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Sunday, October 17, 2021

"Our democracy has been kidnapped"


ADITI PRASAD | Issue Dated: October 7, 2012, New Delhi
Tags : SP UdayAkumar | Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project | Atomic Energy Regulatory Board |

His rumpled white shirt, soft demeanor and graying beard will defy the stereotype, but the last few months have seen SP UdayAkumar lead the adrenalin pumping life, straight out of an action thriller. Spearheading the anti-Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KKNPP) agitation on the ground, he has gone from being a simple village school teacher to a rebel-on-the-run over the last four hundred days of the protest. He has hundreds of cases registered against him - including charges of sedition and waging a war against the nation. Tamil Nadu police believes that he has criminalised the protests and instigated people to violence. But it is these same people that are hiding Udayakumar these days deep inside their village and protecting him with their lives. A few days ago, Udayakumar even offered to surrender but was dramatically whisked away by his supporters at the last moment. Meanwhile, the government and the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) are racing ahead with their plans and fuelling has begun in Unit-I of the project. Aditi Prasad speaks to SP Udayakumar on the future of the struggle. Edited excerpts:

There is huge controversy over the volte face on your proposed surrender. Should you have surrendered?
The reason why we decided to surrender was to protect our people from more police violence. On September 11, we heard that the police were spreading rumours about five officers being wounded. We were told that they will undertake door to door search. We knew how Kudankulam had been earlier ransacked by the police and were concerned that other villages would face similar trauma. We panicked and said we would surrender. But villagers reacted very emotionally to our decision. They said they will commit self-immolation if I surrender. That scared the hell out of me. By the time, some other leaders also called and asked us not to surrender. So we changed our decision.

But now there is a non-bailable warrant against you.
The warrant is an exercise to intimidate me. There are more than 30 people whose names were included in the FIR, but the court has summoned only me and my wife. And my wife has never even been a part of the struggle; she has never participated in any agitation. I was amazed that her name was included. I could not go for obvious reasons and I asked her to attend the court's proceedings, which she did. Our lawyers tried to present our case, but in vain.

But loading of the uranium fuel rods was started in the first reactor a few days ago, despite your protests.
The AERB gave the go ahead to fuel loading despite our protests. The central government is not talking to us. Obviously, they do not give a damn about us. They want to put the well-being of foreign countries and MNCs ahead of the well-being of Indian citizens.

So what is your strategy now?
I will take this fight to the finish but in a democratic manner. This is a non-violent protest. We are not armed. They have started fuelling despite our protests, and I am forced to say that our democracy has been kidnapped. If so many people in Tamil Nadu and Kerala are protesting, yet they are loading the fuel, then we do not matter anymore. MNCs and foreign countries matter more to our leaders, bureaucrats and nuclear scientists.

What is your primary grouse against the Kudankulam power plant?
This project is literally being pushed down the throat of people here. The government’s expert committee has declared the plant safe. But if the reactors are so safe, why is the Russian company not accepting the liability? Our government has agreed that if there is an accident we will pay from our own pockets – that is, pay from the taxpayers money. That is not fair. Also, there are a lot of geological issues with the Kudankulam site. The plant itself is situated on a fault line. People are saying that there will be no tsunami because the plant is 1600 kilometers away from the tsunami line. But did we expect tsunami to strike the Indian coast in 2004? There are two major slumps near the plant which can trigger a massive tsunami if there is an earthquake.

Why is that the anti-Kudankulam protests have swelled only post 2011?
Protests have been happening for a long time but they were small protests. It is only after the Fukushima meltdown in Japan that the people in this region were really taken aback. They understood how dangerous the project was. PILs and SLPs were filed in court after that. But these things cannot be solved in the parliament or the court of law. They have to done in the people's court.

The government says foreign agencies and vested interests are fuelling the Kudankulam agitation.
Just because I have studied in the US, it does not make me an American stooge, spy or agent. If you have any concrete evidence, show it to the public. Our Prime Minister said that we were receiving money from American and Scandinavian agencies. If these biggies want to stop the Kudankulam plant, would they make a call to the PMO or look for a nameless, faceless, stranger like me, and ask me to go fight on the streets? I am not a sports hero, nor a cinema star; I am not even good to look at, so how can I convince people to fight for 400 days? I am willing to accept death penalty if it's proved that I received even a single penny from any international agency, any foreign country or even any Indian NGO for this struggle. 

Many believe that nuclear power can solve India's power shortage woes.
India produces 2.7 per cent of electricity from the nuclear sector. Even countries like Germany and Japan are moving away from nuclear power, so why drag us into the mess. We need power and development, we want India to be a world power but not at the cost of our peoples’ livelihood. If we install nuclear power plants all along the coastline as planned, these power pots will drastically affect our food security. They will send affluent and gallons of radioactive hard coolant water into the sea, which will have an irreparable impact on sea food, on our nutrition and thousands of people will fall sick because of the radiation from sea and air. These hidden costs are never talked about by people like our former President APJ Abdul Kalam. They all talk about making the country a super power. They forget that this same country has 400 million people who don’t have access to toilets and 42 per cent of our children are suffering from malnutrition.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017