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Mainstream, VOL L No 12, March 10, 2012

NGOs and Kudankulam Protests

Tuesday 13 March 2012, by Bharat Dogra

The recent controversy over anti-Kuodan-kulam (nuclear plant) protests and the filing of cases against NGOs has four important aspects. Firstly, the justification or otherwise of anti-nuclear power protests. Secondly, there is the question of whether NGOs can use foreign funds for such protests. Thirdly, there is the more specific question of whether those who were involved in anti-Koodankulam actually used foreign funds? Last but not the least, there is the wider question of international linkages of such movements.

First and foremost, it needs to be emphasised that peaceful anti-nuclear power movements are fully justified in a democracy. All over the world nuclear power is a highly controversial issue. On the one extreme, it is being argued that nuclear power’s role has increased drastically in these times of climate change and the priority need to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions. On the other extreme, it is argued that nuclear power is inherently so risky that it should be avoided altogether and phased out. Both are legitimate views which need to be debated in a democratic spirit. These who oppose nuclear energy have as much right to have their voice heard as those who support it. Hence peaceful and transparent protest movements against nuclear plants have a completely legtimate role in any democracy.

Coming to the second question, however, it is an altogether different matter whether such a movement can be or should be supported by foreign funds. Under the country’s laws, those who receive foreign funds are allowed only certain kinds of activities. More specifically, use of foreign funds is not allowed for certain sensitive issues. The government is within its rights to consider nuclear power as a sensitive issue. Hence it can be rightly said that foreign funds should not be used for anti-nuclear protests.

Thirdly, the issue of whether the Kudankulam protestors at all received or diverted any foreign funds for this purpose needs to be examined impartially without any fear or favour. Unfortunately, there is a tendency among the authorities that once an allegation has been made at a senior level, then attempts are made to somehow twist the factual position to suit the allegations. Hence it is important to emphasise that the investigation into this matter should be entirely unbiased. As a reporter covering people’s movements I came across several instances of false allegations of misuse of foreign funds against movements which the authorities wanted to discredit. Hence it is important to be careful in such matters.

Last but not the least, we need to ask whether the anti-nuclear movement in India is justified in having wider international linkages. This is different from receiving or diverting funds. While use of foreign funds for such a sensitive issue in violation of legal obligations is wrong, there is nothing wrong in such a movement asking for support and solidarity at a world level. Just as there is an international environment movement and an international peace movement which crosses national boundaries, similarly more specific movements such as the one against nuclear energy can also aspire for worldwide support and solidarity for its activities.

The author is currently a Fellow at the Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi.

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