x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

A 'foreign hand' is fuelling campaign against Indian nuclear plant

Indian government files cases against four NGOs that it says are using foreign money to mount protests against a nuclear power plant.

People living near nuclear plant sites shout slogans during an anti-nuclear protest in New Delhi.
People living near nuclear plant sites shout slogans during an anti-nuclear protest in New Delhi.

NEW DELHI // The Indian government has filed cases against four non-governmental organisations that it says are using foreign money to mount protests against a nuclear power plant.

Protests against the new Russian-built Kundakulum power plant in the southern state of Tamil Nadu have been running for six months, but it took a comment plucked out of an American science journal for the government to finally swing into action.

In Science magazine last week, Manmohan Singh, the prime minister, was quoted as saying: "The atomic energy programme has got into difficulties because these NGOs, mostly I think based in the United States, don't appreciate the need for our country to increase the energy supply".

Blaming the dreaded "foreign hand" for problems within the country is a popular tradition among Indian politicians, but it is not clear how important foreign money could have been to a campaign built around local protests and hunger strikes.

The government has not named the NGOs that have been charged under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, though they said one foreign national, a German, had been deported for breaching visa regulations by helping the protesters.

The agitation against the Kundakulum facility began last summer. With Japan's Fukushima disaster fresh in their minds, locals grew concerned when the plant's operators organised evacuation drills.

Mr Singh's comments have brought a storm of criticism from anti-nuclear and civil-rights groups.

"Reducing disagreement to bad faith betrays a subconscious wish of doing away with democratic politics," wrote Pratap Bhanu Mehta, the president of the Centre for Policy Research in the Indian Express yesterday. "Our actions and rhetoric are sounding increasingly like China's."

The commissioning of the first 1,000 megawatt unit in Kudankulam has been pushed back to May from March as a result of the protests, which have the tacit backing of the local chief minister, J Jayalalithaa.

Russia has welcomed Mr Singh's comments.

"We have been suspecting it all along, and, I was openly saying this, because it was very strange," the Russian ambassador Alexander Kadakin was quoted as saying in the Times of India over the weekend.

"Six months after the Fukushima tragedy, all those protesters raise their voices. They were sleeping for six months, and then, all of sudden, they raise their voices against the most secure, the best and the safest [nuclear power] station in the world."

foreign.desk@thenational.ae

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