India shuts aid groups it says rally nuke protests

NEW DELHI — India has shut down three aid organizations it says were diverting foreign funds toward rallying protests against a Russian-built nuclear plant in the south, but at least one group on Saturday denied any involvement in the protests while another said its funds were homegrown.

By (AP)

Published: Sat 25 Feb 2012, 3:45 PM

Last updated: Fri 3 Apr 2015, 10:59 AM

Activists opposed to India expanding its atomic energy portfolio have argued that the Japan Fukushima nuclear disaster caused by a massive earthquake and tsunami in March showed such plants were vulnerable to natural disaster.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh insists that India needs nuclear power to help fuel its booming economy and that Indian installations are safe.

After months of protests against the new plant in Tamil Nadu, the prime minister last week accused unnamed foreign interests — mainly in the United States and Scandinavia — of stirring anti-nuclear sentiments without understanding India’s electricity needs.

On Friday, a day after the Russian and Indian foreign secretaries held talks in New Delhi, the Indian government said it was canceling the licenses of three aid groups it accused of illegally funding protests that had delayed plans for firing up the first of two Russian-built 1,000-megawatt reactors in December.

It did not name the groups or give details on where exactly the funding was suspected of coming from, saying only that a Home Ministry investigation showed overseas funds meant for helping the physically handicapped and eradicating leprosy were instead being used for anti-nuclear protests in the state’s Kudankulam region.

“The people who are agitating near the plant ... are being brought there in trucks from various villages. They are being given food,” Union Minister V. Narayanasamy said Friday.

But one group, the Tuticorin Diocese Association, said it had been unfairly targeted in the crackdown despite having no involvement in protests that have blocked highways and featured public fasts to demand the plant’s closure.

“We are being victimized,” Father William Santhanam said by telephone Saturday from the Tuticorin Diocese in Tamil Nadu. “Maybe because the bishop expressed sympathy with his people’s fears about plant, but that is his job. When there is an earthquake, a flood, any other reason for public upset, the government wants us to be there. But not now.”

He said a recent Home Ministry audit also showed “not one iota” of evidence to suggest the group was involved in anti-nuclear campaigning. “They were very satisfied,” he said, while the diocese’ other group, the Multipurpose Social Service Society, has not been mentioned.

“There is no reason for this. Those were very sweeping statements the prime minister made,” he said.

Anti-nuclear campaigner S.P. Udayakumar also objected to his People’s Education for Action and Liberation being shuttered, saying there was no proof to support the prime minister’s allegations of overseas funding.

“We strongly deny his observation that the agitation is being funded by other countries,” Udayakumar was quoted Saturday by the Hindustan Times as saying.

Newspapers reported the third targeted group as Good Vision, Nagercoil, but attempts to reach the organization Saturday were not immediately successful.

Meanwhile, aid groups outside the fray also questioned whether the allegations were supported and why the government was not making details of the investigation public.

The Voluntary Action Network India, an umbrella group that has not said it was named in the government’s action, criticized the allegations as potentially damaging to public perceptions of aid groups.

Energy-hungry India is hoping to quadruple its nuclear energy lode from its current 5,000 megawats from 20 existing nuclear plants to 20,000 MW by 2020.

The government has said the plant will meet national safety standards.

Singh has assured that Indian nuclear reactors have a clear record. Since the Fukushima accident, atomic energy authorities and the state-run company that operates Indian nuclear plants have conducted a series of safety checks on installations.

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