“DIVINE RETRIBUTION”, said Shintaro Ishihara, Governor of Tokyo, referring to the deadly earthquake and the ensuing tsunami that hit Japan on Friday, March 11th. Ishihara, who has since apologised for his comment, said that Japanese people had become too greedy and immoral and that is why God was punishing them.
We Indians are even more immoral than the Japanese – at least in recent years – and should expect even more deadly retribution and punishment. When the Gods are angry – and they have lot to be angry about – they take it out on us poor people, as they have done on the Japanese. At least 20,000 Japanese, maybe more, will have perished in the latest atomic catastrophe, and none of them had any idea what was in store for them.
I feel sorry for Japan – and the Japanese. Why they are being regularly singled out for this kind of punishment every few years. I do not know. Of course, many people, particularly the Chinese, have no love lost for them. They were very brutal and cruel – just like the Nazis – when they occupied large swathes of China during and before World War II, and treated the prisoners and local people very harshly. For this, they were duly punished in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Tokyo Governor seems to think that that was not enough, and he may well be right.
The Japanese have evidently fallen under some kind of curse – call it the curse of the atom. In Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the curse visited them from the havens in the form of deadly bombs, which almost wiped out the two cities. Now the atoms are tumbling out of reactors where they have been bred and bottled up for years, and foul up the whole atmosphere, which means everything and everybody in sight, including children, old men and women, and, of course, water and air and earth, and, the skies. When the Gods are angry they do not spare anyone. The Tokyo Governor was not entirely wrong when he referred to God and his punishment.
Now, let us go to Jaitapur, in Maharashtra, where something like Fukushima, the atomic power station in Japan, which was devastated by the earthquake and tsunami, is being planned.
Jaitapur is close to Rajapur on the West Coast, not far from Ratnagiri where Lokmanya Tilak was born, and from Rajapur where from Madhu Dandavate, the Socialist stalwart used to be elected to the Lok Sabha. The government says it faces the sea, meaning the Arabian sea. It doesn’t. It faces a small and narrow bay, a mile or two inland from the sea. Although at the moment, the land, on which the power station is going to be built, is bare, it is not very far from a village which will have to be evacuated, if the plan to set up a power station goes through.
The proposed site is also quite close to the notorious Enron power station, which never really took off, and the American company that tried to set it up, went bankrupt. This happened nearly twenty years ago. Enron not only went bankrupt but its big bosses were sent to jail and at least one of them committed suicide. They had secured the contract, and finance for it, by bribing Indian politicians, including successive chief ministers of Maharashtra, and some leaders in Delhi. The woman who was negotiating the deal, Rebeca Mark, herself told me in a restaurant in Delhi about this. I have a feeling that she knew the whole thing was a scam and a rip-off but she got away scot-free just before the whole thing collapsed, though she got a bounty of over a hundred million dollars for her efforts.
I have a feeling that history is about to repeat itself in Jaitapur, not as a farce, but as a tragedy. The Jaitapur affair is almost a carbon copy of Enron. This time, it is a French company instead of American, and it is heavily backed by the French government, in fact, the French President himself, just as Enron was backed by Washington.
The French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, flew down to Delhi, to canvass for the project, and is said to have extracted an assurance, may be a promise, from our own Manmohan Singh that his government will go through it. At the time of Sarkozy’s visit, nobody had even mentioned Jaitapur. But after Sarkozy returned home, the project got linked with Jaitapur and government wheels started whirring in Delhi.
The project will have a capacity of 9,900 MW, that is, almost 10,000 MW, the biggest such nuclear installation in this part of the world, and it will cost 20 billion US dollars. These are all notional figures, since the power station has yet to be designed, and, the turbines will be based on a design that has never been used so far, not only in India, but anywhere else in the world. The company that will supply the plant is a French company called Areva, and is owned by a friend of Nicolas Sarkozy. Why the Prime Minister of India has fallen for this deal is a big mystery, since he is supposed to be Mr Clean and may not be involved in final skullduggery common to such large projects that go on and on and are never really completed – just like Enron.
Remember that the design of the proposed plant at Jaitapur has never been tried before, and it is quite possible that the plant may never work. Not a single reactor of the proposed design has been built anywhere. It is not clear who is going to finance the project, whether the French will put up any cash of their own, and, in fact, whether the project will not be abandoned halfway if Sarkozy goes, which he is likely to do after the next poll.
Why is India going in for a design that has never been tried before? Because atomic energy is a highly secretive matter in India, though not in other countries, and is always kept under wraps. Nobody knows who is doing what. Atomic power stations in India cost thrice or four times the budgeted amounts, take decades to build, and seem to be nobody’s responsibility. Most of the reactors so far are of HWR type (Heavy Water Reactors), but the Jaitapur one is going to be of EPR Variety, about which our scientists and engineers know next to nothing. It is unlikely that even the first reactor – there may be as many as eight or ten – will be ready in ten years’ time.
We thus have not only another Enron in the making, but also another KV Thomas. The whole thing is shrouded in my story. Just as nobody knows why Singh & Co were backing Thomas so strongly, nobody also knows why the same gang is backing the French company at Jaitapur. The company has never done any work in India before, just as Enron was totally new to India. It is not as if French companies, or, for that matter, French administration is the last word in financial integrity. A lot of money is going to change hands when the contract is signed, just as it did in the case of Enron. It was Dabhol then; it is Jaitapur now. Let us pray for the people of Jaitapur, just as we are praying for the people of Fukushima!