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Violating Letter and Spirit: Environmental Clearances for Koodankulam Reactors

The environmental clearance offered to the Koodankulam reactors in Tamil Nadu is not based upon a careful examination of all the potential impacts on the environment and livelihoods nor does it incorporate public concerns.

COMMENTARYdecember 20, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly14Violating Letter and Spirit: Environmental Clearances for Koodankulam ReactorsDivya Badami Rao, M V RamanaThe environmental clearance offered to the Koodankulam reactors in Tamil Nadu is not based upon a careful examination of all the potential impacts on the environment and livelihoods nor does it incorporate public concerns. It seemed almost as though it was timed to cap the nuclear deal. On 23 September 2008, the Ministry of Envi-ronment and Forests (MoEF) issued the environmental clearance required to start construction of Koodankulam units 3 & 4. However, the process through which environmental clearance was issued has neglected important environmental and livelihood considerations and ignored in-puts from the public about their concerns.Clearance ProcessThe Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) process was introduced as part of the 1994EIA Notification with the purpose of identifying/evaluating the potential ben-efit and adverse impacts of developmental projects on the environment (MoEF 1994; Kohli and Menon 2005). Over the following decade, a series of amendments progressively weakened the scope and stringency of the clearance process (Dubey 2004). The last straw seems to have been the Govindarajan Committee Report on Investment Reforms that identified vari-ous “legislative and administrative sys-tems considered unhealthy for promotion of a strong investment climate”, one of which was the mechanism to obtain envi-ronment clearance (Saldanhaet al2007). The result of these was the EIA Notifica-tion 2006 (MoEF2006).1 The process for clearance outlined in theEIA Notification 2006 starts with the MoEF receiving a detailed application on the basis of which the project is classified into central or state levels. The application also helps set the Terms of Reference (TOR) for the EIA study. The project proponent then commissions anEIA study that is submit-ted to the MoEF, which, after being vetted by the ministry, is released to the public. This is followed by a public hearing at a location (or locations) near the proposed project site during which members ofthe public can offer comments on the EIA and more generally the project, either by speak-ing at the hearing or through written sub-missions. Taking concerns of the public into We would like to thank S S Arvind, Geetanjoy Sahu, and S P Udaykumar for comments and references.Divya Badami Rao ( and M V Ramana ( are at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Environment and Development, Bangalore. Andhra Pradesh turns out to be more solid than the petitioners’ allegations. A very clear request was made to the NHRC before its team set out to do the enquiry, that public hearings be held in Eturnagaram and Bhadrachalam, the scheduled area headquarters of Warangal and Khammam districts of Andhra Pradesh, respectively, after giving public notice. The reason is that the severest victims of Salwa Judum have run away to these two districts and there is greater likelihood of the team getting frank views and candid information here than within the sight and hearing of the Salwa Judum across the border. For, those who are left behind in the villages of Dantewada are those who are with the Salwa Judum or those who have decided to live with the Salwa Judum. This, by the way, may well account for a part though not all of the negative views heard by the NHRC team in the villages of Dantewada. There was no response to this request from the NHRC. However, while a sub-team of the NHRC team visited a few villages in Andhra Pradesh without public intimation, a public hearing was held in Cherla in Khammam district, which is away from the area of the largest concentration of displaced people’s settlements in the district, and is inaccessible to those in Warangal. In that hearing the statements of a few of the dis-placed persons were recorded. The NHRC team may not have realised it, but the people who came before them at Cherla are Telugu-speaking tribes from across the border who are not among the worst victims of the Salwa Judum. The worst victims are the tribal community de-scribed as Muria in Chhattisgarh and Gotti Koya or Gutti Koya in Andhra Pradesh. A systematic gathering of their stories would have counter-balanced the views heard in the camps and the villages of Dantewada. The team had the opportunity of hear-ing only one batch of them, in the sitting held at Dantewada on 10 June 2008. People from Nendra who were driven into Andhra Pradesh by the Salwa Judum gave their testimonies, but the report treats their statements with scepticism. This need not surprise any one because even the reluctance of the displaced persons living in wretched conditions in Andhra Pradesh to return to Chhattisgarh is found “intriguing” because theNHRC team be-lieves that the Salwa Judum “is no longer its original self” (which seems to contra-dict the view expressed elsewhere in the report that the Salwa Judum was always a benign people’s movement). Though continued “apprehensions” regarding Salwa Judum are not ruled out as a reason, that obviously does not account for the in-triguing character of the reluctance. The realmotive is suspected to be that the Naxalites do not want them to go back and be won over by the State and the Salwa Judum. Predetermined conclusions could go no farther.
COMMENTARYEconomic & Political Weekly EPW december 20, 200815account, an Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) examines the EIA and either rejects, or more typically grants environmental clearance, often stipulating some condi-tions to be followed by the proponent.2Nuclear power projects fall under the purview of the central MoEF. Even though the present clearance process was formally introduced only in 1994, the Koodankulam 1 & 2 units had received an environmental clearance from the MoEF on 9 May 1989 (MoEF 1989). Environmental clearance at this early stage was mandated by Finance Ministry circular (circa 1980-81) making it imperative for anti-pollution and other measures taken to safeguard the environ-ment to be included in the project costs. This requirement was soon followed by making environmental clearance from the MoEF mandatory for all public sector projects requiring approval from the Pub-lic Investment Board. The forerunner for all of these stipulations is the Planning Commission’s insistence on an environ-mental appraisal for river valley projects in 1977-78. In time, all projects that were to be cleared by the Central Electricity Au-thority also had to receive an environmen-tal clearance (MoEF 2000). The Koodan-kulam 3 & 4 projects were approved under theEIA Notification of 2006. Brief HistoryThe Koodankulam project was formalised on 20 November 1988 when an Inter- governmental Agreement was signed by primeminister Rajiv Gandhi and Michael Gorbachev, president of the Soviet Union, for building two 1,000MW VVER-1000 nuclear reactors. However, with the dis-integration of the Soviet Union that fol-lowed, the project did not get pursued immediately. The project was revived only in 1997 (Special Correspondent 1997). Koodankulam 1 & 2 are presently under construction, and, according to the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL), are expected to begin commercial opera-tions in August 2009 and May 2010 re-spectively (NPCIL 2008). NPCIL acquired more land than neces-sary for constructing the first two units, and soon was talking about establishing four more reactors at the same site (Staff Reporter 2000). However, there is some confusion about whether the expansion will involve two or four units. In October 2005, NPCIL received an in-principle ap-proval for only two 1,000MWe Light Water Reactors by the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE). But just two months later, on 27 December, NPCIL filed an application for constructing four reactors to the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (DC andDEE 2007). In June 2007, NPCIL applied to the MoEF for environmental clearance for Koodankulam units 3 to 6. Citing the ab-sence of prior approval from the DAE, the EACconsideredonly units 3 & 4 of the pro-posal (MoEF2007). It is not clear whether NPCIL is going to go through a clearance process for two more reactors.Neglected ImpactsBetween the environmental clearance process as it stood in 1989 and subsequent to 1994, one of the significant differences is that the latter requires anEIA study. Therefore anEIA for Koodankulam 1 & 2 does not even exist. For units 3 to 6, the NPCIL commissioned the National Envi-ronmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) to conduct anEIA study. TheEIA thatNEERI produced has numer-ous problems; its assessments of damage are not reliable, and it does not consider the full range of potential impacts.3 Examples of the first kind are the values given for atmospheric radioactive discharges. These are much smaller than the corresponding figures for VVER-1000 reactors elsewhere. One of the radioactive gases released to the atmosphere by many nuclear reactors is Iodine-131, which tends to accumulate in the thyroid, causing cancer. Indeed the most prominent health impact of the Chernobyl accident so far has been a dra-matic increase noticed in cases of thyroid cancer among the exposed population (UNSCEAR 2000). For Koodankulam 3 to 6, the Iodine-131 discharge for each reactor is given as 2,48,000 becquerels per day, which is 6 times smaller than the dis-charge rate for Khmelnitsky 1 reactor and 7.4 times smaller than the discharge rate for the Rovno 3 reactor, both of which are located in Ukraine. The release rates for what is called noble gas are even smaller: 12 and 23 times respectively. These dis-crepancies between roughly identical reactors suggest that the data used in the KoodankulamEIA are not dependable. No justification has been given for the use of these lower values.Based on these unreliable figures, the EIA concludes that the “annual dose of inert radioactive noble gases, iodine and long-lived nuclides in the form of particulates will be well below the stipulated standards”. Even if the guesses about atmospheric re-lease rates are correct, this latter assertion is baseless asNEERI has not collected any data to assess the radioactive dose that would result from each unit of radio- isotope released. The EIA should have started with collecting data on people’s milk (since that is a major vehicle for io-dine doses) and food consumption levels. These levels should be fed into a standard transport pathway analysis in order to predict radiation doses to people consum-ing local food products. The EIA presents no evidence of having done such an analy-sis. Local grassroots organisations confirm that people in the vicinity of the plant have never been surveyed.An example of the second kind of problem pertains to the potential environmental contamination that may come from the spent fuel that will necessarily have to be stored on site for several years in order that it may cool. The spent fuel contains the bulk of the radioactivity that leaves the reactor and yet the EIA does not men-tion what is to happen to this spent fuel, nor does it evaluate the potential environ-mental impacts of storing this spent fuel while it is cooling, much less what might happen in the event of an accident. Yet another significant omission of the EIA is that it does not consider at all the possibility of a severe (“beyond design basis”) accident of the reactor leading to a massive release of radioactivity to the environment. There are specific concerns about the safety of VVER-1000 reactors, in particular the reliability of the control rod mechanism (Kastchiev et al 2007). The EIA shows no evidence of being aware of these concerns. In the event of an acci-dent, the EIA does not mention the likely ranges of radioactive contamination or the emergency preparedness plans that have to be circulated so that people may know how to mitigate the impacts of such a contingency. Instead of focusing on such critical issues, the EIA elaborates on trivia like noise levels in greater detail.
COMMENTARYEconomic & Political Weekly EPW december 20, 200817the administrative authorities and NPCIL was obvious (Bidwai and Ramana 2007).There were also a number of written submissions presented to the administra-tive authorities at the public hearing, in-cluding by one of us (MVR), as well as by others such as Vishnu Kamath of Bangalore University. While these were received (and signed for) by members of the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board, there were no responses to the objections raised. Neither was there any response to a letter to the secretary of MoEF in October 2007.The task of evaluating the project and recommending whether to issue environ-mental clearance rests with the EAC. The EAC has to scrutinise the finalisedEIA, EMP, outcomes of the public consultation, public hearing proceedings and other rel-evant documents. On 31 August 2007, the EAC met for the first time to evaluate the application for the Koodankulam expan-sion proposal. Besides the members of the EAC, there were representatives of NPCIL. According to the minutes of the meeting, the EAC was only presented with the re-sponse of NPCIL to two written representa-tions, those from the Kalpavriksh Environ-mental Action Group and the National Alli-ance of People’s Movements (NAPM) (MoEF 2007). They were evidently not shown any other submissions. Neither did the EAC invite members of Kalpavriksh or NAPM to provide a counter response to NPCIL. One reason for why the EAC might have been more interested in the NPCIL’s view is its composition. Many of its members were drawn from organisations that have links with the DAE, including those affiliated with the Defence Research and Development Organisation, Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research, Indian Rare Earths, Indi-an Institute of Chemical Technology, and Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay.Compromised StandardsThe environmental clearances for Koodan-kulam 1 & 2 and 3 & 4 suggest that ecological environment and social well-being have been compromised for the “benefit” of nuclear power. Various potential environ-mental problems have been swept under the proverbial rug.An example of this has to do with Koodankulam being located on the shore, very close to the Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve. The fragile nature of this coastal belt and the importance of restricting con-struction in this area has been highlighted through several acts and official commu-nications, starting with a letter to the chief ministers of various Indian states from prime minister Indira Gandhi in 1981 (Goenka 2000). The letter directed that the entire coastline be protected from en-vironmental degradation and that a strip of width 500 metres from the coast be kept free of construction. This rule had to be relaxed and a “special exemption” granted in order for the Koodankulam 1 & 2 reac-tors to be constructed. In the case of Koodankulam 1 & 2, the MoEF at least insisted that “adequate meas-ures and environmental safeguards… be taken for ensuring preservation of the ecology of the beach” and “since this area has been declared as a bio-sphere reserve” directed project authorities to “take special precautions to avoid any damage to the coral reefs or changes in the water quality near the shore” (MoEF 1989). The clear-ance letter for Koodankulam 3 & 4 upholds the exemption granted in 1989 but with-out any such directives.The most likely damage to the marine ecosystem is likely to come from the vast quantities of hot water, over 9,00,000 cubic metres/hour according to the EIA that the reactors will discharge into the ocean during operations. Fish workers of the region are particularly concerned with the potential decrease in fish and other catch and ex-pected loss in revenues, and they made this amply clear during the public hearing.5The clearance letters for Koodankulam 1 & 2 and 3 & 4 shed light on aspects of the MoEF’s decision-making. The 1989 clear-ance, for example, includes a clause that calls for the offshore berth/jetty to be “selec-ted in such a way that no damage is caused to the coral reefs”. The same letter also in-cludes the clause: “the route of the pipeline from Pechiparai reservoir to the Power Sta-tion should preferably be so selected that it does not affect forest areas”. And finally it orders NPCIL to prepare a detailed rehabili-tation plan. All of these indicate that impor-tant parameters that would determine the extent of environmental damage and the compensation available to those displaced by the project had not even been decided upon before the project was cleared. ConclusionsThe clearances offered to the Koodanku-lam reactors are a reflection of the state of environmental governance in the country, especially as it applies to nuclear power plants. Both the clearances show that the authorities were not duly diligent in en-suring that the environment is safe-guarded. Apart from not respecting the spirit, there were also violations of the EIA Notification 2006 in letter, viz, the min-utes of the meeting not being read out. Various norms, such as not locating projects in the sensitive coastal zone, have been overruled. Another failure of the process of clear-ing the Koodankulam reactors has been that it has not respected democratic norms. The EIA and the public consulta-tion is the only formal way for local com-munities to voice their opinion. Given how poorly this exercise has been carried out, local groups have had no choice but to re-sort to fasts and other means of peaceful protest, demanding closure of the Koodankulam project (ENS 2008). Notes 1 The emphasis on economic growth based devel-opment was also a feature of the National Envi-ronmental Policy that was being finalised around the same period (Lélé and Menon 2005). 2 The Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) is a group of people with expertise in a variety of fields ap-pointed by the central government to evaluate the project application and other material and offer a recommendation about clearing the project. 3 These have been detailed in (Ramana 2007). 4 Even the foreword to the Koodankulam EIA ac-knowledges the staff of the NCPIL and thanks them for their cooperation, specifically listing three officials of the NPCIL Koodankulam Direc-torate, Mumbai, and three officials from the NPCIL Koodankulam Project site as project per-sonnel involved with carrying out the EIA study for Koodankulam units 3-6. 5 A change in the coastal environmental regula-tions between 1989 and 2008 has been the relaxa-tion of the allowed temperature difference. Earli-er, the hot water that is discharged by power plants and industries had to be within 5 degrees centigrade of the ambient water. Now they are al-lowed up to 7 degrees centigrade. This increases the thermal stress on the organisms that inhabit the region around the discharge point.ReferencesBidwai, Praful and M V Ramana (2007): “Home, Next to N-reactor”,Tehelka, 23 June.DC and DEE (2007): “Minutes of the Public Hearing Meeting Conducted at 11.00 am on 2 June 2007 at the Government College of Engineering, Trivandrum Road, Tirunelveli in Respect of the Expansion Programme of M/s. Nuclear Power Corporation of India, (Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project – Re-actors – 3 to 6)”, District Collector, Tirunelveli and Distric Environmental Engineer (Tirunelveli, Tamil Nadu: Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board).
COMMENTARYdecember 20, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly18Ashish Bose ( is honorary professor at the Institute of Economic Growth and a member of the National Commission on Population.Dubey, Sunita (2004): “Weakening the Enviro-clear-ance Process”,India Together, August.ENS (2008): “Demand for Closure of Koodankulam Plant”, Indian Express, 25 November.Goenka, Debi (2000): “The Fragile Coastline”, Seminar, August (492).Kastchiev, Georgui, Wolfgang Kromp, Stephan Kurth, David Lochbaum, Ed Lyman, Michael Sailer and Mycle Schneider (2007): “Residual Risk: An Ac-count of Events in Nuclear Power Plants since the Chernobyl Accident in 1986” (Brussels: The Greens/European Free Alliance), May.Kohli, Kanchi and Manju Menon (2005): “Eleven Years of the Environment Impact Assessment Notifica-tion: How Effective Has It Been?”, Kalpavriksh Environmental Action Group, in Collaboration with Just Environment Trust and Environmental Justice Initiative (Pune: Human Rights Law Net-work), May Lélé, Sharachchandra and Ajit Menon (2005): “Draft NEP 2004: A Flawed Vision”,Seminar, March (547).MoEF (1989): “Office Memorandum dated 9 May to Secretary, Department of Atomic Energy, Subject: Nuclear Power Station at Koodankulam in Tamil Nadu (2x1000 MW)” (New Delhi: Ministry of En-vironment and Forests, Government of India), – (1994): “The Environment Impact Assessment Notification: S.O.60 (E)” (New Delhi: Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India). – (2000): “Annual Report 1999-2000” (New Delhi: Ministry of Environment and Forests, Govern-ment of India).– (2006): “The Environment Impact Assessment Notification: SO 1553” (New Delhi: Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India). – (2007): “Summary Record of the 5th Meeting of Expert Appraisal Committee on Environmental Appraisal of Nuclear Power Projects” (New Delhi: Ministry of Environment and Forests, Govern-ment of India).– (2008): “Letter No SPA/2(1)/RO(SZ)/RTI/2837, dated 19 August”, To Divya Badami Rao, Bangalore, NPCIL (2008): “Koodankulam Atomic Power Project”, Nuclear Power Corporation,, accessed on 1 December 2008.Ramana, M V (Forthcoming): “India’s Nuclear Enclave and the Practice of Secrecy” in Itty Abraham (ed.), Nuclear Power and Atomic Publics: Society and Culture in India and Pakistan (Bloomington, Indi-ana: Indiana University Press). – (2007): Submission for the Public Hearing to be held on 2 June 2007 regarding the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Project – KKNPP (establishment of units 3, 4, 5 and 6), Tirunelveli Kattaboman dis-trict, Tamil Nadu, Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board, Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Environment and Development, Bangalore. Saldanha, Leo F, Abhayraj Naik, Arpita Joshi and Subramanya Sastry (2007): “Green Tapism: A Review of the Environmental Impact Assessment Notification – 2006”, Environment Support Group, Bangalore.Special Correspondent (1997): “Way Cleared for Signing Pact on Koodankulam”,Hindu, 19 December.Staff Reporter (2000): “Koodankulam n-plant Work to Start in January”,Hindu, 29 August.Suchitra, J Y and M V Ramana (2007): “Fast Breeder of Expenditure?”,Hindustan Times, 23 October.UNSCEAR (2000):Sources and Effects of Ionising Radiation: UNSCEAR 2000 Report to the General Assembly, with Scientific Annexes (United Nations, New York: United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation).Making the 2011 Census a Tool for Good GovernanceAshish BoseThis note makes a number of organisational suggestions for the Census of 2011. It is just two yearsawayand yet there is little signofany urgency in the Ministry of Home Affairs, the administrative agency, in planning and organising for a comprehensive census.The Ministry of Home Affairs is cur-rently not an example of success in any area. What worries me, as a census researcher, is the marginalisation of the forthcoming decennial Census of 2011 in policy and planning. The census organi-sation is very much under the ministry. Urgent steps are, therefore, called for to ensure that the 2011 Census is a good cen-sus in terms of enumeration, compilation, tabulation, analysis and timely dissemina-tion of data, not only for policymakers, planners and administrators but also for numerous other users of census data. It is necessary to have a historical per-spective to understand the relevance of census for governance. The census was introduced in Great Britain in 1801. The British rulers in India tried experiment-ingwith census from 1851 to 1872 and in 1881introduced the first regular census of India covering the whole country. They wanted the census to ascertain what manner of people they were governing so that they could govern the country more effectively. Bernard S Cohn, an American scholar, in his paper on “The Census, Social Structure and Objectification in South Asia” observed in 1970:It was felt by many British officials in the middle of the 19th century that caste and religion were the sociological keys to understanding the Indian people. If they were to be governed well, then it was natu-ral that information should be systemati-cally collected about caste and religion. At the same time, as the census operations were beginning to collect information about caste, the army was beginning to be reorganised on assumptions about the nature of ‘martial races’, questions were being raised about the balance between Hindus and Muslims in the public services, about whether certain castes or ‘races’ were monopolising access to new educational opportunities and a political theory was beginning to emerge about the conspiracy which certain castes were organising to supplant British Rule (17).Uninterrupted HistoryIndia has a proud history of uninterrupted decennial censuses ever since 1881. It is worth recalling that census data have de-termined the destiny of the Indian sub-continent in many ways. The Partition of India was based on census data on religion. The reorganisation of states in 1957 on a linguistic basis used census data on languages (“mother tongue”). The delimitation of electoral constituen-cies ever since India held the first general elections in 1952 is based on census data. The constituencies are delimited periodi-cally on the basis of census data. The constituencies reserved for scheduled

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