Afterleading protests against the Jaitapur nuclear power project from the front for over six years,Pravin Gavankar,founder of the Janhit Seva Samiti (JSS),has withdrawn from the protest and decided to accept a compensation cheque of about Rs 12 crore for the 52 hectares his family owns in Madban,one of the project-affected villages in Ratnagiri district.
Gavankar,60,is suffering from lung cancer,and cites ill-health for the move. However,it has turned the rest of the JSS against him,with secretary Shyamsundar Narvekar alleging he may have buckled under pressure.
The samiti,set up together with the Konkan Bachao Samiti in 2006,has been the most active group protesting against the project.
On August 30,however,Gavankar,along with a few others,met Maharashtra Industries Minister Narayan Rane to convey their consent to the project. I am still against the project, Gavankar told The Sunday Express two weeks ago at Tata Memorial Hospital,where he was being treated. Lekin meri tabiyat kharab hai,main chal bhi nahin sakta hun. Isliye ab main ye andolan aage nahin leke jaa sakta (But I am unwell and I cant even walk. It is not possible for me to lead the movement anymore).
He was discharged last week and is back at his Madban house,where he and his wife live with their son and daughter-in-law. His daughter and another son,both married,live in Mumbai.
In the August 30 meeting with Rane,the Gavankar-led group gave its consent to the Jaitapur project,while submitting a charter of 25 demands. These included withdrawing police cases against protesters,giving preference to the project affected and those living within a 5-km radius in government and semi-government jobs,setting up polytechnics,ITIs and creating schemes for students welfare,providing jetties for fishermen and a hospital. The state government promised to look into the demands.
Seven to eight members of the JSS accompanied me to meet the minister, Gavankar says. He adds that he wanted to discuss the matter within the JSS but couldnt. I wanted to meet and tell everyone that I am tired and they should think and decide their course of action. That meeting,however,never took place. Instead of criticising me,they should focus on how to take their agitation forward.
JSS secretary Narvekar says Gavankar never voiced a desire to meet anyone or to inform them of his decision. He brought our campaign to such heights and suddenly backed out. We feel betrayed. He never took us into confidence nor did he take the JSSs permission (before meeting Rane). We dont know under whose pressure he took this drastic step, Narvekar says.
The samiti has since written to Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan saying villagers are still opposed to the nuclear project. We have informed that those who met Rane were not our leaders or representatives. Whatever decision they arrived at was their individual opinion and we do not agree with it,nor are we party to it, says Narvekar.
Gavankar denied that the enhanced compensation announced by the state had led to the change in his stand. It has never been about money, he says,adding,I will,however,accept the cheque. It will amount to around Rs 12 crore.
His wife Pramila Gavankar,51,says,Everyone else is accepting the money,so why shouldnt we? We have incurred huge hospital expenses. We have 32 hissedars (claimants),so the final amount that we will get will be paltry.