Vedanta-Sterlite: Dangerous by Design

(from Kafila.org)

by Nityanand Jayaraman

A toxic hotspot in the backyard of a house in Therkuveerapandiapuram, a village adjoining the Sterlite factory.  Dangerous levels of iron and arsenic were found in the soil here. (Picture by Nityanand Jayaraman)

A toxic hotspot in the backyard of a house in Therkuveerapandiapuram, a village adjoining the Sterlite factory. Dangerous levels of iron and arsenic were found in the soil here. (Picture by Nityanand Jayaraman)

On 23 March, 2013, a toxic gas leak from Vedanta-subsidary Sterlite’s copper smelter in Thoothukudi spread panic and discomfort for several kilometres around the plant. The leak once again highlighted the increased potential for major catastrophes due to an atmosphere of collusion between regulators and polluters. The company, which was shut down for maintenance, resumed operations in the early hours of 23 March. Within hours, people in the nearby areas complained of suffocation and eye and nose irritation. A 35-year old Bihari contract labourer, who was working at Sterlite’s thermal power plant nearly a kilometre away, reportedly succumbed to the effects of the toxic gas. Irate residents rallied to the District Collector’s office demanding permanent closure of the offending factory.

The District Collector suggested that sulphur dioxide may have been the culprit. But anyone who knows the history of this plant would lay the blame not on this gas or that, but squarely on pliant regulators, and perhaps the judiciary.

The 1200 tonne per day (tpd) copper smelter was constructed in two phases – both with dubious legality – with active support of the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB), the Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF) and the chairperson of the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee (SCMC). In September 2004, when SCMC visited Thoothukudi, it found that Sterlite had constructed a 900 tonne per day copper smelter complex without obtaining an Envirnomental Clearance from the MoEF. Neither did the plant have the mandatory Consents to Establish under Air and Water Acts.

Citing poor pollution management, the SCMC recommended that clearance should not be given. It ordered the TNPCB to verify the illegal constructions and take action. Contrary to recommendations, clearance was given a day after of the Committee’s visit to Sterlite. TNPCB inspected and confirmed the illegal constructions, but did nothing more.

On 7 April, 2005, a director at the MoEF wrote to the chairperson of TNPCB urging her to grant a Consent to Operate to Sterlite. “The directions issued by SCMC in this regard has (sic) been discussed with Chairman, SCMC, who has desired that TNPCB may now decide regarding granting consent for expansion to M/s Sterlite Industries India Ltd (SIIL) Tuticorin, Tamilnadu,” she wrote. The Air and Water Acts do not have any provision for legalising units constructed without a valid Consent to Establish. TNPCB obliged and issued a consent on 19 April 2005.

Sterlite went on to expand its capacity to 1200 tpd. To get its licenses, Sterlite exaggerated the extent of land in its possession. In 2007, Sterlite submitted an Environment Impact Assessment report that suggested that it had greened 26 hectares of its 102.5 hectare plant site. It claimed that it had sufficient lands – about 176 ha — in its possession to accommodate the expanded capacity and the resultant pollution (solid waste, air emission and effluents). It promised to plant 43 hectares with pollution-abating trees. Subsequent inspection reports by the TNPCB even state that the company had greened 25 percent of its 176 hectare land holding.

On 28 September 2010, the Madras High Court ordered closure of the copper plant. One key grounds for closure was the industry’s failure to comply with the condition requiring the development of a 25 metre greenbelt around the factory. TNPCB was chided for arbitrarily reducing the greenbelt requirement from 250 metres to 25 metres in response to Sterlite’s lament about high land costs associated with the wider belt.

The Madras High Court had rightly held that the failure to comply with greenbelt requirements was a crippling lapse. Indeed, had a thick belt existed, the effects of the recent gas leak would not have reached the city.
When Sterlite was shut down by the High Court, the factory was running without valid licenses under Air and Water Acts. Two days later, the Supreme Court stayed the High Court order and unwittingly authorised the unlicensed operation of a disputed facility.

In May 2011, Sterlite’s non-compliance of greenbelt requirements and its land fraud came to light in a report submitted by NEERI to the Supreme Court. Against a requirement of 176 hectares for the 1200 tonne plant, Sterlite had only 102.5 hectares, the report found. Also, less than 13 hectares – as against 43 hectares – had been greened.

Since October 2010, Sterlite has functioned on leave granted by the Supreme Court. During the apex court’s watch, at least 8 hazardous incidents were recorded where 3 workers were killed, four more injured. Several hundred people in the vicinity of the plant have been gassed.

Under the circumstances, faith in the rule of law is not an easy belief system to sustain.

UPDATE

Thoothukudi Gears up For Major Showdown with Sterlite

27 March, 2013. Thoothukudi – Residents of the coastal Tamilnadu town of Thoothukudi are gearing up for a major showdown with Sterlite on 28 March, less than a week after a massive gas leak injured hundreds of people for kilometres around the company’s controversial copper smelter. Numerous groups, cutting across political lines, will march from the city to Sterlite’s gates demanding its permanent closure. In the 20 years that it has functioned, Sterlite has been blamed for numerous mishaps, deaths and injuries. It has been closed twice by the Madras High Court, including in September 2010 when the High Court shut it down through its final order arguing that the company had violated siting setbacks, pollution norms and licence conditions.Tomorrow’s rally is gathering massive support as the Tamil Nadu Federation of Merchants led by Vellian, and the Esakkimuthu Conch Divers Association have said they will participate in the strike. The call for the strike was originally given by Vaiko, a political leader of the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, who said that this was an issue that transcended politics, and that the residents are united in their desire to rid their city of Sterlite’s Bhopal-like factory. Other prominent Thoothukudi-based workers organisations too have committed their support to the strike. The Anna Bus Stand Taxi Drivers Association, and the Anna Bus Stand Auto Drivers Welfare Association with nearly 200 auto drivers as members have said they will boycott work and join the residents demanding closure of Sterlite. Many more organisations and political parties are expected to join.“We are very angry. We have seen numerous such agitations start and then stop. We want an end to this nonsense. Sterlite must be shut down,” said 55 year old M. Shanmugavelu, Presidents of the Auto workers Association.34-year old M. Kishorekumar, who is the president of Taxi Drivers Association clarifies that they are not opposed to industries. “We want good industries to come to Thoothukudi, to Tamil Nadu. But Sterlite is not good for us. It is a dangerous factory. We have to think about our futures too,” he says. “My 11-year old son suffered because of the gas leak. It is now three days since the leak, and he is still complaining of head ache, eye and throat irritation, a bitter taste in his mouth and has no appetite. I have had to take him to hospital for three days. He has to go to school with all this because it is examination time,” Kishorekumar says.

List of Hazardous Incidents at Sterlite Industries between October 2010 and March 2013 during the time the plant has run on leave granted by Hon’ble Supreme Court.

Compiled by Nityanand Jayaraman, based on reports by Sterlite workers

Total: 3 dead; several injured in 8 incidents

Date

Incident

Number Dead/Injured

8.3.2013

Amalan, 30, sustained serious injuries after an electrical fire broke out at Motor Control Room of Phosphoric Acid Plant.

1 injured

18.3.2013

Swaminathan, 50, killed after falling into Phosphoric Acid tank. Due to the poor light conditions, the worker tripped on the scaffolding and fell 15 metres into an open and empty tank.

1 dead

23.3.2013

Massive gas leak, suspected to be Sulphur dioxide or trioxide, causes suffocation and panic around the Sterlite Copper plant. One Sterlite contract worker, Shailesh Mahadev, 35, reportedly succumbed to exposure to the gas.

1 dead; several injured

23.8.2011

One North Indian worker, sourced by labour contractor Lohit, and employed by Mahesh Engineering was injured while working in the Phosphoric Acid Plant. Workers, who said very little information was available about his condition and what actually happened. He is reported to have had 5 stitches.

1 injured

17.8.2011

A white gas (suspected to be Sulphur Dioxide) escaped for about 45 minutes at ground level throwing a scare among Sterlite workers, after a power outage caused a shutdown of the Copper smelter and sulphuric acid plant at around 10 a.m. today (17 August, 2011). The wind was blowing from East to West and carried the smoke away from the highway and the Milavittan village.

13.8.2011

Thangapandi, a 32-year old contract worker, engaged by OEG Ltd to work in Sterlite’s copper smelter factory sustained first degree burns due to an electrical accident. Thangapandi is a resident of Pandarampatti.

1 injured

31.5.2011

Amalanathan, a 28-year old crane maintenance mechanic, was electrocuted and killed in Vedanta-subsidiary Sterlite Copper’s premises today. According to workers, Amalanathan died on the spot at around 11.30 a.m. As of 3.30 p.m., the police had not yet registered a First Information Report. According to a Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) party worker, it was only after the communist unions and MDMK intervened by staging a road blockade did the Police even enter the scene. Amalanathan, who was married barely 3 months ago, is a resident of a locality called 3rd Mile, near Sterlite.

1 dead

3.3.2011

Ratheesh, a young contract employee from Sterlite, sustained 30 to 35 percent burn injuries on chest and hand. He was admitted to Apollo Hospital, Madurai, and underwent treatment until 24.3.2011. Inpatient Number: 205688. Referred by Dr. Vanitha Stephen, Tuticorin.

1 injured

 

Nityanand is a Chennai-based writer and environmental activist.

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The Power of Promise: Examining Nuclear Energy in India

M V Ramana in conversation with Nityanand Jayaraman

Date: February 18, 2013. Location: Asian College of Journalism

Published on Youtube on Mar 3, 2013. 30 mins 21s.

English transcript available below. Download the transcript in .doc format.

NJ: Dr. M V Ramana is a physicist at the Nuclear Futures Laboratory, Princeton University. Besides authoring numerous technical papers on the subject of nuclear power, Dr. Ramana is also known as an eloquent and an articulate speaker on the geopolitics of nuclear energy and its changing prospects over the years. In late 2012, Penguin India has published his first solo book, which is called The Power of Promise. He is currently in Chennai, as part of a multi-city tour of India to discuss and release his book. Good afternoon, Dr. Ramana. Thank you very much for being with us at ACJ.

So your book has a very interesting title, The Power of Promise, and in Tamil Nadu, we are painfully aware of the undelivered promises of power, especially the electricity. What is the point that you are trying to make by this title that you have chosen?

Click on cover to see the book in Flipkart.com

Click on cover to see the book in Flipkart.com

MVR: The title came after I wrote the book and as I was studying the history of nuclear energy in India. And what I saw was that over the course of the last seven decades when nuclear power has been established in this country since its inception of the Department of Atomic Energy, the nuclear establishment has made a number of promises of how important nuclear power is going to be as a source of electricity generation in the country, in the future. These projections have always been for the future and they have never been delivered as such. But, by making this promise that in the future there is going to be a large amount of power, they ensure that the Department of Atomic Energy and all the nuclear activities it conducts are supported by the political leadership as well as the elite in the country and this is also combined with yet another promise.

So, the promise here is of two natures. One is of large amounts of energy in the future, but also of, perfect security through building of nuclear weapons. And the Department of Atomic Energy is unique in being a technology that offers these two different promises, these two different aspirations that the elite have. One of being able to consume large amounts of energy, which they feel is necessary for development and economic growth. And of nuclear weapons, which they feel is going to provide them with security. In that sense, nuclear power forms a technology that offers the capacity for mass production, mass consumption, and mass destruction; in that sense, very very unique. What I find is that the nuclear establishment gets its political power through these promises.

NJ: One of the important, kind of, methods by which the nuclear establishment has tried to get its bind to this project, to this whole programme, has been its much doubted three-stage programme. And your book suggests that this has been and will remain a non-starter. Can you tell us more about what this three stage programme is and why you think its going to be a non-starter?

MVR: Before I would say, first I would say, I don’t think it is a non-starter. It has already started, but it’s going it be a non-deliverer. The three-stage programme was first enunciated by the Department of Atomic Energy, in particular its founder who is called Homi Bhabha. The first time he talked about this in 1954 and this was in the context of a debate in parliament, with a critic of the nuclear establishment  as it had been set up at that point, a chap called Meghnad Saha, who was a well-known physicist. And Bhabha basically used the idea that India has a large amount of thorium and he wanted to try and use that thorium to try and make their nuclear power. The reason he wanted to do that has to do with this question of promise.

Let me start by explaining what the basic issue is. So if you wanted to generate large amounts of nuclear power in the country, then you needed large amounts of uranium. And at that time, and subsequently too, what it seems is the case with India and, Indian geology in particular, is that we have fairly limited amount of uranium and the uranium is not particularly of good quality. And to qualify that let me also point out, by limited amount, I mean limited amount of uranium that’s high of quality, that its economic to mine it. Uranium is plentiful. You can find it in your backyard. The amount of uranium you will find by sifting through your entire backyard, will probably be a few grams. So, its not worth it. But, if you wanted to look for somewhat good quality uranium ore then the amounts are fairly limited in India.

Now, nuclear energy is to be big source of power; and that too you want to do it in such a way that it only depends on indigenous resources, then you could not depend on this uranium as it were. It so happens that India also has a large amount of thorium and around the world at that time [1950s], people in nuclear establishments in many different parts of the world felt, France for example, all felt they had limited amounts of uranium and they had to find ways of  exploiting this thorium, which is typically found more abundantly around the world. And as a way to do that, they set up a three-stage programme. In the first stage, what you do is find natural uranium that you find in nature in the cores of what are called heavy water reactors. These are reactors where the neutrons are slowed down through an interaction with water, where there is a heavier isotope of hydrogen called deutirium, which is present. And that deutrinium slows down the neutrons so efficiently that the neutrons have a much higher probability of hitting another nucleus of uranium causing it to fission. So that’s the first stage of reactors.

The next stage is that you take the spent fuel, that is the fuel that has been irradiated inside a nuclear reactor, during the course of which the uranium that’s initially in the fuel would have got converted to plutonium. So you take this spent fuel, after cooling it for a while, you process it in a reprocessing plant, which is basically a chemical plant where you dissolve it in acid and so on, add various chemicals, trying to separate the plutonium. The plutonium in turn, in the second phase, will be used to fuel the reactor, which is called a breeder reactor. A  breeder reactor is one where the core has plutonium, which is actually the one which is fission-ing, and then is surrounded by the blanket of other uranium or thorium, which in turn will absorb some of the neutrons that are escaping from the core of the reactor, to be converted into plutonium, if it’s uranium, or Uranium 233, a different isotope if it’s thorium. And in turn if you produce enough Uranium 233, you could start thinking about reactors where you had Uranium 233 in the core and thorium [indistinct word]…  So, this is the three-stage idea that Bhabha had.

All-Atomic Comics pp. 17 Breeders. Leonard Rifas

All-Atomic Comics pp. 17 Breeders. Leonard Rifas. Click on image to read.

The problem with this idea is essentially the second stage. The second stage involve these so called breeder reactors and these breedor reactors, because of the fact that you’re using this highly fissile plutonium in a very dense configuration you produce a huge amount of heat in a very small volume and this requires the use of metals, molten metals to conduct this heat on to the reactor. You cannot lose water. And this has been a huge source of problems with nuclear reactors around the world. The other set of problems with breeder reactors are that they are susceptible to certain kinds of very catastrophic accidents. All of these typically conspired to make breeder reactors very expensive. And as a result of these many countries, which initially thought much about breeder reactors, have abandoned this idea; this includes the United States, includes the United Kingdom, France… So, as of now, it’s mostly India and Russia, and to small extents China, which is interested in this. If you get through this whole stage, then you have to get to the thorium problem/stage, and thorium has all the problems of the second stage of uranium and other problems, which have to do with the fact that when it produces Uranium 233, it comes with a contaminant, which is Uranium 232, which highly radioactive. So, even to make that substance into fuel rods, you have to do it remotely behind concrete walls and things of that sort, which makes the process very expensive. So, thorium, I would expect it to be much more expensive than the breeder reactors we have. 

NJ: But, we do have a breeder reactor in Kalpakkam coming up.

MVR: We do have, and I’ll talk about that.

NJ: Okay, we’ll come to that in a bit. Now, authoritative sources, including the likes of the Prime Minister, have suggested that India will get nearly 275 gigawatts of electricity through nuclear power by 2052. And we have seen numerous news reports that have just reproduced this, without any critical insight into how achievable it is. What are your thoughts on this and what do you say about it in the book?

MVR: These kind of goals, as I have said, have been enunciated many many times in the past and have never been achieved. The 275000 megawatts by 2052 came around in the early 2000s. And actually in more recent years, it has been devised in a upward storm to 470,000. I’ve seen figures as of that. Apart from all the other problems of nuclear power that it has, long reactor construction time, it’s expensive, all that, all those issues, there is a special problem to this particular projection.

This particular projection is based on building large number of breeder reactors. These breeder reactors, I’ve told you have other problems, but even if you set aside all those problems, assume that you have the money to put in to this and so on, there’s a problem with this projection, which has to do with the accounting for the plutonium that is required. So, as I mentioned earlier, breeder reactors are ones where if you put in a certain amount of plutonium it could generate more plutonium at the end of the cycle. But, in order to get that plutonium out you have to do various things. So, you will have to take the spent fuel out of the reactor, you will have to wait for it to cool, you have to reprocess it in a reprocessing plant, then you will have to take the plutonium out, and make it into fuel rods, rebuild another reactor core with it and then start that reactor. All those things take a certain amount of time. And in the case of the DAE’s projections they have just not alloted enough time for that. So, this is not a matter of being optimistic or pessimistic, it is a matter of physics.

And in mathematical terms, for those people who ubderstand mathematics, the difference between having what’s called a differential equation and a what’s called a difference equation. And the DAE’s thing is inaccurate because it just assumes that the growth will be so smooth and exponential whereas you have to take in to account these discreet actions which have to be done. Once you put into… again, if you go by the DAE’s projections, you will actually end up soon in five to six, ten years with negative amounts of plutonium, because you need the plutonium to fuel the reactor and so on. This is not enough plutonium for that. If you do try to be careful about the plutonium accounting and not assume to have produced it out of thin air, then what happens is these projections are automatically down by 40 to 60%. And if you try to get into account more realistic projections, then you’ll probably come out with 80% of what they have have. Even at the theoritical level, you are not going to be able to reach 275000-475000 numbers that you are talking about.

NJ: Then that figure you’re saying assumes that the second and third stage will be able to go up to…

MVR: This is all only the second stage.

NJ: Only second stage.

MVR: Yeah thorium, even in Department of Atomic Energy’s plans, comes about only after 2052. ….Also, I want to say one more thing about thorium, since you have talked about it. Which is that, there used to be a joke in the electronics industry. The electronics industry, as you know, is mostly based on silicon. And in the 80s, they used to talk about germanium as being ideal metal for semi-conductors and all kinds of chips and so on. But, germanium was found to have various problems. So in the 80s and 90s, people used to make this joke about germanium – Germanium is the material of the future, always has been, always will be. And you see, thorium is very much like that. It’s this magic grade that they want to have it, it’s always in the future, and always will remain in the future.

NJ: Your book meticulously highlights the various mishaps and hurdles faced during the construction and commissioning of various reactors. In one instance, you mention a fire and an explosion proceeded and closely followed the Prime Minister’s visit to Kalpakkam, when she went there, when Indira Gandhi went there to dedicate the MAPS-1 reactor to the nation. Was this incident widely reported? Do these mishaps, which you know are infamously called incidents, come to light automatically and immediately?

MVR: Usually not. In some cases, they do come about. I think, I do not know actually if this widely reported at that point. I found out about it actually through the writings of the retired DAE Secretary, M R Srinivasan, in his autobiography he had talked about this. That’s how I found out about it. What typically happens in  many of these cases is that immediately after the event you often will not find anything about it in public media. Occassionally, some workers leak news of these kinds of things to media and so on. That’s how you find out about it. You find out some, some mishaps through the annual reports that the atomic energy regulatory board…so, you find some information. The picture is neither completely dark nor completely transparent. It’s somewhat mixed. You do find out some details, but some times not.

The 500 MWe Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR) under construction at Kalpakkam. Photo credits: S Raghunathan, The Hindu.

The 500 MWe Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR) under construction at Kalpakkam. Photo credits: S Raghunathan, The Hindu.

NJ: You’re now in Chennai, a metropolis less than 100 kms from Kalpakkam. And on the other side of Kalpakkam sits Pondicherry, another teeming town. NPCIL [Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd.] claims, I mean I know one of its, 25th year, it claimed that the Kalpakkam plants have operated without any hazards for several reactor years. How true is this? What are the kind of facilities that are currently running in Kalpakkam? Is there any cause for concern for people who are living in Chennai or in Pondicherry?

MVR: I would answer this at three levels. First level is, asking just what we know, in terms of empirical things. There have been a number of small incidents of the kind that you have mentioned, various heavy water leaks, things tripping, so on and so forth. Now, if you think about all these things as some kind of an indicator of the health of the system it is sort of like saying – if there is a man that is going around, or woman for that matter who is going around, who has got occassional shortness of breath, who is not able to climb stairs, who has some occasional slight chest pain, and things of that sort, he or she might have not had a heart attack at that point, but clearly those signs are not good. Another thing, to sort of, look at this whole picture is to say, look at the experience so far and can you decide that there has, because there hasn’t been any major accidents, catastrophic accidents, that the system is safe. And again, the answer is no, because the number of years of experience is very very limited compared to the accuracy at the confidence that you want to have about how few accidents there are.

So, to give you an example, if you see the discussions about Koodankulam or any of these reactors, they would often say things like, we have done our analysis of this and the probability of a core damage accident in this will be 10-6  per reactor, or 10-7 , or something like that. Really small number, one part in a million, or one part in ten million, and so on and so forth. If you wanted to get that kind of a figure from empirical data, you would have to have tens and hundreds of thousands of years of reactor experience, without any accidents, to say well this is reasonable. In the absence of that kind of experience, you cannot say, you cannot be sure of this number with any great confidence.

Finally, I would say the most concern about the kind of facilities that they are building in Kalpakkam are two-fold. One, is this breeder reactor that they are constructing, the prototype fast-breeder reactor. It’s the first reactor, commercial scale reactor of the second stage of this nuclear programme. It’s a 500 megawatt reactor, fueled by plutonium, with liquid sodium removing the heat from the core. And this has various problems with its design. In particular, it has something called the positive void coefficient which is very dangerous, which actually led to the accident in Chernobyl, the reactor has a certain kind of behaviour that is not stable. And this proto-fast breeder reactor has been built with a containment, which is the big structure that you see from far in any reactor, which is not of adequate strength in order to contain the accident, if one should happen, a really worse case accident. So, that’s one area where I will concerned about the Kalpakkam reactor.

The second thing is the reprocessing plant, which also is in Kalpakkam, where spent fuel is chopped up and dissolved in acid and plutonium extracted. When this process is done, one should remember that all the radioactivity that is sitting inside this spent fuel, none of it goes away, because that’s a physical property. We cannot destroy radioactivity. So, what happens is all this radioactivity gets stored in the form of, what are called, high level waste, which is extremely concentrated source of radioactivity; usually kept in steel tanks. Ideally, one would like to seal this liquid, actually blend it with glass to form something that is called vitrified waste. In Kalpakkam, for whatever reason, I don’t know why they haven’t managed to get the vitrification plant to work. All the annual reports from the Department of Atomic Energy talk about them building a reprocessing, I mean a vitrification plant, and they always say work is progressing, it’s expected to be completed. But, I have never seen one which says it is completed, as of about a year or so. So, in my sense, even if the  plant is not operating  there will probably be a huge backlog high level waste and this is something which if cooling fails for some reason it can actually explode due to the chemical reactions, in principle it’s possible and this kind of explosion has happened in 1957 at the Mayak processing plant in the Soviet Union, which contaminated a huge area of land. So, that goes to the kinds of things that there would be any worry about.

NJ: Nuclear electricity is cheap! What do your studies suggest, conclude about this suggestion?

All-Atomic Comics pp. 22. Leonard Rifas.

All-Atomic Comics pp. 22. Leonard Rifas.

MVR: This claim about nuclear power being cheap has been made in two ways. One is when the early days of nuclear power, they talked about it being too cheap to meter. That it is so cheap that you don’t even have to cost it, and so on. Those kinds of claims have largely vanished. The Economist magazine said nuclear power has changed from being too cheap to meter to being too expensive to matter. Something of that sort. But, now if you look at the other way by which they talk about this, when nuclear power is compared with another source of energy and ultimate dismay that is cheaper than that.

So, in India the primary source of energy of electricity generation in the country has been coal. And nuclear power has been consistently compared to that. So, in the early years, what they quickly realized was that nuclear power can’t compete directly with coal. So, the strategy was to say, well, near the coal mines, we will certainly not be able to compete, but as you go further and further away from where most of the coal is mined, then you have to include the cost of transporting coal to that thing. And the assumption is, once you go sufficiently far away, then nuclear power is going to become cheaper. So, there will be at least some parts of the country where it makes economic sense to have nuclear power, because the cost of delivering coal for generating electricity will be too high.

So, in the early years, what they would talk about in the 50s and 60s, they were talking about 600 kilometres of distance, 500 or 600 kilometres, and once you go beyond that then nuclear power would be cheaper. But this was before any reactors had actually been built. Once the first set of reactors had been built and their costs sort of understood, what happened was you found that this was not going to happen. So, by the 1980s, as the first reactors happen, they talked about it being 800 kilometres away. Once it was 800 kilometres away, then it can compete. But then, they were very confident at that time, that by the 1990s, Oh, we would have lowered the costs of nuclear power plants, so that it’s going to compete even with the pithead where the coal is mined. Now come the 1990s, all they could say was, you go to 1200 kilometres and then maybe it is going to be competitive. Now, this is roughly the period when I started looking into nuclear power and the early 2000s I made a costing of comparing electricity being generated at the Kaiga Nuclear Power Plant, with a core plant that had recently been constructed at that point at Raichur.

Now, the other thing that you found in all these studies of economics was that they would never use costs of real nuclear power plants, real core plants. There would be some arbitrary figure, 5 crores per megawatt, 3 crores per megawatt, sort of just pulled out of a hat and say, this is the cost of your nuclear power plant. So, we said, no we would like do it empirically, and we look at the Kaiga plant and the Raichur plant. The coal for the Raichur plant comes from 1400 kilometres away. So, more than the 1200 kilometres. And we still found that nuclear power is more expensive for realistic discount rates.

The other claim that you see all the time is that nuclear power so far has not been cheaper but in the future it is going to be cheaper, because we are going to decrease the costs of building these nuclear power plants. Again, experience around the world suggests that this is not the case. In both the United States and France, which have the had the most experience building nuclear power plants, costs have actually increased over a period of time. And this is primarily because, they have had to incorporate more and more safety features into nuclear reactors in part, and in part because everything else has become more and more expensive. So, on the whole I would say, the claim that nuclear power is cheap is just not been found to be true.

NJ: This, you’re not even going into the aspects of waste management and costs of an catastrophic event.

MVR: That’s right. And also, in these so called breeder reactors, this tends to be even more expensive than ordinary reactors.

NJ: So, why is it that if nuclear power is so hazardous, so dirty, so unpopular, why is it that civil countries with democratic governments  are pursuing this so avidly?

MVR: This is a million dollar question. I think that it’s…to answer that, I think you have to understand that countries are not unitary objects. There are different people involved, there are different groups involved. Some of the costs, many of the risks and so on are very unequally borne. The primary risk of having a nuclear power plant accident from a nuclear power plant is very local. Even though, some amount of radioactivity might escape and might spread all over the world, as in the case of Chernobyl and so on, the primary impact is within tens of kilometres of a nuclear power plant whereas for somebody sitting in Delhi or Bombay faraway that’s not a big issue.

Likewise, many of these things, I think, are not, are done on the basis of taxpayer money, not on the base of private money. And in many countries where nuclear power has been put to the test at the market place, even if it is backed up with strong political commitment by the political leadership it has often failed. This has been the case in the United States, it is proving to be the case right now as we are speak in the United Kingdom… so on and so forth. I think that the places where it can be absorbed through some combination of government largesse and public taxpayer money, has been the place where it grows.

NJ: And finally, what is your take on Koodankulam? And what would you do if you were in control of the country’s decision making? And what would you have done and what would you do now that the protests have erupted?

Sea Siege. Koodankulam 08 October 2012. Photo credits: Amritharaj Stephen.

Sea Siege. Koodankulam 08 October 2012. Photo credits: Amritharaj Stephen.

MVR: Yeah. So, that’s a very big if. Somebody like me would never be in the government, in a position of power, but let me try and answer that to the extent that I could. So, you said, if I were in a position of power right now, as your first position, that I take to mean, that I couldn’t sort of answer something like, well, I will just abandon the project as it is. Because that would come out of huge political cost. Assuming that particular answer is not open to me, let me try and suggest a few things, I think, a good responsible government should do in this place.

So, the argument here is that you have already spent 17,000 crores on it, we cannot waste that investment, and so somebody has to bare the risk and so on and so forth. I think that three things should be done. One is that, if this plant were to be commissioned, it should be commissioned with complete transparency to the local people, who are the people who are concerned about the safety of it. So, I would say, if in order to win their trust, which is completely absent at this point, I would open up the operating records, as and when the plant is commissioned. And if at any stage, the local population, if they feel uncomfortable about this plant, about how it is operating and maybe invoking the use of expert knowledge from other places and so on feel that this plant is not operating well, then I would commit to having that shut down and those problems rectified.

The second, I would say, is that having learnt this lesson from Koodankulam, no more nuclear power plants should be commissioned without the consent of the people who live in the neighbourhood. So, in the case of Jaitapur for example, where the local population has clearly shown that they are not interested, that they do not want this plant, I would abandon it right away. This is not fair to sort of do that.

And finally, to address the fact that many of the people who are opposing this plant, are not just opposing it because of fear of radiation or of accidents, but also because it is going to impact their livelihood, the least one can do is to say, well, we would compensate you in case you find, for example, that fish catch are going down or people are not buying your fish or something like that. To which you have to start some kind of baseline survey, and then make some arrangements for how these people will be compensated in case they are going to be bearing losses.

These I think are three very minimal measures that have to be taken, short of sort of shutting this down, if you’re going to ahead with commissioning it.

NJ: One last question I had has got to do with this nuclear power plant in New York, Shoreham, which was, I think, abandoned at the last stage and was then subsequently converted in to using gas as a fuel. Now, why was that done? Why wouldn’t that be a feasible option in India?

Wunderland Kalkar 024

Wunderland Kalkar 024 (Photo credit: Henk-Jan van der Klis)

MVR: It could entirely be a feasible option. I have not really looked in to that. That’s one reason I am not talking about it. That’s an excellent question. There have been plants that have been abandoned at various stages after construction. And perhaps, the even better example than Shoreham is that of the Kalkar reactor in Germany, near the border with Netherlands, which was actually abandoned after the whole plant construction had been done, costing about 5 billion dollars, but before the fuel was loaded in to it. And it was subsequently converted in to an amusement park.

Coming back to the basic question, if you want to say you’ve built this infrastructure, some of it can certainly be salvaged and used for other kinds of power generation, whether that is a realistic alternative or what are the costs of that I have not looked in to this, I have not seen any body else look in to this, so I cannot say it with any authority as to what that would be, how much that would cost, how feasible that would be, and what would have to be left out.

NJ: Thank you very much, Ramana, for your time.

MVR: Thank you.

***

Credits:

Camera: Abdullah Nurullah, Urvashi Mukherjee, Shatakshi Gawade, Bhaskar Goswami.

Editor: Soofara Ali

Assistant Editors: Shataskshi Gawade, Abdulla Nurullah

Special thanks to Sashi Kumar, Chairman, Asian College of Journalism.

***

This English transcript was done by volunteers in Chai Kadai. Feel free to share, copy, distribute and translate this transcript under this Creative Commons license. Please attribute the video interview to the authors and Asian College of Journalism. 

Chai Kadai. (chaikadai.wordpress.com | chaikadai@gmail.com)

 

***

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No Celebration Goes Unpunished

By Nityanand Jayaraman

A few days ago, India celebrated its 60th year of parliamentary democracy. Meanwhile, in many corners of the country, democracy was being celebrated through the fundamental acts of standing up and speaking out. In Jagatsinhpur, Orissa, a community had closed itself within the village of Dhinkia refusing to yield to police pressure, enticements and threats, and refusing to allow the Korean steel major POSCO to take over their fertile lands to set up a steel plant. A courageous tribal teacher – Soni Sori – is being treated in a hospital in Delhi. She celebrated democracy by speaking out against maoists and the armed police in Chattisgarh. For this, the police shoved stones down her vagina, after our judiciary in Delhi handed her over to police custody despite her fears that she’d be tortured in custody. The survivors in Bhopal — who have seen nearly a dozen prime ministers and their false promises, more than a 1000 demonstrations, several dozen hunger strikes, more than 2000 kms in padayatras — staged a rail blockade last December, a few days before the 26th anniversary of the disaster. They wished to pressure the State Government and the Indian Government to present true figures of the numbers of people injured or killed. The state response was brutal: lathi charge, tear gas lobbed. Cases of attempt to murder and wielding deadly weapons were lodged against more than 2000 people, including 80-year old women barely capable of wielding their walking sticks.

In Koodankulam, Tamilnadu, fisherfolk, farmers and traders who are voicing their concerns over the risks posed by a nuclear power plant in their neighbourhood are being hounded by the State. A total of 287 FIRs have been filed in just one police station – Koodankulam P.S. – between September 2011 and April 2012 implicating more than 55000 people. The criminal charges foisted on them range from unlawful assembly to sedition and waging war against the state. At least 3500 people are known to have been charged with sedition and waging war against the state. Details of 178 FIRs are not yet available. FIRs are not being disclosed. One has to go to court to get a copy of the FIRs. Holding demonstrations, conducting hall meetings, printing posters, distributing handbills and voicing opinions critical of nuclear energy [are all] banned in the district of Tirunelveli. The restrictions are relaxed as you move away from the epicentre. But they can still be felt even in Chennai where the police denies permission for protests against nuclear energy.

Such a crackdown on free speech needs to be condemned by all who set store by democratic values. But we live in curious times. Even the media condones this intrusion into the most fundamental of constitutional rights. The media rightly resisted the dangerous proposals by the Supreme Court or the Press Council chairman to regulate and control media freedom in this country.  Yet the same media condones and even participates in the denial of [the rights of] Idinthakarai residents to speak out against a project that they feel will change their lives forever, for the worse. Regardless of one’s point of view on nuclear energy, the assault on free speech requires greater scrutiny and critique.

On 14 May, 2012, Chennai Solidarity Group for Koodankulam Struggle organised a public hearing. Justice (Retd) A.P. Shah, former Chief Justice of Madras and Delhi High Courts, presided over the hearings. Advocate Geeta Ramaseshan and Prof. Prabha Kalvimani assisted him. In the course of the hearings, members of People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy deposed live from Idinthakarai over skype. Supreme Court advocate Prashant Bhushan deposed live from Delhi over skype. Twelve people from villages around Idinthakarai spoke about how their lives have been made living hell by the police and intelligence officers. Lawyers assisting and observing the abuse of the Indian Penal Code submitted analyses of the cases against the protestors. Human Rights Protection Committee, the organisation that is assisting the protestors with their bail applications, presented an analyses and their experiences, while People’s Union of Civil Liberties made a submission on the absurdity of the cases filed. Meera Udayakumar, wife of PMANE convenor S.P. Udayakumar, and Porkodi, wife of Muhilan, an activist that has been in jail and denied bail since 19 March, spoke about the harassments and psychological trauma they have faced in the last few months. Revathi, a friend of Satish Kumar – the other young activist jailed for having the gumption to speak out – spoke about how Satish was blindfolded and beaten, hand-cuffed and led to court as if he was a terrorist. All this, for the crime of speaking out.

The public hearing was livestreamed, and a recorded version of the proceedings can be viewed at livestream.com.

Below is the transcript of the interim statement given by Justice (Retd) AP Shah to the media at a press briefing after the public hearing. The final report is to be released within a week.

***

STATEMENT OF JUSTICE AJIT PRAKASH SHAH

It is very easy for all of us – I stay in Delhi; I need a/c; I need electricity as do all of you from Madras. We are away from Koodankulam. Those 70,000 farmers and those fishermen; who cares for them? Life is very cheap in our country. So we think in our terms. “Oh, there is electricity shortage. What should we do?” We don’t even think about it. It is only 2.36 percent that comes from nuclear energy. There are ways and means [of generating electricity from other sources], but I’ll not go into that. Lastly, about the risk factor. Japan, just imagine, it is one of the most advanced countries, and till the accident happened, they claimed that their nuclear reactors are absolutely safe. And then, the Japanese Government has decided to abandon nuclear energy altogether. And there are four other countries which have put a moratorium on nuclear energy – Germany, Italy and Switzerland. Three countries. They have declared that they will not be using nuclear energy from now on. I don’t want to enter into any kind of argument with [our scientists]. I have great respect for them. They say there is zero percent chance of any mishap. That is too tall a claim. When they say that there is zero percent chance, they also say that “we’ll have a review of all the projects, all the nuclear power plants.” So naturally, there is a fear. Now, on this fact alone, there is a worldwide concern over nuclear energy. You want to contain these 70,000 people, because they protest against nuclear energy? And what is it that they want to say? See their demands. Very reasonable. Every project, even a project involving 50 crore rupees on public land is required to conduct a public hearing and a EIA — environmental impact assessment. You won’t believe this, but EIA for Koodankulam project was conducted in 1988 – 22 years back, when there were no rules. And the EIA was required only for the allocation of money from the Planning Commission. There was no people’s hearing. There was nothing. So, even that EIA was not released to the people. They should conduct a fresh EIA. That is their demand.

The second demand is – they have conducted a safety analysis. So why not release it to them? Let the people understand that they have conducted the analysis, and that these are the issues. Please talk to them, and satisfy them that it is not. . .that it is risk-free or relatively risk-free. The next is site evaluation. There has been concern on this, because this comes in a seismic area. That is the claim. That report is also not available to people. I want to tell you that Areva’s CEO came to India. Areva is the company which is setting up plants in Jaitapur. According to him, whenever you put up a power plant, you should do it in consultation with people, because people should be completely convinced that there is no risk to their lives. Now, you don’t even supply to them the basic documents. Secondly, what about the risks? Suppose that something happens. What is the great hurry in rushing with the project?

In a democratic country, we have the right of a peaceful protest; right to assemble is a fundamental right; right to gather in a public place and protest is a fundamental right if it is not disturbing the public tranquility. The right to free speech and expression is the most fundamental right of all. Supreme Court says that – there is no hierarchy of rights but it is the arc of all fundamental rights. It is definitely the most fundamental of rights. I have certain views. People may say that nuclear energy is good for the country, and some people may say that it is bad for the country. When I say that I have serious doubts about nuclear energy, will you brand me as anti-patriotic, as anti-national, as a person who should be charged with sedition or waging war against the state? What have these people done? They have protested against this particular plant. And there is not a single incident of violence. And what have the state authorities done? There are analyses produced before us of the cases instituted against them. Can any one of you explain to me how a peaceful protest against a nuclear plant, where people say that “we do not want a nuclear plant in our place,” amounts to sedition? Which ingredient of sedition is established here? Then you also invoke the provision related to waging war against the country. Where is the question of waging war against the country? They are residing there. They are concerned. In Chernobyl, the entire area – Chernobyl happened in 1986. Today, the entire area in 30 km radius is not permissible for human habitation. The reason is that the radiation effects are lingering. People are afraid. They are asking questions to you. And then, apart from anything else, you go on filing cases against them, not only cases are filed, but the other thing is cases against whom? There are thousands of people. Every possible provision in IPC is invoked. And then, you don’t investigate the cases. Those that are [not clear] you ensure that they don’t get bail. You are slapping new charges against them. Not only that. Bus service is curtailed. Other facilities are denied. Most shockingly, a professor came here, an associate professor of [Manonmaniam] Sundaranar University. He said they wanted to organise a debate on nuclear energy. So the IB chief warned them “what business? You should not hold this debate.” So you cannot have a discussion on this? Are we living in a democratic country or not?

We celebrated with great flourish the 60th year of parliamentary democracy. Is it parliamentary democracy that when a person is peacefully protesting, you file FIRs against him under most sections under IPC? It is not fair. It is not the way state authorities should deal with citizens. These citizens have some serious concerns. Here, they say Christian community. In Jaitapur, there are no christian communities. In Jaitapur, what I heard is something extraordinary. They say that people from outside Jaitapur are coming there. This is one country. So why cannot we go?

According to me, if you want the proof that democracy is alive in this country, I would say that this 70,000 people’s protest or their protest is an indication that there is a democracy in this country. We can debate and protest. They can continue with their protest for ten years. You must talk to them. I’m saying. . .my suggestion, my appeal to the state authorities, and my appeal also to those who are sitting on fast, is please withdraw these. Let them withdraw their agitation. Let the documents, whatever is possible – I’m not saying the Information Commission has said all these documents have to be given, that is ultimately for the courts to decide – but where there is no national security, no issues, information should be given to people. Please talk to them. Please understand their grievances. Perhaps, they will accept. They will be convinced. When you say that democracy is by the people, for the people, of the people, you cannot ignore people’s protest in this fashion. We, living in cities, we have no right to condemn this agitation because our interest is in a different sense — that electricity supply will be augmented etc.

I feel that it is high time that both the state authorities and the agitators should change their positions and have a dialogue. It doesn’t augur well for the country where a section, a sizable section of people are persecuted because they are opposed to a certain project.

Koodankulam: Curb on Free Speech (2 Parts)

Interviews by Nityanand Jayaraman | Camera by Siddharth Muralidharan

Since March 19, 2012, when Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa announced that work on the controversial Koodankulam nuclear plant could be resumed, and even before that actually, the protesting villagers have been at the receiving end of a vicious state led campaign to paint their non-violent struggle as a violent one, and to crush their campaign into silence by using harsh sections of the Indian Penal Code. More than 7000 cases of “sedition” and “waging war against the Government of India” have been filed just in the Koodankulam police station. That is probably more than in any other police station in India. Certain sections of the media too have played the role of a willing partner in propagating the State’s propaganda. In pursuing this counter-campaign against its own people, the State Government has placed itself above the law of the land and pursued an openly anti-democratic agenda.

The interview below with eminent legal scholar Dr. Usha Ramanathan and Adv. R. Vaigai, a senior lawyer from the Madras High Court, seeks to explore the seemingly ironical situation of a “Democratic” State whose actions are anti-democratic.

PART I – Usha Ramanathan, Legal Scholar, Delhi

[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hYU3txYh6Do]

6 mins, 09 s. Published on Youtube on 13 April, 2013

NJ: You told us that constitutional guarantees offers fundamental rights. Why is the government refusing to respect our fundamental rights?

UR: See, the Government over the years, and more recently you can see it in a very in a dominant kind of way… the Government is now using methods for social control… It’s seeing the need to exercise its social and political control for it to go ahead with its agenda. Fundamental rights should be a priority on their agenda for them to recognize it. Since it is not, the easiest way of dealing with it is by going on imposing restrictions, which they’ve done over the years. And now, they criminalize all action. So, it’s no longer…the debate is not even on fundamental rights as far the State is concerned.

NJ: Any examples of, you know, recent things that have happened which,

UR: Of Fundamental Rights, yeah sure! My favorite example of UID or of the NCTC or the National Intelligence Grid, where they’re saying you forget about.. for instance, they say, the poor don’t have any interest in this fundamental rights business, they need food. It’s like you don’t need your rights. What you need is welfare and services. You get your electricity you shouldn’t worry about somebody else’s fundamental rights. If you get your food in time, you shouldn’t worry about your own fundamental rights. Because the State then is a service provider. You forgo your rights and then we’ll see how we’re going to provide you the service. This is a.. there is a certain diabolic nature to the way in which this is debated. You bring corruption and inefficiency to a point where people are so fed up with it and you can get them to give up almost anything, to have the State deliver on some things. That’s one. That’s as far as service delivery is concerned. But, I think the other huge problem is that terrorism has become just a phrase that encompasses everything …(not audible). Fear is a factor for losing fundamental rights. And fear is now being implanted deliberately in the minds of people and the promise that is made is – if you give up your fundamental rights, maybe we can provide you with a little better protection.

NJ: The other issue… the State itself appears to be anti-democratic, where people are fighting for democracy or say that they are fighting for democracy, and the State appears antidemocratic. How is that?

UR: I’m not sure that we should even look for the State to be democratic. It’s not the State, it’s not the Government which is democratic, it is people who are democratic. States, in fact, find it very inconvenient to have to practice democracy. They need democracy to survive as a “democratic State”, because that’s the only way that the game of politics gets played out and there is a certain value that some of them may have for a “constitutional, moral, ethical” in that sense, way of life. But it’s people on whom the burden rests to ensure the democracy is not lost. Therefore, every assertion… we keep saying, if you don’t exercise your fundamental rights you lose them. They vanish. And, it’s therefore become important… when we talk.. I think somebody asked if India is a fake democracy? I don’t think so at all. The fact that there are so many movements all across the country. It’s not like, you know, everyone has to be right to be able to say what they are saying. But, everyone should be able to say it and should be able to find the space where they can discourse a lot of this and to do more than that, you know do things for each other, to find support across classes, castes, whatever – that is the practice of democracy. That is done by people. So if we were to ask, can democracy survive in India? I think so long as the people of India are clear that, and that there are classes among the people of India and there are groups among the people of India who believe in the practice of democracy and keep practicing it, I think we’re alright!

NJ: In the case of Koodankulam, since March 19th, even before that, there’s been a whole lot of language war that has been deployed and now also a war using IPC sections. The Media has also played a very interesting role in this. Overall, what is your reading on this language war that has been played by people like Mr. Narayan Swamy or the Media war that has been used by the State quite effectively. What does it mean for our fundamental rights?

UR: Yeah see, I think one of the things we’ve said about the Media, which is very worrying, is that it is two things is that it’s corporatized, heavily corporatized and it is heavily upper class, whether it is, and it is dominated by those who are not part of the political establishment, but who have access to it, who find various ways of controlling it, like multi-nationals, for instance.

In Koodankulam, I think there is an additional factor. This is the first time we are seeing the State come out and say openly that We have power, and we will decide how we want to use it, and the law cannot bind us. We can use the law to do what we want to do. This use of the Sedition provision, for instance, is a classic case of a State not even needing to hide behind anything, when it is treating itself as in a state of exception in relation to the law. Because, they know even if all the cases fall at the end of the day it doesn’t matter, because they’ve had their purpose served. You can beat people up, you can put them away. It’s a total abuse of a power that actually doesn’t exist, but which they have managed to cultivate for themselves. I think this is the first time… you know, when people ask the difference between colonial times and now. I think in Colonial times, you knew who was on which side. You know who the Colonizer was and who the people of India were. I think after all these years, it is only now, that an ‘us and them’ in this context has gotten created. Koodankulam has actually shown us that.

***

PART II – R Vaigai, Advocate, Chennai

[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xf01PSCG0Y8&feature=relmfu]

6 mins, 55s. Published on Youtube on 13 April, 2013.

NJ: We wanted to ask you what is Good Faith exemption in law and how does the State, that is the Executive and Judiciary use Good Faith exemption to violate the law and get away with it?

R. Vaigai: See this Good Faith is something, well it’s a Colonial legacy. Even in Evidence Act, you have a section which says, there are sections which talk about what is admissible evidence, what is acceptable evidence and all. So there is a section which says that official records are presumed to be correct. So you don’t have to, if you produce, for example, your birth certificate – there’s a presumption that the date of birth recorded in the birth certificate is correct as against any other village records or something… But, as far as minor matters like birth certificates, death certificates are concerned it’s fine. But, when it comes with dealing with State issues vis a vis people, larger issues, it becomes a problem. It’s like how in the Koodankulam issue where on the challenge to the Section 144 order, the statement of the District Collector was per se accepted by the court, without asking any questions. There was no, you know, not even one iota of suspicion that was cast on the statement made by the Collector by the court. [Faced with allegations that the State Government was blocking the movement of essential commodities like milk, water and of people seeking access to medicine or medical help, the District Collector asserted that the 7000-strong police force posted outside the protesting villages was merely to ensure law and order, and that no restrictions on goods or people had been imposed.] So its weighs very heavily in legal proceedings on the mind of the court. It grants certain immunity. For example, when we are talking about large scale police violence on people and the court calls upon the police department as to what exactly happened and they produce a certain version of what happened. Prima facie the court is inclined to accept these versions granted by the police. Very often, what happens is when you are questioning police action vis a vis people and supposing it is a private company where a person says that I’ve been assaulted by the police, that is any violence indulged by the police. The policeman comes before the court and says that this was an action that I had to take in the discharge of my official duty. So if it is an action taken in the discharge of official duty, I was forced to take this action. That was the answer given by the police in all the encounter deaths cases. Therefore, not even a charge sheet for murder was ever filed in the encounter death cases, because the answer is – it was an action taken in the discharge of my official duty. Now, fortunately for us the Supreme Court has interpreted the phrase ‘in the discharge of official duty’ to be confined only to legitimate actions and not illegitimate actions. So, there are judgements which say that only legitimate actions can have the cover of immunity and not illegitimate… Supposing a policeman goes into a house for interrogation and rapes a woman. Now interrogation may be a legitimate action, but rape is not. So, there are judgments like that. We have to make use of those judgments in the given kind of situation.

NJ: In the case of Koodankulam, what was the Collector’s Statement and what was the problem with it?

RV: No, the collector’s statement was that there is no problem as far as disruption of essential supplies. It was a very curt statement saying that essential supplies were never cut off and people were receiving all the essential supplies, water, milk and food and whatever ration and all that and electricity and that the situation was normal. It is a very brief statement. Now, as against that was the detailed affidavit that was produced by the people of, I mean, the petitioners who had filed the public interest litigation; who had taken oral versions of the people concerned, interviewed them, and then given the affidavits stating that these are all the things that have happened: like water pumps were not working, there was no water supply in the taps, and there was no milk supply. There were small children who were not allowed to go to school. There were detailed versions given in the affidavits. Despite that, the court is not inclined to, you know, question the Collector on this any further, on the statement. That was the problem.

NJ: With things like Good Faith exemptions or Sections of IPC like Sedition, there’s a mention that this runs counter to the ideals of democracy. Either Sedition survives or Democracy survives. Where does one go to change these things? Are courts the place or are we supposed to resort to other…

RV: No. No. It’s only through the Parliament, not the courts. Courts will only implement the laws that already exist and they have done the maximum as far as Sedition is concerned. They have pointed out that the old concept of sedition cannot survive along with our present concept of democracy. Therefore, sedition will have to be used only in very exceptional cases where a clear case of act of enemy against the State is made out and a clear intention to challenge the State has made out, not otherwise. Therefore, they have read down the sedition penal position to the maximum. It is another matter that it’s being abused by the Executive, but courts have done their maximum. They have pointed out that if sedition has to co-exist with our constitutional provisions and democratic provisions it will have to be a very exceptional situation, and not the routine situation. That the courts have done. Beyond that, you cannot tell the court that the police cannot ever impose sedition charges, because it is antithetical to democracy. That is a solution you will have to ask the Parliament and not the court.

NJ: And the court is not likely to come down heavily on instances where sedition has been abused by the forces? will there be…

RV: We just have to hope that they do come down, because nothing prevents them from not coming down.

***

This English transcript was done by volunteers in Chai Kadai. Feel free to share, copy, distribute and translate this transcript under this Creative Commons license. Please attribute the video interview to the authors mentioned above.  

Chai Kadai. (chaikadai.wordpress.com | chaikadai@gmail.com)

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