The people of Haripur, West Bengal, are angry. A nuclear power plant they don’t want is being thrust on them and their land is being taken away to locate it. The ruling Left Front has for long sought a nuclear power plant for the state. The locals sought the help of the Trinamool Congress to stymie the state government. But now the Congress is also in the picture. It is being asked hard questions and it doesn’t know what to do.
Though not much is known about the proposed power plant, Haripur is expected to have six nuclear reactors each of 1650 MW- a total installed capacity of 10,000 MW of electricity. It is located in the coastal area of Contai, East Midnapur district, roughly 170 km away from Kolkata. Its 80,000 strong population is engaged mostly in farming and fishing.
A minimum of 1000 acres of land will have to be acquired for the proposed plant in the first phase alone The Junput fishing harbor will fall in this zone. Naba Dutta, an activist and general secretary of Nagarik Mancha, claims that according to S K Jain, chairman, Site Selection Committee and chairman of National Power Corporation, an area of two square kilometers will be required to locate the plant and a buffer zone with a radius of 1.6 km would have to be created around it.
So, the actual requirement of the land will increase progressively. Since the density of population in the coastal East Midnapur is quite substantial, (870 per sq km) the number of people required to be relocated would be huge.
From the point of view of the people of Haripur, already anxious that the state government has not come forward with any facts about the proposed power plant, it is the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government which is also culpable in the decision to locate the plant that will gobble up agricultural land. And with an election next year, the Congress cannot afford to equivocate on the matter.
Accordingly, Pradip Bhattacharjee, a senior vice president of the West Bengal Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) has sent a report to Pranab Mukherjee pleading that the issue be handled with political delicacy to pacify the farmers of Haripur and to some extent, the farmers of South Bengal.
"Nothing should be done in a hurry there. The government needs to study the impact of the proposed displacement of the farmers and the fishermen of Haripur on them before taking any final decision," said Bhattacharjee.
Since villagers came to know the government has plans to acquire their land, they have started putting up road block, resisting entry of government officials in their villages.
Trinamool MP representing the constituency, Shubhendu Adhikari has already asserted that any attempt to set up a power plant there would be resisted with all the means at the command of the locals.
True to his words, last week when the state Congress sent a fact finding team to Haripur, the agitated villagers did not allow it to enter. Shailaja Das, a district Congress leader, who was a member of that team later admitted: “the villagers were so agitated that they were not ready to talk to us”. Pradip Bhattacharjee said, "using loudspeaker our people addressed the villagers from outside the area. We told them that the decision was not taken by Congress alone. UPA government is a coalition with all sorts of political parties. We will convey the feeling of the villagers to Delhi."
Accordingly Bhattacharjee sent a report to Pranab Mukherjee. He felt that the Centre should also sent experts to study the possible impact of the nuclear reactors on the health of the local people.
Pranab Mukherjee was in Kolkata yesterday to discuss the strategy for the forthcoming municipal poll. He was apprised of the situation at Haripur by his party men.
The Congress is conscious that the 2011 Assembly election in west Bengal could unseat the three-decade hegemony of the Left Front in West Bengal. So it wants to do nothing to alienate any section of the voting populace. But at the same time, it cannot afford to let go of a facility Bengal has been seeking for 30 years.
It was in the 1960s that then Chief Minister Jyoti Basu first voiced the demand for a nuclear power plant in West Bengal. How the Congress will balance its politics with its commitment to nuclear energy remains to be seen.