IT HAS been five years since Satyavan Mahadev Mayekar (70) gave up his 6.5 hectares of agricultural land for the Jaitapur nuclear power plant. A resident of Madban village in Ratnagiri district, Mayekar had received Rs 1.45 crore as compensation. Today, the land, where mango and paddy were once grown, is encircled with a concrete boundary wall and Mayekar is unemployed. His son Sharad is the family’s sole breadwinner. An autorickshaw driver, he earns Rs 500 daily.
Mayekar is one of the 2,338 farmers from 13 villages who had given up land for the project. Most farmers have accepted a compensation of Rs 22.5 lakh per hectare (2.5 acres). Today, while villagers seem to have shed their acrimony against the project, the question that lurks in their minds is can two mega projects — West Coast Oil Refinery and Jaitapur Nuclear Power Plant — co-exist in Ratnagiri without causing any environmental hazard.
Full-fledged work at the plant — which would have six reactors each with 1,650 MW capacity — is likely to begin from December. The 990-MW plant is set to bring investment of Rs 1 lakh crore and generate jobs. Farmers from Madban, Jaitapur, Sakhri Natye, Dhopeshwar, Rajwadi, Mithgavhane, Ambolgad, Dhulvalli, Gagwe, Solgaon, Mogre, Devanche Gothne and Natye, which had once adopted a resolution against the project, have all accepted land compensation.
Madban village sarpanch Sayali Sudhir Khadpe said: “More than 90 per cent of the people here have taken compensation, including me. Yet, majority of the villagers here are not in favour of the project. We have been told that nuclear plants are dangerous.” Farmers from Madban — the epicentre of anti-nuclear plant agitation since 2010 — had mostly protested against the Jaitapur plant, supported by Sakri Natye. “We never elicited much support from the other villages,” Khadpe said.
A Samiksha Sagar Mangrekar (former gram panchayat member) added: “The money we received is for our land, which they had forcibly acquired.” Madban, with a population of 340, is now reconciled to the changing times. The signs of a rural economy are gradually making way for a town with infrastructure. Villagers, however, still rue the shift from agricultural economy.
Paresh Harishchandra Waghdhara, who had studied till Class IX, has been driving an autorickshaw for the last four years. The family’s two acre land has been acquired for the project. “I earn Rs 450 to Rs 500 every day, except during two months of heavy monsoons.” Brijesh Bhute (26), hailing from Madban, runs a cable service business on Sandhurst Road in Mumbai. His family has given up 25 acres for the nuclear project. “We had 10 cattles and cows. We had to sell our cattle and cow, as there is no land for grazing and purchasing fodder from market is expensive. We now have only two cattle and a cow… Earlier, we cultivated fodder in the field. The animals were left in the open… now, we have to tie them in the backyard of the house,” Bhute said at the village, where he had come on a vacation.
In the neighbouring village of Jaitapur, locals bank on fishing and taking tourists on boat rides in the sea to earn their livelihood. At the Nuclear Power Corporation Limited office in Madban, security personnel recruited from the village are on alert round the clock. A security official, on condition of anonymity, said: “The apprehension of the villagers is politically driven and a result of ignorance. While recruiting guards, the plant has given priority to local residents. We have been trained and earn Rs 15,000 to Rs 20,000 a month. By the time we retire, it will increase to Rs 50,000.”