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Fear in villages over petrochemical project

August 6, 2017

S. Prasad
The Hindu
Protestors against PCPIR project
Up in arms: Delta Water Resources Protection Front and various outfits participating in an agitation against the PCPIR project at Sirkazhi in Nagapattinam district. T.Singaravelou

Activists say government action will badly hit Cuddalore and Nagapattinam, and render the region a wasteland

"We are in no man's land and no one is bothered about us", said 50-year-old K. Sundaramoorthy, a farmer of Vallampadugai in Cuddalore district, where fears are mounting over a Central Government petrochemical project.

"Farmers are already facing difficulties in getting water for irrigation and to sustain our livelihood. We are now in a sad predicament," Mr. Sundaramoorthy said.

The Cauvery delta, which has been in the news for wrong reasons of late such as farmers’ suicides and protests against exploration by Oil and Natural Gas Corporation of India, is gearing up for yet another bout of disturbances.

The Tamil Nadu government had recently delineated land and notified 45 coastal hamlets in Cuddalore and Nagapattinam districts as a Petroleum, Chemicals and Petrochemicals Investment Region (PCPIR).

People and green activists fear the project would render the delta, known till recently as the granary of Tamil Nadu, a wasteland.

Activists said the government should only promote the well-being of the farmers and should not be the source of deprivation.

With agriculture already in doldrums and farmers living in perilous conditions, the government’s proposal for petroleum project would soon turn our fertile land into a desert, they said.

While green activists who have been campaigning against the project based on past experiences from the Cuddalore SIPCOT, the locals seem to completely unaware of the project.

According to a factsheet prepared by the Community Environmental Monitors, the Ministry of Chemicals and Petrochemicals has said that the project would bring development in the region by providing employment. However, the Ministry has not revealed any other details to the public so far.

"The impact of PCPIR will be felt much further than these 45 villages. People living in villages close to the new industrial units may find groundwater level dropping dramatically and that groundwater getting polluted by industrial waste," said Shweta Narayan, co-ordinator of Community Environmental Monitors. This had been the experience of people living in villages close to the SIPCOT Cuddalore, she said.

Most of the projects coming up in the PCPIR need access to sea water and would adversely affect the marine life and mangroves. Continuous discharge of effluents into the Uppanar River had already affected the marine life.

In the mid-1980s there were 32 varieties of fish in the river. Now there were about 14 varieties, Ms. Narayan added.

According to M. Vetrichelvan, advocate and member of Poovulagin Nanbargal, the State government in January last year proposed to declare the delineation of areas covering 45 villages for the PCPIR.

However, it went ahead and confirmed the notification in the Gazette in June this year without ascertaining the views of the locals.

'No consultation'

The government had also failed to publish the notification in Tamil or as advertisements in newspapers, thereby not providing an opportunity to the villagers to make any objections or suggestions. The project would also result in serious food security implications, he said.

Dubbing the PCPIR proposal as anti-people, P. Anguthan, a DMK functionary of Sirkazhi wondered how a project opposed by the public in various states was sought to be imposed by the Centre on the people of Cuddalore and Nagapattinam districts.

"How can this be permissible in a democratic set up? The government itself is waging a war on its people through this ill-conceived project. The proposal rejected by the States of West Bengal, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh is now being implemented in Tamil Nadu. The government should realise the serious implications of this project which is more dangerous than the hydrocarbon scheme," he said.

C. Dasarathan, a resident of Madhanam in Sirkazhi block said that most of the locals were unaware of what was going on here.

"We came to know about the government notification only a week ago declaring 45 villages in Cuddalore and Nagapattinam districts for a major project. So far no official has visited or briefed us about the proposal."

"A number of villages in Nagapattinam district are already bearing the brunt of the hydrocarbon project implemented by ONGC. We fear that this project will bring in a devastating effect on the livelihood of the coastal communities," he said.

Shocking announcement

S. Killai Ravindran, president of Delta Water Resources Protection Front said the announcement had come as a bolt from the blue for residents of Cuddalore and Nagapattinam districts.

The project would in no way benefit the villagers and this was an attempt by the Centre and State governments to convert highly fertile land in the delta region into a desert zone.

"We will oppose the project tooth and nail and any land acquisition process in any of these villages should be dropped forthwith. If necessary, we will launch a vigorous agitation against the government in all the coastal hamlets," he said.

While the project proposed land acquisition in 10 villages in Cuddalore taluk and 15 villages in Chidambaram taluk, the actual impact of PCPIR might extend well beyond these earmarked villages.

"The National Environmental Engineering Research Institute conducted a study in the SIPCOT area and submitted a report as far back as in 2007 stating that pollution had reached saturated level to the extent of causing cancer.

"According to the report, residents of several villages near the SIPCOT industrial estate were exposed to high levels of 22 volatile organic compounds, including eight cancer causing ones, mostly released by factories on the complex.

"Yet, no tangible measures were taken to mitigate the problem," said T. Arul Selvan of SIPCOT Area Community Environmental Monitors (SACEM).

The government itself is waging a war on its people through this ill-conceived project
Anguthan
DMK functionary

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