MUMBAI — Indian police opened fire on hundreds of protesters -- killing one -- at a demonstration against the proposed construction of a nuclear power station, police and the government said Monday.
Maharashtra Police inspector general Gulabrao Pol said officers were left with little choice but to fire on the crowd near the site in Jaitapur, about 250 miles (400 kilometres) from the state capital Mumbai.
"We had done everything to control the situation but the mob consisting of hundreds of people took law and order into their hands," he was quoted as saying by the domestic Press Trust of India news agency.
"Our men threw teargas shells, lathi-charged the mob (charged with bamboo sticks) and fired rubber bullets. Later, we had no option but to fire bullets in which one person was killed."
Pol said more than 20 people were arrested following the demonstration and eight police officers were injured when stones were thrown and a local police station was set on fire.
Maharashtra's home minister R.R. Patil told the state assembly that 600 to 700 people were involved in the protest and some of the demonstrators were suspected of being armed.
Opposition parties forced an adjournment after demanding a full inquiry, PTI added.
Since the nuclear crisis in Japan, protests have been building in Jaitapur over the proposed 9,900 megawatt, six-reactor facility, which will be constructed with technical help from the French energy giant Areva.
Environmental campaigners say the location is prone to earthquakes while local people who are dependent on fishing and farming say the plant will rob them of their livelihoods and nuclear waste could pollute the soil and sea.
Locals have also rejected a compensation package for their land as derisory.
On Friday, India's environment minister Jairam Ramesh insisted that there would be no rethink on the plant but admitted that greater safety measures may be required to help deal with any possible emergencies.
Nuclear industry insiders have cast doubt on India's ability to deal with a disaster on the scale of that at Fukushima after the devastating earthquake and tsunami last month.
Karuna Raina, nuclear and energy campaigner at Greenpeace India, condemned the police action Monday as "shameful" and said local people were only exercising their right to legitimate protest.
"People?s right to protest is being crushed ruthlessly. In a democratic country people have right to protest and government is mowing down people since it does not like what they are saying," she said in an emailed statement.
Energy-hungry India currently sources three percent of its electricity from nuclear power but the government wants to increase that to six percent by the end of the decade and 13 percent by 2030.
Anti-nuclear activists were planning further protests this weekend in Maharahstra to demand that the Jaitapur and other nuclear power plant schemes be scrapped, PTI reported.
Instead, the campaigners want greater investment in renewable power sources, which currently accounts for about 10 percent of India's energy mix, most of it from wind.
The local hardline Hindu nationalist Shiv Sena party has called for a shut-down in the Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra where Jaitapur is situated to protest against the police action.
Copyright © 2013 AFP. All rights reserved. More »