Jaitapur - Maharashtra's Singur?
Jaitapur has been on the boil for quite some time now. But this week, the agitation finally turned violent. For those of us who have been covering the issue and have travelled to the place, it came as no surprise. What is unfortunate though is what was a people's movement has now been hijacked by politicians.
The TISS report that started all the talk about the environment feasibility clearly states that it was a report of people's perception rather than scientific fact, a sidenote most media houses that reported on it forgot to mention. While there is a genuine concern about the safety of the Konkan stretch thanks to the various power projects coming in there, Jaitapur has attracted the most attention thanks to international interest in nuclear parks and also the fact that some of the villages bordering the plant have a thriving economy, one which the locals fear would be destroyed.
The mistake the government has made so far has been that it hasn't communicated exactly what or if there will be a benefit for the locals who will be affected or displaced by the project. The CM's visit to Jaitapur came very late in the day. A crowd of around 10000 people had gathered to listen to him and Narayan Rane. The CM's speech talked about how the nation is facing a power crisis and how Jaitapur will help bridge that. Fair and logical points one would say, infact the very reason why the plant was conceived in the first place. But what disappointed the crowds was that there was not one announcement or assurance he gave for their future. Now one might argue that in the long run the region will benefit with all the development. But let us understand the average voter is concerned about his lifetime, rarely do we vote thinking of how a policy will affect someone 20 years hence.
For the locals, the immediate future seems bleak. They fear they would displaced and worse stuck in systems that have so far failed to provide adequate rehousing facilities. So the concept of 'sacrificing' their future for the country doesn't convince them. And why blame them, this state has seen cases where flyovers and metros have faced opposition because the construction is happening in the same lane as some celebrity's home. What was worse was the tone some of the other politicians used to address the villagers. They talked to the villagers as if they were mentally retarded people, who did not understand how to honor a CM who had come visiting, villagers were literally given a lesson in Athithi Devo Bhava during the speech. At the end of the whole charade, the villagers returned agitated even more. It was an experience in this experience in how distanced our rulers and democracy are from the ground reality.
The government has maintained the stand that outsiders like environmentalists and anti-nuke lobbies are poisoning the villagers' minds. But the fault also lies with the government. The so-called outsiders are talking the language of the people there, they are talking about what seems to be of immediate concern for the locals. Whereas the government and NPCIL have been showing them presentations about nuclear energy and its overall benefits. Science and statistics wont make sense when the question is about emotions. With the Shiv Sena entering the fray, the government seems to have found one more way of explaining the agitation away as a mere political stunt. What is being ignored in all the tamasha is the genuine concerns of the locals.
The Jaitapur issue is not one of environment or even livelihood. It is more about communication and utter mistrust of the government. And the government needs to come down to the level of the villagers and talk to them in their language if it ever wants to achieve the targets of the project. Japan couldn't have come at a worse time for this project and the nation's track record with safety is not much to boast of, even if nuclear sites in the country have been largely safe.
With mistrust so high, the government's insistence on the project without giving the locals a tailor made justification, is only breeding more doubts over the government's real agenda. One wonders though if it is all too late now for the government, after the death of a local, emotions are bound to be running high.
The government needs to frame policies that are a win-win for both the locals and the long term energy requirements of the area, unless that is done, the result of the Jaitapur standoff wont be a pleasant one. The question is not whether Jaitapur Nuke park should be made or not, the question is about how should it be made so that everyone's interests are safeguarded. The development versus environment debate in the country has become one of extremes, rather than one of finding mutually beneficial solutions.