SINCE 2011, the residents of Idinthakarai village in coastal Tamil Nadu have been at the epicentre of a non-violent protest against the commissioning of the nuclear power plant at nearby Koodankulam. For over 650 days, the villagers, backed by protestors and activists from other parts of Tamil Nadu and India, have held peaceful candlelight vigils, street marches, seashore occupations, and ‘jal satyagaraha’ demonstrations in which hundreds of protestors have assembled to stand in the waters of the Indian Ocean for days on end. Over this period, they have been repeatedly subject to violence from police deployed to clamp down on the protests; in September last year, a fisherman was killed in police firing.
According to news reports, almost 2,27,000 people have been named in thousands of First Information Reports which the Tamil Nadu police have filed against protestors. In September last year, Union home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde alleged that the protests were a conspiracy backed by non-profit organisations receiving foreign funding, but in response to questions in the Rajya Sabha in March, Union minister V Narayanasamy could claim no proof that NGOs had actually diverted money to fund the agitation.
The Koodankulam Nuclear Power Project, or KKNPP, has had a long and troubled history. The project has its roots in 1979, when the Soviet Union entered into a nuclear power deal with the Indian government. It was signed into reality in 1988, when the Rajiv Gandhi and Mikhail Gorbachev administrations made an inter-government agreement, by the terms of which the Soviet Union would build two nuclear reactors in India. Mired in international criticism, the project did not move forward until 1997, when the Indian and Russian governments signed a supplement to the earlier agreement. Construction finally began in September 2001.