The agitation against the nuclear power plant at Koodankulam in Tamil Nadu took a turn for the worse on Monday after a fisherman died in police firing in neighbouring Thoothukudi district. Near the plant site,police resorted to lathicharge and lobbed teargas shells to disperse protesting villagers who had laid siege to the plant in a last-ditch effort to stop its commissioning.
About a hundred people from both sides were reported to have been injured in the protests. By evening,the situation was brought under control with thousands of police personnel enforcing an uneasy calm.
In New Delhi,Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde blamed foreign NGOs for the violence. We are aware about the support of foreign NGOs to the movement, he said. The government is committed to the use of nuclear energy because it is a clean and cheap source of energy.
In February,Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had said some US-based NGOs were creating hurdles in the launch of the Koodankulam plant.
Appealing for peace,Tamil Nadu CM J Jayalalithaa asked the people not to fall prey to anti-nuclear lobbyists,and assured that the project was safe.
According to local police sources,fisherman G Anthonysamy,48,was killed when police opened fire at a group of protesters allegedly trying to attack a police station at Kulasekarapattinam. The mob set ablaze a police checkpost and post office and was moving towards the station when the personnel opened fire.
A few hours earlier,the fishermen,who declared solidarity with their counterparts in Koodankulam,had taken four police officials,including two women personnel,as hostages. They were later released.
Led by the Peoples Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE),the villagers in the neighbourhood had decided to change their strategy from observing a protest fast at Idinthakarai village to laying siege to the plant at a recent meeting. On Sunday,as per the new plan,thousands of villagers including women and children started marching towards the plant. Stopped by the police,they camped on the seashore less than a kilometre from the plant site.
On Monday,they again tried to move closer to the plant,turning down police requests to stop the march. Thirunelveli district collector R Selvaraj,IGP (south zone) Rajesh Das and SP Vijayendra S Bidari were among those who held talks with the protesters.
Police sources said the crackdown began after a group of people surrounded IG Das and attacked his gunman,who suffered injuries. While some protesters dispersed with many of them jumping into the sea a few retaliated with stones,logs and shoes. PMANE convenor S P Udayakumar,M Pushparayan and others were taken away by fishermen to ensure that they werent arrested.
The unrest soon spread to neighbouring Thoothukudi district,leading to the death of Anthonysamy in the police firing.
Officials claimed the violence may have been planned as protest fasts and court cases have failed to stop the commissioning of the Rs 17,000-crore plant that is being set up in association with Russia.
Protesters,however,claimed that they had been pushed into violence by police action. No violence was reported in the last one year of protests,they said. Udayakumar appealed to the villagers to remain calm to ensure that the movement against nuclear energy was not discredited.
A 48-hour hunger strike has been called at Idinthakarai against the police action and to seek the closure of the plant.