Thursday, December 1, 2011

Power and the Powerless

A few kilometers south of my home town in Tamilnadu lies Kudankulam. Not the most picturesque spot. But, as you travel along the coast from Tiruchendur to Kanyakumari, via Uvari, you just cannot miss this little village dotted by palm tress that scale high – Idinthakarai. And as you reach Idinthakarai, from your vehicle you can see the sea, and move down, Kudankulam is visible. Kudankulam is less populated, and is now the place of controversy. People of Idinthakarai, led by some local nonprofit organizations, people’s groups and supported by church leaders are fasting and protesting the Nuclear Plant that is under near completion in Kudankulam. The construction has been on there for more than six years, and the land acquisition and initial preparation of the place had started long before that. But there was hardly any muffle. There was no objection to the land acquisition or building till date. But, the earthquake and tsunami in Japan changed all that. People feared the safety of the nuclear plant. Someone poured oil into the fear, and soon the people were ignited. Protests, hunger strikes, road blockades followed. Still the stand off continues.

Lots of efforts have gone in: the former president of India, a nuclear scientist himself, visited the place and spoke to villagers; both the central and state governments sent several teams. No one seems to be listening….why?

  1. Predominantly Christian community that lies along the coast did not get much job opportunities in the power plant.
  2. Due to the construction and need for technical people, due to need for large number of work force, including cheap labor, there is huge influx of people from several northern and eastern states of India. This has lead to : decrease in labor cost in the area. Tamilnadu laborers charge higher than those from outside.
  3. There is a fear of increased crimes with sudden “disturbance” social fabric of the society which is now suddenly multi-lingual (from colloquial Tamil)
  4. Till last six months the DMK ruled which had huge support among the Christian minority, and the Kudankulam power plant was a brain child of DMK government. Besides that, any little dissatisfaction in the community was immediately responded to by the DMK government. But, on the other hand, the present incumbent, ADMK, is seen as anti-Christian in general. (This could be a reason why the agitations are being held within church complexes and supported by church leaders.)
  5. The cost of food supplies and other items have gone up, since the settlers from other states are moving in. Because these people are salaried, as central government employees, they are able to pay. But the poor of the area, the fishermen and the palm candy making agricultural community are not able to afford at the cost. This increases dissatisfaction.
  6. And finally, no one has guaranteed 24x7 electricity supply to these villages, as nearly 50% of electricity will be sold to other states, and rest will go to feed the State grid. The people of the area need fish processing, cold storage for fish packaging and transport for export to other parts of the country and globe. This need of the people has not been responded to.
So, the powerless have become powerful: by using their right to protest. And the powerful are not able to add power to the national grid. Powerless have their own ways of lighting up power !

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