Tamilnadu: Far from the
In election-time, let us talk politics - politics of environment. Tamilnadu, on India's east coast, has not had a Congress government since 1962. It has been two political parties, both un-understandably called Dravidian parties, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (led by M Karunanidhi) and the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (led by J. Jayalalithaa) that have alternately ruled Tamilnadu. It seems strange how political parties can become 'Dravidian' or 'Aryan', 'Hindu' or 'Muslim' but one can definitely say that they are not green but grey, and quite often they turn a hotchpotch orange. Environment is NOT on the agenda of either parties dominant in Tamilnadu.
It is a state that has more than a 1000-km long coastline, and this coastline was ravaged most by the 2004 December tsunami that killed more than ten thousand people along India's coasts. This south Indian state has been witness to some of the most controversial political decisions and their ecological aftermath for more than half a century now.
First, let us look at the coast. The long coastline is easy prey to sand mining, encouraged by ruling regimes. Since 1991 India has had a coastal regulation zone in place, marking high waterline, and the margin beyond which one cannot build. Chennai is an example of the blatant flouting of building norms on the waterline. A company from Denmark, the Danish Hydraulics Institute, was given the job of conducting a study of the ecology of the east coast of India. While one does not know why, the natural assumption would be, India does not have experts who can assess our coastline. The government has now replaced the 1991 CRZ ACT - having amended it 21 times in the past-- with a Coastal Zone Management Policy, whose protocol is still unclear, to manage the country's 7,500-km-long coastline.
Besides land-grabbing, sand stealing, there are other issues here, like mangrove and bird protection and building of nuclear plants. In 1997 was begun a project to dig a huge canal in mid-sea, called the Sethusamudram canal, to allow shipping to move around from west coast to the east, without having to go around the island of Ceylone. The idea of it came as long ago as the 1860s. It was not only a waste of huge national resource, but hurt religious sentiment.
India's Adam's bridge, a protruding reef mass that connects to Sri Lank's Thalaimannar, is believed to the path Rama and his Vanarasena tred to Ravana's Lanka to recover Sita. It hurt to think that someone should want to cut up hole in this reef for oil tankers to pass through! And what of the animal and plant life in mid-ocean? And the ecologically sensitive Gulf of Mannar, India's precious bio-diversity hotspot.
The project meant money for the DMK, in coalition at the Centre, and its T R Balu as shipping minister. Strangely, since 1998, the BJP was in power in the centre and DMK was its ally. It let the project run till 2004. The DMK then became a Congress ally and looting the public exchequer went on till 2007, when the project was finally put on hold. Note, only on 'hold'. It was opposition by the AIADMK and its leader Jayalalithaa and 'Hindutva' groups that forced the UPA government's hand. In 2013, the government rejected the R K Pachauri panel report that called the project 'unviable both from the economic as well as ecological angles'.
The BJP has, this time, refused to ally with the DMK. The Congress alliance with the DMK has also resulted in the 2G spectrum scam, yet, A Raja, the minister in charge, is prime parliament candidate from the Nilgiris constituency, an ecologically sensitive constituency, where AIADMK can do little.
Jayalalitha has always been an advocate of nuclear power as India's muscle power, and now the new -fangled term 'clean' power. The Kalpakkam atomic power plant, just 80-km from the densely populated Chennai coast, was conceived in the early '70s. It was tsunami hit. Its results on the population is recorded by Dr V Pugazendhi. Yet the Department of Atomic Energy sees the Tamilnadu coast as a 'pearl' string of nuclear power plants, its latest pride, two koodankulam power plants built with Russia-aquired technology.
Neither the DMK, nor the AIADMK; neither the Congress at the centre, nor the BJP will ever oppose nuclear power technology, because as an offshoot, it gives uranium that can be reprocessed for weapons. After Fukushima, local people have been protesting, but to little avail. S P Udaykumar and his team, leading the protests for a decade, have been given tickets to contest the 2014 elections by Aam Admi Party, but until they have Jayalalitha's support, their victory is doubtful.
Now, there are plans to have Reactors 3 and 4 at Koodankulam. Replying to a Greenpeace RTI, the General Insurance Corporation of India (GIC), has told the activist agency on April 7 that it has not offered 'insurance' cover to Koodankulam reactors 3&4. The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) gave financial clearance to build two additional reactors at Kudankulam based on information submitted by the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and the Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL) (2). Officials from the DAE had stated that they were working out an insurance package with GIC for the two additional reactors at Kudankulam. To move forward, DAE required a clearance from the Election Commission. The EC granted its approval late last week. A Greenpeace release says, 'GIC’s denial proves that the citizens as well as the democratic institutions of this country are deliberately being misled by the DAE and NPCIL. The financial clearance granted by the CCS is therefore questionable. Also the timing of EC’s approval could mislead the election process and give unfair advantage to other contestants.' This is how grey politics operates in India.
Jayalalithaa's stand on Koodankulam and Sethusamudram will be keenly watched and her position too as Narendra Modi's major ally.