A welcome project

Print edition : April 23, 2004

The borewell installed by NPCIL at Kudankulam, which was inaugurated by KKNPP Project Director S.K. Agrawal on March 31. -

Much of the local population is proud of the project despite irritants such as stiff recruitment procedures for jobs for land-losers.

ON the desolate stretch between Chettikulam and Kudankulam villages, near the hamlet of Thavasipparai, a metalled road has just been laid. Workers are busy broadcasting sand on the surface made smooth by a huge mechanised road layer. "Finishing touches are being given," said the man supervising the work. Panchayat leaders P. Ezhilarasu, E. Suresh Kumar, P. Lingaraja and P. Duraisamy of the nearby villages pose proudly for photographs in front of the machine. A few kilometres away, in Kudankulam village, two borewells have been sunk and the motors to pump water from them have been housed in small rooms built nearby. The water is stored in plastic tanks erected on top of the motor rooms. Further away is the Government High School, where a classroom is under construction. On March 31, S.K. Agrawal, Project Director of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KKNPP), inaugurated two school buildings and two borewells at Kudankulam village.

The 16-km metalled road, laid at a cost of Rs.7 crores, the borewells and the school building are some of the gifts to the local community from the KKNPP. Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL), a Government of India undertaking which is executing the project, will operate the nuclear power plant.

Much of the local population is proud of the project, under which two Russian reactors are being built on the coast, a few kilometres from Kudankulam village in Radhapuram taluk in Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu. "The Kudankulam project is God's gift to us," said E. Suresh Kumar, councillor from the 11th wards of the Radhapuram panchayat union. "There is good money circulation in our villages now. People speaking different languages are living here now. There is an inter-mingling of different cultures," he said.

With the project picking up speed, the economy is booming in Kudankulam and other villages like Chettikulam, Anjugramam, Radhapuram, Perumanal, Thavasipparai and Viswanathapuram that are strung around it. About 100 young men and women from families whose land was acquired for the project have been employed by NPCIL and about 2,000 people from these villages are working for the project as daily-wage earners. There are others like Arul Menigis, a fisherman from Perumanal, who works as a lifeguard at the swimming pool in the Anu-Vijay township at Chettikulam. L. Mandline, also from Perumanal, is a helper in the pool. Menigis estimated that about 40 men from Perumanal were employed in the project as casual labourers.

Chairperson of the Radhapuram panchayat union Daisy Inbanayagam, N. Vijayan of Chettikulam, president of Kudankulam panchayat Ezhilarasu, Vijayapathy village panchayat councillor T. Soundararajan and others regard the project as a boon because Radhapuram was a drought-hit taluk. It has not had rain for the past 10 years and has been facing acute water scarcity for several years. Today, these villages see hectic activity. There are workshops to repair trucks, dumpers, tippers and other earthmovers as also cars and two-wheelers. Welding establishments are busy and hardware outlets are doing brisk business. Young men have set up telephone booths and three petrol pumps add "glamour" to the area. About 2,000 workers employed in the project as drivers of trucks, excavators and dumpers, specialist welders and masons live in rented houses in the adjoining villages. There are frequent bus services between Chettikulam and Nagercoil, 40 km away. Earlier people had to wait for several hours for a bus to Nagercoil.

However, the ancillary industries that one would expect such a project to spawn have not materialised. This is because all the equipment for the plant, including the reactor pressure vessel, the turbines and the generators, the coolant channels, the core- catcher and the nuclear steam supply system, is to be imported from Russia.

D. Charles Ebenezer, S. Lakshmi, P. Pushparaja and E. Jelastin are all direct beneficiaries of the project. Land owned by their families had been given to the project. Today Charles Ebenezer is a stenographer, Lakshmi and Jelastin are junior assistants, and Pushparaja a helper.

Belonging to a different category is M. Arumugam, 24, of Radhapuram taluk. A body-builder, he is employed as a fireman in KKNPP/NPCIL's Industrial Safety division. "Safety building with body building," says a poster near his fire-tender. Arumugam was `Mr. Tamil Nadu', `Mr. Chennai' and `Mr. Tirunelveli'. He said he was happy to have secured a job in the project because "we have a good gym with all the equipment here".

At Thavasipparai village, a section of the road laid for a distance of 16 km, from Chettikulam to Kudankulam.-

Lakshmi is overjoyed that she is an NPCIL employee. "I am so happy," she said and praised NPCIL management for being "impartial" in the selection of employees. She was confident that other "land-losers" would also get jobs in NPCIL as the project progressed. In fact, the first recruitment was done exclusively for land-losers. They had to pass a written test and interview and fulfil criteria such as age-limit and educational qualifications.

Jelastin was one among those who met the norms, passed the written test and the viva voce. But he did not know typing. So he was given time to learn that.

The leaders of several villages wanted NPCIL to relax the age limit for jobs for land-losers. They also pointed out that the rule that only the son or daughter of a land-loser would be given employment in NPCIL went against many families. The leaders wanted this rule to be amended to provide jobs for the grandson or granddaughter or anybody in the family.

In many families the son or the daughter was over the age of 30, which was the age limit for selection for a job in NPCIL. (While the land was acquired in 1988, the project became a reality only 10 years later, and recruitment was done only in 2002.)

Said Ezhilarasu: "We are keen that the age-limit should be relaxed for employment for land-losers. Besides, any person of a family that gave land to the project should be given a job." He wanted 70 per cent of the C and D category jobs in NPCIL at Kudankulam to go to the local people and the payment of compensation to land-losers.

Said Vijayan of Chettikulam: "Public expectation from the project is high. People want a lot of development work to take place here." He pointed out that NPCIL had constructed a school building and laid a 1.5-km bypass road at Chettikulam.

NPCIL distributes stationery and textbooks every year to pupils in villages around the plant. It has also donated computers to the Vijayapathy and Kudankulam panchayat offices. Daisy Inbanayagam is confident that NPCIL would keep its promise of building community halls in the 27 village panchayat offices in Radhapuram panchayat union.

The leaders are also hopeful that NPCIL will help in ending the water famine in Radhapuram taluk by laying pipelines to bring water from the Tamiraparani river.

One thing that the villagers are proud of is the cosmopolitan atmosphere that suffuses the area. Putan Singh Tomar, Deputy Manager (Personnel and Industrial Relations), KKNPP, NPCIL, has been at the project site for two years and has learnt to speak fluent Tamil.

"I would sit in the tea stall in front of the project for two to three hours every day and listen to the local people talk," he said. "There is a fusion of cultures here now," Tomar said. Charles Ebenezer intervened, with a smile: "We have learnt to speak Hindi."

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