'PM's statement that US NGOs backed Kudankulam misleading'

In what could have a considerable backlash, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Friday held foreign NGOs responsible for the Kudankulam anti-nuke protests in Tamil Nadu.

In an interview to the American journal 'Science', Singh said he suspected the involvement of US-based NGOs in the continuing protests that have stalled the Rs 13,000 crore Indo-Russian project.

"The atomic energy programme has got into difficulties because these NGOs mostly, I think, based in the US, don't appreciate the need for our country to increase energy," Singh said.

Where India is concerned, Singh said, "the thinking segment" of the country's population certainly was supportive of nuclear energy.

The Prime Minister's statement was however strongly denied by the People's Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE), which is spearheading the protests against the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project.

"The Prime Minister's statement is completely misleading and unfounded," said PMANE coordinator SP Udaykumar.

"It is a struggle that has been carried over since the last seven months, and does the PM of the largest democracy think people in his country have no mind of their own?"

Calling it very unfortunate, Udaykumar said it was "unbecoming" of the Prime Minister to make such comments that had no substantial evidences.

Eminent scientist Dr Pushpa Mittra Bhargava also commented on the PM's statement saying it was surprising that the PM believed US will fund NGOs that would oppose nuclear power projects.

On the contrary, Pushpa said US has been the biggest supporter of India's investment in nuclear power so that it can sell its reactors as there is no market for the same in the US.

The backing of Church priests and activists in the protest has set off several rumours that foreign money, especially from Christian NGOs were used in protests against the nuclear project.

Recently, a local Tamil newspaper in an unverified report claimed that Christian NGOs received several crores of rupees from the United States for continuing the protests against the nuclear project.

The report published address, phone numbers and other details of activists and Christian NGOs, provoking readers to harass those involved.

Appalled by the report, PMANE filed complaints with the Press Council of India, Tamil Nadu State Human Rights Commission and the National Human Rights Commission against the newspaper.

Says Udaykumar, "This is a fully people-backed project. No country or NGO outside has funded our protest. We will continue our struggle, and if there are evidences to prove, let it be brought to the public. The government must not divert the issue by not addressing our concerns."

Protests by locals raising concerns over the safety of the plant have delayed the commissioning work of the nuclear plant, which was scheduled for December last year.

The project continues to be stalled despite a series of negotiations between the Central government-appointed expert panel and the protesters.