Monday, December 12, 2011

Koodankulam nuclear plant - here's what some students think

Should then Koodankulam nuclear plant be abandoned? In Tamil Nadu, what do some students think? Well, Nandini Voice for the Deprived, a Chennai-based NGO organised an essay competition for college students in the state. The objective: to provide an opportunity to the students to express their views on the subject and forward their views to the Central and state governments. According to N.S. Venkataraman, who runs the NGO (he had stood for election to the Lok Sabha earlier but was unsuccessful), 112 students participated, with women comprising 65 per cent.

The verdict: 77 per cent of the students said that the Koodankulam plant should be
commissioned, while the rest wanted it abandoned.

The majority who wanted the project to be commissioned felt:

• India has no option other than nuclear power in view of the huge scarcity of coal, fuel oil and natural gas and the latter’s rising international price. While non-conventional energy such as solar and wind power should be utilised to the maximum, they would not be adequate considering the futuristic demand for power in the country

• Given the serious shortage of power in Tamil Nadu, there is great urgency to commission the Koodankulam nuclear plant to avoid production loss of several crores of rupees.

• Many suspicions of the protesting local people such as fisheries getting affected, threat of tsunami and cyclones, radiation effects etc have been pointed out as unfoundeded by senior Indian nuclear scientists, including former President of India, Abdul Kalam. The
• leaders of the protest movement are not listening and the poor innocent people who sit in agitation cannot understand science and technology issues and depend on the leaders of the protest movement for guidance

• There is no justification to doubt the credibility and claims of Indian nuclear scientists who have repeatedly said that they would explain the safety aspects of the project to anybody who approached them. Further, possibility of accidents have not prevented people from traveling by air.

• Many arguments advanced against the project are based on suspicions, av pessimistic view and lack of understanding of the recent technology developments. Further, the leaders of the present movement give an impression that they are sworn opponents of nuclear power . There is certainly a political undertone in the protest movement

• It is unacceptable that religious outfits should take part in such agitations, which essentially concern a matter of science and technology

• Most of the protestors at the site are people from the lower income group who are innocent and who do not have the advantage of a good educational background. Quite a number of them are elderly people living in old age homes or school students and relatives of fishermen . The leaders of the protest movement persuade such people to take part in the protest because of their local contacts and proximity to the local people

The minority felt:
• The local people are the stakeholders and even if the majority of the people in Tamil Nadu woul want the project, it should not be implemented when the local stakeholders object

• Nuclear plant accidents have taken place in the world which cannot be ignored by local people. In the unlikely and unfortunate event of an accident occurring in the Koodankulam area, the consequences would be very severe for the local people

• Human life is more important than the issues of economic and industrial development and such development factors cannot get priority when safety concerns for human beings are prevalent, particularly when local stakeholders are not convinced

• The scientists are not able to communicate with the local people to convince them effectively, may be due to their lack of training in communication skills

• By taking a “silent stand”, the Tamil Nadu Government gives an impression that it favours abandoning the Koodankulam project. Recently, the Chief Minister has not spoken in approval of the project despite the huge controversy it has generated. In the wake of such stand by the Tamil Nadu Government, the Koodankulam project should not be implemented.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Books are magic, says Ken Spillman, author of Advaita, the Writer

When Advaita leaves Delhi for boarding school in Dehrudun, she is lonely and unhappy, even though the school is the best in Asia, even though it is supposed to have a wonderful library. However, the library soon becomes a haven for Advaita as the books more than cover up for her homesickness. One day, she learns that Ruskin Bond, her favourite author, is staying close by. She wonders whether he is the same person, the author whose books she so dearly loves. She also wonders whether she can become her writer one day. Well, all this forms part of a 50-page storybook written by Ken Spillman, who was in Chennai recently to interact with children, something he loves to do.

Spillman, based in Australia, first visited India in 2006 and immediately fell in love with the country. He “soaked everything up and wanted to read and write about it.” He spent hours in the book shops of Khan Market, New Delhi, bought loads of books, read Ruskin Bond, and tried to get a hang of the kind of books that influenced children in India. In 2008, he was invited to the Mussoorie International Writers’ Festival where he met Bond, Ruskin Bond, for the first time. It was there that Spillman met Advaita Kala, a writer, whose book Almost Alone had sold well. They struck a healthy friendship even as she took him to the bookshops in central Mussoorie and got him to savour paan. Advaita had felt lonely while at the Welham School in Dehradun but felt reassured knowing that Ruskin Bond was staying close by.

Yes, Advaita the Writer is Advaita Kala’s story, simply and wonderfully narrated by Spillman for children, encouraging them to read and write. At a workshop conducted by the Spring & Zoom Centre for Literary Arts and Tulika Publishers, Spillman kept emphasising at every point that “books are magic”. To questions from anxious parents, asking him how they could get their children hooked to books, he gave the example of a child’s aunt who took the boy to a large bookstore and left him in the midst of the children’s section while she went away to search for books she wanted for herself. The boy had never shown an interest in reading before, but, left in the middle of all that “magic”, he couldn’t resist picking up a picture book or two and thumbing through the pages. Eventually, the boy grew to become a great lover of books.

Listening to Spillman talking to a group of small children at the Spring & Zoom centre and enthusing them, I was taken back in time – to my days as a schoolboy when I spent most of my spare time reading books. Spillman has now inspired me to find some time to read a book, even if it just be a few pages every day. Thank you, Ken.

For those interested in knowing more about Spillman, log on to

Pictures show Spillman acting out a story, interacting with children while autographing books, and parents (do fathers care at all!) listening to the author.