Around six years ago, NPCIL had zeroed in on a cluster of five villages — Mithi-Virdi, Jasapara, Khadarpar, Mandva and Paniyad — to build the 6,900 megawatt (MW) nuclear power plant that would be India’s largest such facility.
However, soil and water testing was delayed following intense protest by villagers. Now, locals including those living in nearby urban centre of Bhavnagar city have closed ranks and vowed not to let the public hearing on environmental concerns take place.
“We have submitted a memorandum to Bhavnagar district collector. We do not want public hearing in the first place,” said Krishnakant, a coordinator for various groups opposing the plant.
“Bhavnagar is one of the biggest beneficiaries of the agricultural activities in the area. It gets its supply of fruits and vegetables round the year from the farmers of the 24 villages that have got notices for environmental public hearing for the proposed plant,” said Damyanti Modi of Bhavnagar Anu Urja Abhyas Juth, a group of senior citizens from Bhavnagar who have been studying the possible impact of a nuclear power plant at Mithi Virdi.
A year ago, Pittsburgh-based Westinghouse Electric Company had signed an MoU with NPCIL for site development work supporting future construction of AP 1000 nuclear power plants. The project requires 777 hectares, including private and government wasteland.
Mithi Virdi is a small coastal town known for its lush green orchards producing a variety of rare-quality fruits. Villagers say adequate monsoon in the last decade has ensured them three bumper crops in a year.
Earlier, gram panchayats of every affected village had passed resolutions vowing not to give private land or wasteland for the project.
Last year, villagers twice stalled the plans for soil and water testing by Gujarat Power Corporation (GPC), which has been hired by NPCIL for the testing work. In fact, the protests have been so intense that the GPC began digging bore around 5 am when villagers were asleep. However, in no time, the team had to fold up when more than 5,000 villagers reached the site and stalled the process.
Even a trip to Kakrapar nuclear plant near Surat for 96 farmers arranged by NPCIL could not convince them for the project.
Fear of losing fertile ancestral land coupled with apprehensions about a nuclear power plant in the neighbourhood has put the villagers on the edge.
Several NGOs have also been working closely with villagers.
While Bhavnagar Collector V P Patel was not available for comment, NPCIL authorities said they had received a copy of the memorandum opposing public hearing on environmental impact.
Of four sites short-listed in Gujarat, Mithi-Virdi was finalised for various reasons, including its proximity to sea, type of soil, water, seismic zone positioning and population.