Friday, March 18, 2011

Who would be liable for a Japan-like nuclear accident in India?

As we know, the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) removed the ban on India's participation in international nuclear trade in September 2008. This happened after intense lobbying by US. A month later, India rewarded US by signing an agreement with the United States and opening up it’s civilian nuclear energy program worth $ 150 billion for US investments. The market is huge as right now India produces just above 2% of its total energy from nuclear plants and would like to increase that many fold in next few years to meet the needs of its growing economy. India has 20 nuclear reactors operational at 7 nuclear plants. See the map. Apart from upgrading these, it has already permitted a few other new plants after the ban has been removed.

US companies such as General Electric Co. and Westinghouse Electric Co. which design and manufacture nuclear reactors are supposed to be the biggest beneficiaries. India then moved ahead to set up a regime in place to govern the civil nuclear program. As part of this, it passed the The Civil Liability for  Nuclear Damage Bill last year. In context of the Japanese nuclear crisis and debate about who should shoulder responsibility for the crisis, this ball now assumes significance. India’s Nuclear damage liability bill lays down the framework for responsibilities on part of nuclear manufacturers, suppliers and operators of the nuclear power plants.

Who is liable for the damages of Japan’s nuclear accident?
It is to be noted that in the present situation in Japan, General Electric (GE), the designer and manufacturer of the Fukushima reactors now leaking radiation, faces no risk of liability in Japan even if a design flaw is proved to be the reason behind the failure. Tokyo Electric Power Corporation (TEPCO) - the operator of the nuclear power plant - will have to bear all liability. TEPCO’s maintenance was not the reason for the accident. In fact the reactor site survived the quake and the tsunami. TEPCO’s workers are now risking their lives to control radiation. It is clear the design of reactors’ cooling water system was flawed and so got disrupted. Even if this is proved in investigations in coming months, GE is not liable for damages.

What does the Indian nuclear liability law say?
Almost all countries using nuclear technology framed similar rules that exempt the suppliers from liability. India was obviously under pressure to frame similar laws both from suppliers of the NSG as well as India’s private corporations who would eventually enter the business of building and operating private nuclear plants. While the Indian government caved in, it ‘dressed up’ the words in the bill to pretend that in case of a nuclear accident, the operator of the plant has a ‘right of recourse’ against the nuclear supplier. A right of recourse is a procedure of shifting responsibility of paying damages on to the nuclear supplier. This usually happens when, after the nuclear accident, the operator sues the supplier for damages. The Indian act pretends to support the operator. But has put in clauses which are enough to disable this ‘right of recourse’.

Section 17 of the bill says:
The operator of a nuclear installation shall have a right of recourse where
(a)  such right is expressly provided for in a contract in writing;
(b) the nuclear incident has resulted from the wilful act or gross negligence on
the part of the supplier of the material, equipment or services, or of his employee;

Implications of the clauses:
So clause (a) tells us the right to recourse can be excluded through a carefully crafted contract. And clause (b) tells us that even if the contract stipulates, unless the accident is due to ‘wilful act or gross negligence’, the supplier is not liable. This is weak ground as the supplier can claim there was no precedent for the accident due to a design flaw and so they did not ‘wilfully’ cause the accident. For instance, the Jaitapur nuclear plant in India is going to house a reactor which has never been used anywhere in the world. If an accident happens, Areva, the supplier, can’t be blamed they ‘wilfully or negligently’ caused the accident.

Obviously, with the clauses the operator stands liable. Right now, only public-sector Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) operates the plants. So the Government ends up paying for liabilities with tax-payers money!

The bill shows ‘foresight’ about future private participation in operating plants and taken care of that too. It says in Section 5: 
 (1)  An operator shall not be liable for any nuclear damage where such damage is
caused by a nuclear incident directly due to—
(i)                a grave natural disaster of an exceptional character; or

So in an earthquake or a tsunami kind of situation, even the operator is not liable. So the government pays up, again. 

How the law favored the suppliers & operators while leaving out potential victims 
Additionally, the liability in any nuclear accident is capped by section 5 which says ‘..the liability of an operator for each nuclear incident  shall be rupees five hundred  crores… such liability shall not be decreased less than rupees one hundred crore…’.

The Kovvada nuclear plant with 6 reactors on the coast of Andhra Pradesh is said to be costing around Rs 75,000 crores. In case of a catastrophic quake or tsunami, there would be zero liability on part of the suppliers and the operators. The government will have to pay up. The nuclear damage bill, despite the experiences of Bhopal gas tragedy, has been insensitive to victims of nuclear accidents while going full throttle to open up a lucrative $ 150 billion market for multi-nationals.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Lessons from the Japan nuclear crisis

The operators at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plants are fighting the most deadly battles in hazardous circumstances trying to bring the nuclear plants under control. After an earthquake followed by a tsunami, Japan is now facing the biggest threat – a possibility of a nuclear meltdown.  After a series of explosions at the reactors, latest reports say “that a second reactor unit at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi plant in northeastern Japan may have ruptured and appeared to be releasing radioactive steam”. ‘Radioactive steam’ indicates that a meltdown of the fuel rods inside the reactor is already in progress. While radiation from Xenon and cesium are expected to be detected, experts say they decay quickly and that may avert big casualties.

Japan’s rich disaster mitigation and prevention 
Even as the 5 day ordeal seems to unravel, it is noteworthy that Japan, due to its history with natural calamities, sitting as it is in a seismic zone, consistently spent big money and efforts on disaster mitigation and prevention.  According to FEMA, Japan routinely spent around 5-8% (about 0.8% of GDP) of its national budget since 1950s. It is technologically well-equipped, well-trained to handle earthquakes and tsunamis. But all that fell short to take on an earthquake measuring 8.9 quickly followed by a tsunami of 13-14 foot wall of water. The quake is fifth largest ever recorded. The tsunami too was too big to handle for the protective walls build on Japan’s coast to stop the tides. However, with its preparedness Japan could mitigate to some extent the damages due to these calamities. What is glaring now dangerously at Japan more than the above natural calamities is the nuclear threat from the nuclear reactor that rests on an outdated safety mechanism. 

The design issue Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant 
Soon after the earthquake on 11 March, Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant, as per its security procedures, slowed down and shut down it’s fission reactions in about 10 minutes. The tsunami too struck in about the same time and interfered with the plant’s post-shutdown process. Apparently, even after the fission reactions cease, the fission products continue to emit huge amounts of heat and these are supposed to be cooled. Only when this is done, the nuclear fuel’s temperatures are controlled. The cooling was being done through water being pumped by diesel generators through water chambers around the nuclear container. The fuel resides within the container. The tsunami washed away the generators and the water supply stopped circulating into and out of the reactor. The static water got heated and the temperatures rose in the container resulting in steam with radioactivity flowing out of it. In addition, the chemical reactions resulted in hydrogen gas that blew the tops out of the nuclear installations.The reactors within, the nuclear containers, did not seem to be disrupted for now. But the melting fuel rods seem to leak out radiation.

Experts now say the boiling water reactors (BWR) built by G.E. in 1960s are not up to safety standards followed today. Firstly, the external cooling system powered by diesel pumps is considered a design flaw that didn’t take into consideration how extreme calamities can occur and disrupt the external cooling systems, let the nuclear reactor get heated, and result in a radiation leak. Secondly, the very use of plutonium in nuclear reactors is an offshoot of nuclear weaponisation program of cold war era. While use of Thorium through Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR) is said to be far less dangerous and less prone to the meltdown scenario we are seeing now, not much headway is made in commercial use of LFTR. Incidents like in Japan can happen elsewhere and it is imperative we look at making nuclear reactors safe to operate, drawing lessons from Japans’ catastrophe.

Lessons for India 
India is a pioneer in LFTR technology as it spent considerable time and resources building thorium reactors after the west refused to supply it Uranium as fuel for its nuclear power plants. India developed an experimental thorium reactors like Kamini through Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR) at Kalpakkam. India should build on this foundation to see if it can commercially make use of the technology instead of limiting the exercise to research.

India can learn well that it shouldn’t plan its nuclear sites should not be located on geological fault lines. The Jaitapur nuclear plant has evoked concerns on this front as its is prone to earthquakes and is located right on coast. While the altitude of the coast on western ghats is quite high and affect in case of tsunami is unlikely, It can not be overruled.

The Jaitapur nuclear reactor is of Pressurised water reactor (PWR) type which again depends on water to cool the reactor in case of a shutdown. Using fluoride salts as coolant is said to be less prone to risk. With water supply disrupted at Fukushima, Japanese are even trying to pour from the sky – through helicopters! But in vain. The radiation at the plant is too dangerous for the helicopters to go nearer.

Japan's disaster management system, despite its preparedness, is seen wanting in view of the big quake and tsunami. Countries like India with far poorer disaster mitigation systems should wake up for the possibility of calamities of this magnitude.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

TELANGANA 21: 'Million March' reflected Telangana's indomitable spirit

The day of March has arrived and started on a sad note. Shaken by the oppressive police, a graduate student in Khammam committed suicide. Another attempted the same at Basheerbagh press club. The arrests continued unabated, mainly in the outskirts and in the districts. Within the city, the police strategised more on barricading and cordoning off areas around Tank Bund, Secretariat and Assembly. All roads in these areas were blocked, ending up disconnecting Hyderabad and Secunderabad.

I failed to find a route through the Masab Tank road, the Taj Banjara road or the Khairatabad's track area towards Tank Bund. Police were on guard everywhere. I have never in my life seen such a deserted Hyderabad. See the Khairatabad junction here. I ended up on Necklace road through the by lanes and then drove around the lake to lower tank bund road. At the Mosque there, the Muslim youth helped us park and trek up the tank bund. 

It was around 2.00 PM and by then thousands made their way. By then the barricades were broken and the main entrance to lower tank bund road from Liberty was wide open. So people from liberty took the road. While others on NTR Gardens, Necklace road side canoed over Hussain Sagar! Well, if the state government took up foiling this March on a war-footing by randomly arresting or harassing people from participating, it clearly lost the war.

The importance of today's Million March for Telangana movement:

It was clear the politicians were trying to distance themselves from the Million March. They tried to even 'postpone' it. But the pressure of the non-political civil society groups within the TJAC made this March inevitable. Today's turnout at tank bund is a eye-opener for all political parties. Without any mobilization from the parties, like for Telangana garjana in Warangal, around 1 lakh gathered at Tank Bund. This is despite the unofficial curfew, the traffic blockades, the arrests and the detentions of TJAC leadership. For anyone who has doubts about the depth of the movement, todays' turnout and the uncompromising will behind it should provide the answer. The unwilling politicians too attended, to save their face. People's will prevailed.

The creative expressions at the March:
As the telangana movement has time and again shown, there is no dearth of creativity in expressing the ideas and aspirations of the movement.

Firstly, there were the masks. Scores of people turned out in Masks of Gandhi, Ambedkar and even Professor Kodandram. When news flew that the professor may be arrested in the morning, the masks of his face were prepared and worn to mock at the police about the impending arrest. Of course, when the real arrest happened, the agitators found no fun in it and flew into a rage and even dismantled some statues on the bund, dragged them across the road and threw them into Hussain Sagar.

Secondly, the dhoom-dhaam and the songs raised the pitch as they usually do. Accompanied by a stereo in a four wheeler which managed to squeeze in, the songs, especially Gaddar's raised the tempo. The youth danced to the beats and a festive atmosphere ensued.

Meanwhile, women played bathukamma and sung. Some carried bonalu. Kids came in with attires of Gandhi, Nehru, Patel etc and played short skits encouraging the movement. Youth rallied around, some with their hands chained, some with their mouths covered symbolically. My friend Madhav carried a huge Indian flag around getting an odd compliment from one of the policemen! All organizations and groups which came with their banners rallied to and fro, sloganeering about Telangana, between the two ends of lower tank bund. The 2 ends were guarded by police and paramilitary forces. As was the adjoining Telugu Thalli flyover. 

The Armed forces:
The paramilitary forces stood and watched as thousands poured in overcoming barricades in different parts of city. And I was told they gave up only at 1 PM before which they tried stopping by arresting people. But very soon they must have realised they can not arrest 100,000 people. However, they were the guys who saved the 2 MPs present, Madhu Yashki and K Keshava Rao, from being manhandled by the irate mob for not doing enough for Telangana movement. Even the media faced the ire of the public for all their recent dramas about NBA guidelines and the biased reporting. Some of their cameras were snatched and thrown into Hussain Sagar.

The agitators were prepared for the scorching sun too. Some came in with caps and most of them arranged for their water packets. Somewhere between 3.00 PM and 4.00 PM Mr. KCR came in and settled at Pothana's statue with his followers. Gaddar made his exit. Emotions were running high by then and one law student attempted suicide too. May be, it is this mood of the agitators that made the politicians cautious today. None who came there tried to address, appeal or instruct the public at large. Maybe, the Professor could have been different if he were allowed to attend the March. At last, the pledge for Telangana was taken. A pledge that, in its essence, says we would put up an uncompromising fight for Telangana's demerger. Come what may.

While the dusk set in, we stepped down the tank bund. Discussed the day's events among us friends over some cool drinks while the neighbourhood residents cheered the agitators on the Bund from their balconies and terraces. If not for the political leadership within the movement, Tank Bund would have been Tahrir Square within an indefinite sit-in. The cheering neighbours would have joined, the folks who were arrested would have joined too and the numbers would have swelled into millions. The Govt. must be feeling lucky that the dusk has set in and rescued them. They must be feeling lucky that the agitators didn't head towards the secretariat or Assembly. But then as I walked the half mile back to the Mosque recollecting the day's frenzy, I felt the March has now only begun and it is now unstoppable.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

TELANGANA 20: 'Million March' - Govt. turns Hyderabad into Tiananmen Square!

The last 2 days made me wonder if the autocratic Egypt and the dictatorship in Libya are better than the supposedly 'world’s largest democracy’ in public freedom. Even the British may not have clamped down on the democratic protests as aggressively as our state government is now doing. This Govt. randomly arrests, detains people. They restrict people from their own cities and towns. They casually disregard rights commissions’ instructions and callously violate high court’s guidelines. Tomorrow is yet another day the police promise they would be at their worst. Today, the whole of Hyderabad has become Tiananmen Square for Telangana people.

As you all know, the protest rally tomorrow has been cut down in scale due to a +2 exam that is scheduled for tomorrow. The Telangana Joint Action Committee (TJAC) which earlier called for the 'Million March' did so on an understanding with the Intermediate Examination board that the exam could be rescheduled for 12 March. However, the State government prevailed upon the board not to reschedule, to whittle down the protests. Keeping in view the importance of the exam for youth's career, the protests have been scaled down for few hours after the exam ends tomorrow.

TJAC has been very sensitive to the public in its scheduling of different kinds of protests. Even in December 2009, when the protests were at their peak with daily rasta-rokos, bandhs etc, Christmas day was given an exception so as to avoid inconvenience to our Christian brethren. Very recently, blockade of a national highway NH9 was postponed keeping in view a community festival. While TJAC, which comprises of intellectuals and civil society groups have been so reasonable, the state government is going to the abyss in trying to quell the protests and suppress democratic voices. Today, even as I mail you, the government announced cancellation of all trains within Hyderabad and those that are coming in from other Telangana districts into Hyderabad tomorrow. The government is trying every trick to stop people from coming to the protest march. It has diverted all bus services to avoid taking the central route through Hyderabad city. 100,000 people have been detained today across other Telangana districts as they were trying to come to Hyderabad. Within Hyderabad 10,000 people have been detained. T he police say that the main area of protest, Tank Bund besides the Hussain Sagar Lake, will be cordoned off tomorrow. 

While TJAC called for peaceful protests, Andhra Government made it virtually a bandh by cancelling public transport and bringing in traffic restrictions. While TJAC called for a million march, the government contributed 100,000 police men/paramilitary forces in and around Hyderabad. That is a good start. I wish the police show the same enthusiasm in tackling the drug trade, the faction killings and the land mafia in the city. It is amusing to see the commissioner speak how the TJAC should do democratic, lawful, peaceful protests. For the record, the police did not give a single permission for any democratic meeting, rally in last 15 months. The police refused each time and the agitators diligently went to high court/supreme court to get permissions and got them. It is the police, on the other hand, who were severely criticized for their handling of the democratic protests. The atrocities in OU received international attention when REPORTERS WITHOUT BORDERS condemned the police action in the university. The police have been repeatedly put to notice by the State’s HRC and the national HRC. But the police, being willing party to the government’s anti-Telangana policy, won’t budge. Instead they lecture us on how to uphold democratic values.

Even as I blog this, I see the SHRC once again instruct the police to uphold human rights of the agitators. But of course they would not heed. But then the agitators have already been conditioned for the enemy. And the March will be on in the face of the enemy. And when the dust settles down, the state and the police will have yet another humiliation they need to shoulder, in addition to those of bandhs, rail-rokos and assembly muttadis that they already have faced. This would be another self-goal from the government. In their insecurity over losing to the Telangana people, they will end up disrupting public life and imprisoning themselves in their houses. And eventually they would meet the same fate as the Arab and African dictators. Till then the March of the Millions would be on. 

Image courtesy: Jayaprakash Telangana

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

TELANGANA 19: Parliament says 'No-Entry' for visitors from Telangana!

The Indian Parliament is not just barring a discussion on Telangana unrest but is literally barring everyone from the region, except MPs, from entering parliament. There is an invisible 'No-Entry' for all Telanganites even if you carry an authentication letter from the Chairman of the Lok Sabha House Committee (no less!), as were we.

After the SKC report so blatantly put in print the unconstitutional, irrational, biased arguments and the flawed details, many eminent people from the fields of constitution, law, economics, Irrigation, agriculture, public employment etc have filed in their critique on the report. I have in my personal capacity too, aired my opinion. TDF India took up the task of collating and publishing the core arguments in these critiques and thus came out with a book 'Justice Srikrishna's Injustice'. It is for the release of this book, I along with TDF India President D.P.Reddy and my friend Dileep flew to New Delhi.

It is in this context we paid a visit to the Parliament to get into the visitors’ gallery. We were armed with a letter from the office of Chairman of the Lok Sabha House Committee and submitted that along with our ID cards for the mandatory check. However, the officer in the Parliament reception routed us to another officer once he came to know, from our ID cards, that we are from Hyderabad. The second officer dithered on one pretext or the other before he finally told he cannot let us in unless he gets to talk to the Chairman of House Committee himself. The chairman himself is a Lok Sabha MP and obviously he wasn't in his office as the Parliament was in session. It was clearly a ploy to refuse entry for us. What surprised us was that Telangana MPs knew about this as they told us later in the day that no one from Telangana is allowed in as per Intelligence reports' instructions. We were clearly told the IB suspects that Telanganites might jump from the visitors’ gallery onto the floor of Lok Sabha and disrupt the proceedings! So upon IB's assessment, there is a blanket ban on Telanganites from entering the house.

So here is our system of governance that does not trust its own MPs! They issue the authentication letters and the officer at the Parliament reception rejects them! That reflects the state of things. Instead of a blanket ban, the MPs could have been just advised to issue the letters only if they are doubly sure the visitors would behave themselves. Instead, the Government found it easy to make the highest platform of democracy in India restricted for its own citizens. I am just wondering how many states/regions are blacklisted in this case. In addition to Kashmir, the whole of North East, anyone with a Muslim name, a Gorkha name, etc.

While this tamasha was on, the Lok Sabha was stalled for that day with 6 adjournments due to protesting TRS and Congress MPs. We could see on the TV monitor in the reception that KCR sat in the well of the house till the Lok Sabha was adjourned for next day. The Government was caught unawares by the protests that disrupted the day in the crucial budget session. It was especially embarrassed by its own Congress MPs sloganeering in the house ignoring the advice from their colleagues in Congress. Is that not enough of a lesson for the Congress Government?  It better concentrate on the 'attacks' inside the house from its own party men rather than delude about 'attacks' from the visitors’ gallery. For, in days to come, these attacks within would get too close for comfort. 

Sunday, March 06, 2011

New Delhi's disconnect and the nation's continuing status quo

The stoniness of its giant structures in red sandstone seems to say something about New Delhi. Nehru must have said "New Delhi is the visible symbol of British power, with all its ostentation and wasteful extravagance" but it is not just ostentation that we see today as we drive through the tree-dotted avenues. We see inertia. We feel immovable powercentres. We see symbols of imperial power monstrously rising against the sky.

Long after I drove out of New Delhi, if there is something that strikes instantly about New Delhi, it is the sheer grandeur of this imperial setting. Yes, I loved the tree-lined avenues with the lovely white bungalows on either side. The vast space around, the consistency in using the red sandstones all around in this well-planned city and the beautiful filigree stonework are all breathtaking. So is the rich amalgamation of diverse architectural styles from European, Mughal, Buddhist and Jain traditions. But, for me, nothing defines India's political capital, as do the monstrousness of power centers like Rashtrapati Bhavan and the Parliament.

The Rashtrapati Bhavan is the largest residence for any President on this planet (It has more than 350 rooms while the super power's White House has around 130 rooms). The Raisina Hill, in all its steepness and high altitude, seems to present us the challenge in getting our woes heard. The Rashtrapati Bhavan and the Parliament along with the North and South Blocks wield unchallenged power and sit over myriad challenges facing this nation today. While a million mutinies and countless civil wars are being waged across the nation today, these powercenters in all their stoniness are unmoved. They symbolize perpetual power with their sheer vastness and utterly dwarf the citizens and their delusions about democracy.

Lutyen's Delhi, in its architecture, today symbolizes the huge disconnect between the rulers and the ruled. Historians often said Rashtrapati Bhavan was the abode of a disinterested elite whose rule was imposed from above. I couldn't agree more. In fact, I think it is true also with Imperial Bhavan's neighborhood - Parliament, North and South Blocks. My experiences with some democratic exercises here in New Delhi and the reception they got here, reinforced in me these ideas about how disconnected Delhi is from the trials and tribulations of the millions of its own people across the length and breadth of the area of its rule. New Delhi symbolizes a sleeping elephant which simply does not heed  requests and demands for actions to change things for good. So things continue de facto and the status quo continues. More about this in my next post.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

How crony capitalism lead to the Kakarapalli tragedy

The killing of 2 villagers and the large scale violence unleashed by police in Kakarapalli village in Srikakulam again brings into question the crony capitalism presently destroying the moral, social and economic fabric of our society. With active connivance of politicians and bureaucrats, the capitalists have unleashed an era of loot and plunder. This post focuses on the East Coast Energy Pvt. Ltd project in Kakarapalli and the circumstantial evidence available in public domain to show that the project promoters and the bureaucrats in environment ministry went hand in glove to violate all environmental norms and most importantly, the rights of people to work and live in the proposed project area.

Process of obtaining EC from MoEF:
How does a project like this get necessary permissions? The Ministry of Environment and Forests grants prior environmental clearances to projects or activities on recommendations of the Expert Appraisal Committees (EAC). Several categories exist under the Ministry for projects related to Mining, Nuclear energy, Coal and Thermal energy, Hydroelectric etc. Each category has an EAC to assess projects in its category. The EAC shall scope and appraise these projects or activities and issue the environmental clearance (EC). So the EAC is the apex body here with almost a dozen members and a chairman and this decides the clearances. It is interesting then to see that EACs generally are headed by former bureaucrats and those who have nothing to do with environmental issues.  And worse they recommend projects which they themselves are promoting!

About East Coast Energy Pvt Ltd (ECEPL)
The 2640 MW Bhavanapadu coal-based thermal power plant near Kakarapalli is being developed by East Coast Energy Private Limited (ECEPL). If you look out for the promoters of this company in their website, you would find that Athena Energy Ventures Pvt Ltd (AEVPL), AIP Power Pvt Ltd (AIP) and PTC India Financial Services Ltd are among them. All these 3 promote another company Athena Demwe Power Limited for a hydro-electric project in Arunchal Pradesh. If you look at the board of directors of this company, you find a certain Mr. A. Balraj. Mr Balraj is a retired IAS officer and more interestingly, the chairman of the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC), the same which recommended the environmental clearance for the Kakarapalli!

The following details of this Environmental clearance are available on the website of Ministry of Environment & Forests.
Project No: No:J- 13011/36/ 2008-IA II(T) 
Project Name: 2640 MW Bhavanapadu TPP near Kakrapalli Village
District:Sri Kakulam
Company:M/s East Coast Energy Pvt. Ltd.
Application for EC received: 18/03/2008
EC Approved: 09/04/2009

The aftermath of obtaining EC
It is during A.Balraj’s tenure that the EC has been approved. Amazing thread of intrigue indeed. Such a glaring conflict of interest in public domain. So it is easy to guess the kind of appraisal done to grant the environmental clearance (EC) for this project. Well, it was a matter of time before the truth.  In August, 2010 after series of complaints by environmental & social activists, a committee set up by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests has confirmed the existence of wetland around the thermal plant site near Kakarapalli village. The committee also said that the plant would irreversibly damage surrounding wetland and ecology. Read the full report here. Earlier, the EC was obtained maintaining that the site is not in a wetland nor is in a conservatory zone. This is apart from destroying livelihood and living conditions of the native village folks living there. But then despite the proof that clearance has been obtained on false claims, the EC was not cancelled. The manipulations continue and with active connivance from bureaucrats, state government and police, the crony capitalists now ended up killing 2 people.

Crony capitalism and its serpentine connections
Incidentally, the Sompeta project in the same Srikakulam district which claimed lives of 2 people in a similar police firing last year has this same dubious connection. That thermal project is being developed by Nagarjuna Constructions and it has on its board of directors the esteemed presence of P.Abraham who served as Chairman of EAC(Hydroelectric) and who in the same position approved environmental clearances for various projects which he was himself promoting as a director. He also sits on the board of companies promoted by those who promote Kakarapalli project. Some of the promoters are marquee names in Telugu press by now, namely Karvy’s Mr MS Ramakrishna and Matrix Prasad.  Mr P. Abraham also graces the director position in GVK, Lanco group and half a dozen other groups. The world is indeed a small place now. You run into the same names every day. Long live crony capitalism.

Tehelka published an insightful article on how the DMK’s 12 year stint at the Environment ministry changed things in environment clearances. Tehelka said “In the 20 years from 1986 to 2006, the MoEF cleared 4,016 projects. According to the 2009 report by the environmental group Kalpavriksh, entitled ‘Calling the Bluff: Revealing the state of Monitoring and Compliance of Environmental Clearance Conditions’, the MoEF cleared 80 to 100 projects every month with a range of environment and social impacts. Under the new EIA 2006 Notification, 2,016 projects were cleared between 2006 and 2008 in just two years. “ So while the union ministers themselves were ‘milking’ the ministry, the babus pulled up their socks too. In a glaring conflict of interest many chairmen of these EACs are on the board of the same projects they are approving in their official capacity.

Dubious credentials of present Chairman of EAC (Thermal)
Despite the tragedies of Sompeta and Kakarapalli, and this latest notification suspending the project activities in Kakarapalli till March 07, 2011, there is an uneasy feeling among the environmental activists as the present chairman of EAC (Thermal), V.P.Raja too is a retired bureaucrat heavily involved with ‘corporate affairs’. There has been a formal request made to Jairam Ramesh to remove him as his appointment was a violation. After the tragedy, an uneasy truce lingers on for now. 

Image courtesy: