations and objections raised by safety regulators.

* Nuclear industry in India has been known for their gross negligence of safety in the past. Not only is the Indian nuclear establishment unprepared to handle a large scale accident, it cannot be trusted to operate properly and safely such large-scale facilities given their experience chequered with inefficiency, accidents, unaccountability, non-transparency.

* The nuclear power expansion will put huge burden on the Indian exchequer as not only nuclear power expensive, the imported reactors are going to cost exponentially more. Also, the government has exempted nuclear suppliers from liability and in case of accidents; the financial burden will fall on the people.

* India’s energy needs can be better met with decentralised energy production through abundant renewable sources.

Koodankulam Village Fishing Community

Instead of taking any sort of stand that might honorably address these legitimate doubts, Manmohan Singh has chosen to be manipulative. He has managed to suggest foreign involvement in order to massage racist and casteist notions of simple-minded, “easily excitable” villagers — dismissing an (overall) anti-nuclear movement that has been active for at least two decades. He has successfully pivoted the argument into a recognizable and accepted narrative on Western interference with developing countries — when in fact, these projects fall seamlessly into the existing world order.

All of this from a man who has never bothered to explain why his signature appeared on a bravery award to one of Soni Sori‘s torturers, much less reply in any way to the international outrage over her illegal detention. For a man who has remained silent and bestowed his approval for corporate and government (frequently violent, frequently illegal) looting of land and resources from villagers throughout India.

For all of his action and inaction, Manmohan Singh has demonstrated over and over that he is the un-elected prime minister for multi-national corporations and little more.


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