Mumbai: The police yesterday opened fire on hundreds of protesters and killed one at a demonstration against the proposed construction of a nuclear power station at Jaitapur, in in Maharashtra.
Construction of the $10 billion plant, which is expected to be the biggest in the world, is due to begin this year. The proposal has sparked massive protests across the country. Residents in the area gathered near the proposed site, expressing anger at the plan, which they fear threatens their traditional fishing grounds.
The police said they were forced to open fire after protesters attacked a police station close to the proposed site. Maharashtra Police Inspector General Gulabrao Pal said that officers were left with little choice but to fire on the crowd near the site in Jaitapur, about 400 kilometres from the state capital Mumbai.
“Our men threw teargas shells, lathi-charged the mob and fired rubber bullets. Later, we had no option but to fire bullets in which one person was killed.”
Pal said more than 20 people were arrested following the demonstration and that eight police officers were injured when stones were thrown and a local police station was set on fire.
Since the nuclear crisis in Japan, protests have been building in Jaitapur over the proposed 9,900 megawatt, six-reactor facility, which will be constructed with technical help from French energy giant Areva.
Environmental campaigners say the location is prone to earthquakes while local people who are dependent on fishing and farming say the plant will rob them of their livelihoods and nuclear waste could pollute the soil and sea.
Locals have also rejected a compensation package for their land as derisory.
On April 15, Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh insisted that there would be no rethink on the plant but admitted that greater safety measures might be required to help deal with any possible emergencies.
Nuclear industry insiders have cast doubt on India’s ability to deal with a disaster on the scale of that at Fukushima after the devastating earthquake and tsunami last month.
Karuna Raina, nuclear and energy campaigner at Greenpeace India, condemned the police action and termed it “shameful.” He said that local people were only exercising their right to legitimate protest.
“People’s right to protest is being crushed ruthlessly. In a democratic country, people have right to protest, and the government is mowing down people since it does not like what they are saying,” she said.
India currently sources 3 percent of its electricity from nuclear power, but the government wants to increase that to 6 percent by the end of the decade and 13 percent by 2030.
Anti-nuclear activists were planning further protests this weekend in Maharahstra to demand that the Jaitapur and other nuclear power plant schemes be scrapped, PTI reported.
Instead, the campaigners want greater investment in renewable power sources, which currently accounts for about 10 percent of India’s energy mix, most of it from wind.
The local hardline Hindu nationalist party Shiv Sena has called for a shut-down in the Ratnagiri District of Maharashtra where Jaitapur is situated to protest against the police action.