The people of Chutka area in Mandla District, Madhya Pradesh, won the second time their battle against the Chutka Nuclear Power Plant being imposed on them by the Central and state governments. Yesterday (i.e. 29th July), the state administration announced the cancellation of the second public hearing on the government’s environment impact report scheduled for 31st July. A similar cancellation of public hearing scheduled for 24th May also took place. In both cases, the state administration was compelled to cancel the hearing due to the uncompromising protest by the tribals of the region. A number of organisations from Bhopal, Jabalpur and elsewhere stood in solidarity with the struggle and campaigned at the grassroots level by organising street plays, poster exhibition and meetings and distributing booklets and handbills with information about nuclear power plants and their disasters elsewhere in the world.
There was a difference in the stance of the government between the previous (24th May) and this hearing (31st July). First, the government cleverly shifted the site from Chutka to Manegaon, 15 km away, so that the people would not be able to reach the site easily. The site of public hearing was shifted away from the site of people’s anger at the government. Second, the administration unleashed repression on the activists who came from outside the region, something which was absent earlier in May. The activists were stopped at various places, questioned and subjected to four-letter abuse. They were also threatened and told to get out of the area. The administration spread the rumour that these outsiders had naxalite elements among them. Third, the private bus owners were told not to transport people from the Chutka region to Manegaon, especially not on 31st July. The boat owners were told to stop ferrying tribal people residing in Seoni district from across the Narmada. In May, several people came from Seoni District through boats and joined the protest. Clearly, the government was least concerned that it was violating the Fundamental Rights given to the people under Article 19(1) of the Constitution. Fourth, Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. (NPCIL), the builder of the Chutka power plant, spent its funds on propaganda (e.g. distributed school bags to children with pro-power plant slogans while the schools in the area are either non-existent or non-functional). As a result, the activists met local villagers, though in small numbers, who said that they want the power plant since it will enable them to see TV or get jobs. This, of course, gave the opportunity to engage in dialogue and answer questions.
Three Gram Sabhas – Patha, Kunda and Tatighat (Chutka is in one of these) – passed resolutions rejecting the government proposal to set up the nuclear project in their area. Mandla District being in Schedule V, rejection by Gram Sabhas means that the project has to be withdrawn, as it is happening in Niyamgiri, Odisha in the case of Vedanta Aluminium.
On behalf of the organisations involved in the struggle, a Press Conference (in Hindi) was held in Bhopal this morning (30th July). The Press Release is attached for your reference. Three political parties are involved in this movement viz. Gondwana Ganatantra Party, CPI & CPI(M-L). Today, a public meeting was held at Manegaon (where the public meeting was cancelled) followed by a ‘victory rally’. The participating organisations, on their return from Chutka, will assess the political situation and decide th future course of action.