1. Paucity of power
There is simply not enough power being generated in the state. Do the arithmetic. The state needs around 11,500 MW, but is able to come up with only around 7,500 MW.
To address the short fall, authorities have opted for load shedding, amounting to two hours daily in the state capital Chennai, and anywhere between 12 and 14 hours in the districts. Being cash strapped as well, which makes it difficult to buy power from elsewhere at competitive rates, the authorities also raised the power tariff, leaving the common man fuming.
Without adequate power, cost overruns are huge and profit margins down for the business community. Some estimates peg the daily loss to industrial units in places like Thiruppur and Coimbatore at Rs 100 crore. A combination of poor execution and unexpected problems spanning years are the reasons for such a sorry state of affairs. For ten years, between 2001 and 2011, the state added a mere 483 MW to its capacity generation, although the demand ranged between 6000 MW and 11,000 MW in that window .
Power projects announced by successive governments have stumbled at the blocks, for one reason or the other. Ditto centrally green signalled ones like the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project. Since the southern regional power grid will be interconnected with other regions only by 2014, 'shopping' from other regions is not an easy solution either. Officials are now hoping that thermal power plants at Vallur and Mettur will commence production soon and dispel some of the gloom.
2. Protest against the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project
Despite the dismal power situation in the State, 2012 saw the anti nuclear power community in Tamil Nadu ramping up its protest to the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project, in Tamil Nadu’s Tirunelveli district.
Envisioned in 1988, work on it began only in 2001, with a projected cost of over Rs 13,000 crore. Work began on two reactors, with a capacity of 1000MW each, but faced unprecedented protests from activists that took shape in many different ways, including filing of a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the courts, hunger strike, protest march and courting arrest. The world anti-nuke community took note, and quite a few foreigners had to be turned away from interacting with local protestors.
Coming under the umbrella of The People's Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE) predominantly comprising the fishing community in Idinthakarai, the anti nuclear energy activists mounted unrelenting pressure on the project through 2012. The protest gained momentum after the March 2011 disaster at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant in Japan, triggered by an earthquake and tsunami.
The state government asked the Centre to hit the pause button on the work, until the fears of the activists could be allayed. Specifically, the activists say that there are over a million people in the 30-km radius of the plant, and timely evacuation of the same in the event of a Fukushima-like disaster may not be possible. The protests had a national impact with the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh saying the protestors were being funded by foreign NGOs.
A lot of parleys were held, the scientific community, including former President APJ Kalam, spoke in favour of the nuclear plant and assured the protestors that the safety aspects at the plant were top of the line. In March the state government gave the green signal for the work to resume, and the project was once more on firm ground. Finally, in September, loading of the uranium fuel in one of the two reactors commenced. It is expected to go critical (the fission process) by early January.
3. Cauvery River water
Every time the monsoon fails, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka get into a dispute over the quantum of water that Karnataka will release to Tamil Nadu. For over a century now both states have been sharing the Cauvery river water, and disagreeing over the allocation often.
With the South West Monsoon playing truant this year, it was deja vu once again, with Karnataka refusing to part with the water, and Tamil Nadu had to repeatedly approach the Supreme Court to force Karnataka to release the agreed quantum of water. In September, Tamil Nadu ensured that the Prime Minister helmed the Cauvery River Authoirty (CRA) .
The last time the prime minister chaired such a meet was a decade ago. The CRA directed Karnataka to release 9000 cuses water at once, but it chose to file a review; Again, of the 30 tmc ft of water sought by Tamil Nadu in December, Karnataka has released around 7 tmc ft. At stake now is Tamil Nadu’s samba crop, and with the water in the Mettur Dam which helps irrigate the area under cultivation down to almost a fourth of its capacity , it could be touch and go for the farmers.
Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa has once again asked Dr Singh to fast track the notification of the final order of the Cauvery Water Disputes’ tribunal, which was given in February 2007. Meanwhile farmers are hoping for timely intervention.
4. Land Grab cases
Early 2012 saw the top rung leaders of the DMK hauled up in land grab cases. From former deputy chief minister MK Stalin to Parithi Ilamvazhuthi, the latest to be accused of land grab, many former DMK ministers were kept busy in 2012, fighting a legal battle to either stay out or come out of jail.
Delivering on her election manifesto, of cracking down on land grabbers who used their political muscle to divest the common man of his rightful property, Chief Minister Jayalalithaa had announced the formation of anti land grab cells for each district, with dedicated policemen, as well as separate fast track courts to handle these cases.
Chennai alone witnessed close to 170 cases being registered. DMK chief M Karunanidhi cried foul, and claimed that it was nothing but political witch hunting.
Remember the Dengue Lakshmi character in Rajinikanth's Enthiran? And how the sight of that mountainous garbage heap brought home to us the fact that mosquitoes are our daily bane? Well, in 2012, dengue was very much a high flier. According to statistics, Tamil Nadu topped the table recording over 5,300 dengue cases. Last year, the number of cases was less than half this number.
Controlling the pests is clearly as a big a challenge for the authorities as finding enough dumping grounds for holistic disposal of the tonnes of garbage the state generates.
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Bhama Devi Ravi is a Chennai based journalist