|Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the nuclear plant in Haryana’s Gorakhpur on Monday; (top) Satyanarayan Sharma, the farmer who was initially reluctant but later gave his land for the project. Pictures by Prem Singh
Gorakhpur (Haryana), Jan. 13: Nuclear power engineer Tilak Raj Arora is hoping the villagers of Bengal’s Haripur will some day emulate Satyanarayan Sharma, a 65-year old farmer in this wheat and cotton belt of rural Haryana.
After protesting for nearly two years, Sharma and some 800 other farmers in this village gave up their patches of cultivated land to make way for a 2800-MW nuclear power complex that India’s Nuclear Power Corporation (NPC) plans to build here.
A combination of strong local political push, generous compensation for lost land and the promise of roads, schools, hospitals and jobs helped douse the protests and allow the NPC to begin work on the project.
The government-owned agency that builds and operates commercial nuclear reactors plans to invest Rs 20,594 crore to build two 700-MW home-grown nuclear reactors here by 2020. It also plans to add two more identical units by 2025.
“I’m hoping the transformation that this project will bring about here will influence people in Haripur,” said Arora, an electronics engineer and project director at the Gorakhpur Haryana Anu Vidyut Pariyojana (GHAVP) who’s spent three decades with the NPC.
The NPC had identified Haripur, a coastal site in Bengal’s East Midnapore, as a possible location for six imported 1000-MW nuclear power reactors more than five years ago. But lack of local political support and resistance from local communities have even stalled discussions on the project.
In Haryana, the GHAVP had also evoked intense protests from farmers initially. But a compensation package of Rs 30 lakh per acre — with an additional annual payment of Rs 21,000 for 33 years tagged with an incremental increase each year — support for the project by the Bhupinder Singh Hooda-led Congress government and the promise of local development helped the NPC acquire the 1,500 acres the project needed.
The NPC has also given Rs 4 lakh to farmers who didn’t initiate litigation against the deal. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today laid the foundation stone for the GHAVP saying: “The average growth during the UPA tenure has been 7.9 per cent. We could sustain high growth despite two bouts of global recession. However, we can maintain this tempo of growth only when we are able to supply energy particularly power to industries, households and agricultural fields.”
But murmurs of dissent and concerns about the project expressed by members of the local community suggest that the NPC’s task of convincing sections of the population here about the benefits from the project isn’t fully done.
“We lost three acres but the money we got won’t fetch us even two acres now,” said Sandeep Sharma, whose family has grown wheat and cotton on the project site for several generations and is among those who have filed a petition in court seeking more compensation.
But Satyanarayan Sharma, who gave up about two acres, has accepted the non-litigation payment of Rs 4 lakh and acquired a larger, but poorer quality, patch of land in Rajasthan and leased it out hoping he can share profits from crops cultivated there.
“Any big project like this does help the local people,” said Sharma. “I’m not going to Rajasthan.”
The four units at GHAVP are part of the NPC’s plan to significantly expand India’s installed nuclear power capacity from the current level of about 5700MW to about 20000MW by 2020 through a mix of domestic and imported reactors.
The NPC will build a township in the area with schools, a 100-bed hospital and roads that will connect the site to other towns in the vicinity. “Such a project contributes to social transformation in the area,” Arora said. “We’ve demonstrated it at all our other power station sites.”
The GHAVP will be India’s first nuclear power station that will draw cooling water from a network of canals, the Fatehabad branch of the Bhakra canal.
Senior NPC officials say the reactors have all the required safety features, including shutdown and cooling systems that come into operation during emergency situations.
Under NPC policy, the Haryana government will receive 50 per cent of the power generated by the reactors, while the rest will go into the northern electricity grid to be distributed to other states in the region.
The NPC expects that some 8,000 people will get contractual employment at the site during the first phase of the project that will involve civil construction for the two reactors.
“It will be good if they keep their promise of giving us jobs,” said Sandeep Sharma, 22, who’s studying MA in history and wonders whether he will ever be employed at the site.
“How can local people work in nuclear power plants — most people here have done nothing but farming all their lives,” said S. Ghanshyam, a driver from Gorakhpur village who hasn’t lost any land but was among several hundreds of people who had congregated at the foundation stone laying ceremony today.