Tuticurin (AsiaNews) - "The Kudankulam nuclear station (Tamil Nadu) is a question of life and death for the entire population," Mgr Yvon Ambroise, bishop of Tuticurin, said. Critical of the government's silence with regards to the Kudankulam nuclear plant, he warns that the latter might damage the environment and man. In an interview with AsiaNews, the prelate said that the Church is in leading the defence of the rights of the local population irrespective of religion, ethnicity and social status.
An agreement to build the Russian-designed nuclear power plant was reached in 1988 but construction did not begin until 1997 because of delays in supplies and grassroots opposition.
On 11 September 2011, 127 people from the village of Idinthakarai began a hunger strike in protest. After 12 days, they stopped when Chief Minister J. Jayalitha pledged to stop the project, which he did not do.
Here is the interview with Mgr Yvon Ambroise
Your Excellency, what is situation near the Kudankulam nuclear power station?
About 50,000 people are taking part in a revolving fast at the plant entrance since 11 August 2011. For the local population, Kudankulam plant has become a question of survival even though the government is going ahead with its construction and is endangering the lives of thousands of people and the environment.
Does the Church share the reasons for the protest?
Yes, it does. My priest, religious and all local Church authorities back the population whose lives are at risk because of the plant. But local residents are leading the protest. We have joined them because we live and work for them without distinctions of religion, culture, caste or language.
Following demonstrations, state officials "tormented" Church officials freezing foreign donations on the basis of the 2010 Foreign Contribution Regulation Act. They accuse me of fomenting the protest, something which I have always denied.
Why does government insist that the plant is safe?
For many years, the authorities have lied on the issue claiming the plant is not dangerous to the population. We asked for more information on the real nature and safety of the plant, but have not received any answer. All this is ridiculous. The government is not interested in people's lives. They use repressive methods to silence the poor and will not budge from pursuing construction.
Do other bishops in Tamil Nadu back your cause?
So far, they have issued two pastoral letters against the plant's construction. The authorities should understand the dangers for the population and be aware that people's lives and future depend on the presence of this nuclear power station. They authorities must find alternative energy solutions to atomic power.
What is your idea of economic development?
Growth and development are necessary, but not at the cost of human lives. People should be at the centre of economic programmes, not have them forced upon them.
The nuclear energy that will be generated in Kudankulan will hurt the poor and the environment. The power station began with the wrong ideas of some politicians, who view it as the only path for the area's economic development. Perhaps they do not understand the real meaning of development.
What can be done to improve the lives of the poor and marginalised in India?
We must first analyse the social contexts in which the poor live and plan development programmes starting from their needs. This way, development policies can focus on the marginalised.
When the Church studies the situation in areas with high levels of poverty, our work and that of those who support us is completely in the service of the population.
The type of development promoted by the Indian government is that of the companies that operate in the state out of self-interest without consideration for people's lives.
Those who work for the people and follow the ideals of the Catholic Church must be trained and work on the basis of the teachings of the Gospel, with dedication, optimism and love for the poor.