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Kerala and Kudankulam: The Media Sleeps

March 26, 2012

It is amazing how the very same Malayalees and their media, which made Mount Everest out of that molehill of Mullaperiyar, remain sweetly calm in comparison at the events unfolding in Kudankulam. In fact the amnesia is so complete that it is as if few remember (except the anti-nuclear activists in Kerala who have been consistently supporting the struggles of the local people) that it was common knowledge in the late 1980s that the plant would affect both Tamil Nadu and Kerala.There was far greater awareness of the special problems of locating the plant in Kudankulam for Kerala, where natural radiation levels are already very high. The violence too had an early start, with the police firing on a people’s rally against the plant in 1989, which killed one person.

I simply can’t see how the media remains relatively complacent compared to the fuss they had created over Mullaperiyar. In fact,in hindsight, it even looks as if the Mullaperiyar issue became shrill precisely at a time when a strong alliance was being built across the border between activists in Kerala and Tamil Nadu against the nuclear plant at Kudankulam. The Anti-Kudankulam Nuclear Plant Support Committee, which had been building up a consistent and strong campaign, stopped receiving serious media attention. It amazes me how the borders drawn by puny human beings continue to produce such a ridiculous sense of security – we haven’t learned a thing, I feel, even from tsunamis. Indeed, the hullabaloo over Mullaperiyar continued even as expert after expert testified that there was no immediate danger. In contrast, there is overwhelming evidence that shows that Kudankulam was an ill-chosen venture, in all ways.

Indeed, Kerala has had a fairly long history of anti-nuclear protests, and the efforts to support the struggle against the nuclear plant have been active. Not surprisingly, the protestors here have been appealing to the Kerala Legislature and the High Court to intervene in the matter as one that affects Kerala vitally. The Committee’s current campaign, which has simply not received the coverage it should have in the Malayalam media, has consistently stressed the fact that Malayalees ought to respond to the struggles not merely in solidarity but as directly-affected victims of this ill-planned move, whose lives and livelihoods will be greatly jeopardized by it. The Committee, which draws its strength from the successful efforts in Kerala to thwart nuclear power plants, first in Peringom in north Kerala in 1990 and earlier, in Bhutathankettu in Kothamangalam, organized its campaign to cover these places, reviving the memories of popular resistance there. Unfortunately, even the fears roused by NIMBY feelings do not work against Kudankulam, given the pervasiveness of the false sense of security that state borders cultivate. The struggle against Endosulphan, which was a lonely and friendless struggle by a handful of people in north Kerala, caught the imagination of the whole state when it dawned upon the Malayalee middle-classes that even the curry leaves they bought at the local supermarket was contaminated with it. That is, they woke up to the fact that this was no localized issue but one which affected them all.

The Kudankulam plant poses the same danger, but two things will surely block a quick response: one, the illusory sense of security from the fact that the plant is across the border, and two, which is more serious, the fact that the Malayalee middle class  desperately wants to get us all into the rat race for growth. And they are not prepared to consider more rational ways of using power and safer ways of generating it. However, it is clear that they have no clue about the risk involved when they think of Kudankulam as a possible model for Kerala. Also, The laid-back attitude of the Malayalee public is perhaps related to the general perception that the negative impact will fall primarily on the fisher-folk of the Kerala coast, who are among the most disempowered groups in the state. It is true that the hot water released from the plant will affect our fisheries and the atomic waste discharged into the sea will soon enter our rivers through lakes.  But how come the middle class has mostly forgotten the implication of the fact that radioactive waste respects no political borders? The capital city of Kerala, Thiruvananthapuram, falls within a radius of 60 kilometers from the plant. According to the Anti-Kudamkulam Nuclear Plant Support Committee, in the event of a disaster, the whole of south and south-east Kerala will be directly affected by deadly radiation in a few hours. They point out that the average speed of wind at Kudankulam being  16 kilometers per hour, radioactive dust clouds will reach places some 160 kilometers away in 10 hours. This means that all the people in Thiruvananthapuram will have to be evacuated in 5 hours at least in the event of a catastrophe. And of course, all the people in south and south east Kerala as well. How are we to evacuate all these people from regions which are very densely populated? These don’t seem to be matters of concern to the planners, the growth enthusiasts, the media, and the political parties. The Malayalam media’s apathy is all the more evident now: even a major press conference in Thiruvananthapuram which brought together senior anti-nuclear campaigners in Kerala like V T Padmanabhan and well-known public intellectuals like Praful Bidwai, did not make state-wide news, and was reported only in the local editions.

Political society has been equally complacent. The Committee has made active efforts to approach the ruling party and the opposition to pass a resolution against the plant in the Kerala State Legislature — which have been ignored.  Shanimol Usman, who represents the new generation in the Congress, has dubbed the struggle against the plant “unnecessary”. However,V S Achuthanandan of the CPM, who specializes in carving an image of the public fighter for himself out of issues raised by the oppositional civil society (at his convenience, of course) seems to have woken up. In the Thiruvananthapuram edition of today’s The Hindu, he has urged the Union government to hold talks with the protestors, taking “strong exception to the way the armed forces had laid ‘seige’ to the agitators” and declaring that “such measures would prove disastrous in the long run.” This Malayalam newspapers which ought to have carried this report prominently, have not done so. Even the Hindu report is a tiny one, appearing in the corner of page 7. What does this mean — that VS does not make news anymore, or that a debate on Kudankulam is not deemed necessary?

But even leaving aside all the anxieties over the impact of the plant on life and livelihoods — and assuming that the arguments of the pro-nuclear lobby and the growth-maniacs are correct — what about the trashing of democracy in the name of growth? What worries me is the possibility if the struggle against the plant is crushed, governments in Kerala will henceforth be emboldened to unleash violence in unprecedented ways upon people who disagree with their growth mania or protest against their laxity. Already, we are seeing how the Kerala government is becoming less and less reluctant to use brute force on protestors in panchayats agitating against the dumping of urban waste in rural areas. And even milder forms of the ‘foreign hand’ argument are being pressed into service in situations where the government has found it difficult to answer persistent questions.

All this means that even though we have successfully beaten back attempts to set up nuclear plants in Kerala, it may be quite a hard battle to do so again. That there is much lesser noise about this in the Malayalam media in this crucial phase, and even lesser interest among Kerala’s political classes portends evil times to come, and we must prepare now.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. Charulata permalink
    March 26, 2012 1:38 PM

    I am plain scared now, that at a time when the world withdraws and casts a doubtful eye at nuclear reactors in general, that this plant comes up in my neighborhood. Bhopal has shown us what apathy to victims are, so what now?

  2. dranjurez permalink
    March 26, 2012 2:30 PM

    tell me what can one do when one is living under a DICTATORSHIP?

  3. Ramachandran.K permalink
    March 26, 2012 5:46 PM

    The public relations exercise undertaken and meticulously carried out this time by the DAE and NPCIL was so strong and overwhelming that no editor from Tamilnadu or Kerala dares to speak out anything against nuclearisation.. Moreover,many of the editors are orchestrating pro nuclear propaganda on their own in a Goebbelsian way. For example,look at the wicked and malicious slander against Udayakumar and instigation of violence against him undertaken by theTamil daily ‘Dinamalar’. If the rulers themselves are mean and unethical, how can we expect the media to be otherwise?Our media has stooped so low that we have no more trust in them. They are not simply “embedded”;they are the flag-bearers of a thoroughly undemocratic government turning fascist and cracking down on peaceful and rightful protests of the people to protect their threatened livelihood.

  4. March 26, 2012 10:43 PM

    the silence of those who ought to vociferously protest is deeply disturbing. does it convey a hidden message that the power/political elites in Kerala identify with their ilk elsewhere and do not wish to encroach on to their territories?

  5. saji permalink
    March 27, 2012 6:12 AM

    “It is amazing how the very same Malayalees and their media, which made Mount Everest out of that molehill of Mullaperiyar, remain sweetly calm in comparison at the events unfolding in Kudankulam” – Is the danger poused by the ageold MP dam only a minor issue? If somebody ask in a similar fashion why the auther who made a mount everest out of the molehill of Koodamkulam try to make a comparison to bilittle the former issue…

  6. vallyettans permalink
    March 27, 2012 8:11 AM

    i think the general keralites remember that they belong to a democratic state only when they use their EIC .this general apathy among malayalees has caused them much knowingly or unknowingly but failed to learn the lessons. the only thing that concerns a general kerala male is how to make money for one quarter or half or full. and for females,what will happen to main protagonists in the next episode. also sice kerala is GOD’S OWN COUNTRY – god will take care of such mishappenings why should we mere humans scratch our head for such things

  7. Rohini Manohar permalink
    March 27, 2012 9:14 AM

    The facts about nuclear plants

    After the March 11 earth quake and tsunamiin Japan, we learned more unknown dangers about nuclear plants like the envisioned hydrogen explosion,a succession of meltdowns and such extensive radiation that the whole Tokyo would have to be evacuvated.The truth is that the imagined ‘worst-case scenario’ was closer than anyone would wish to admit; but for the direction of the wind (towards the Pacific, not inland, in the four days after the earthquake); but for the manner in which the gate separating the reactor-well and the spent-fuel pool in Unit 4 broke (presumably facilitating the transfusion of water into the pool). Luck was undeniably on Japanese side.A major fallout from the Fuku­shima accident is the blow it has dealt to the nuclear industry.It highlighted the danger a country faces when something goes wrong.Of its 52 nuclear plants, Japan has now shut down 50 plants.The remaining two may also be shut down next month.There has also been a global backlash, with Germany, Italy, Belgium and Switzerland declaring that they will phase out their nuclear plants.
    The situation in Asia, however, is mixed. China has suspended the building of new nuclear plants pending changes in safety standards.

    India, Vietnam and Korea are going ahead with their nuclear power programmes.

  8. jdevika permalink
    March 27, 2012 11:19 AM

    Saji, it is really not a matter of whether Mullaperiyar is more important that Kudankulam — your attitude is precisely the sort I want to criticise as essentially harmful. It is may the case that the risk posed by the dam is indeed real; but that is equally so, or even more, with the power plant, and even if one is to consider only the difficulties in emergency evacuation of people. My question is why then are we not so worried about the latter. Why is no one kicking up the kind of fuss certain politicians did? I mean, the propaganda was so harmful that there were reports of widespread psychological stress and disorders among people there! There is complacency about Kudankulam only because we are stupid enough to feel secure because it is across the border. And while you are of course entitled to think that Mullaperiyar is a volcano ready to burst, I am equally entitled to the view that it was a molehill, and a fake one too, set up by vested interests who smell big money in a new dam and politicians out to make some cheap political mileage. That is why the basic issues, many of which are historical injustices, were completely bypassed in the debate and instead, biopolitical sensationalism ruled the media.

    • Obi permalink
      March 28, 2012 11:23 AM

      A very old and leaky dam is a non issue and a molehill, Where as the pinnacle of safety, the most modern nuclear power plant is a disaster waiting to happen.

      Sorry, I find it difficult to reconcile with that logic of yours.

  9. neerja permalink
    March 27, 2012 12:19 PM

    The PR machine is working overtime, like the ‘oh so happy’ worker(s) at the Koodankulam plant. This news report is a perfect example of divide and rule (http://www.thehindu.com/news/states/tamil-nadu/article3207205.ece)
    Meanwhile India’s temples of progress continue to engineer heartlessness:

    Dear friends,
    Greetings from the IITM Energy Forum!
    Sri S.A. Bharadwaj, Director (Technical), Nuclear Power Corporation of India, will deliver a Guest Lecture on the “SAFETY FEATURES OF THE KUDANKULAM NUCLEAR POWER PLANT” at 4.15 PM, on Tuesday (today), 27th March, in the CLT. Prof Bhaskar Ramamurthi, our Director, will initiate the proceedings and address the gathering.
    You are cordially invited. Tea will be served at 4 PM.
    Sincerely,
    Prof Ajit Kolar
    Founder-Convenor, IITM Energy Forum

  10. sree permalink
    April 7, 2012 12:34 PM

Trackbacks

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