August 23, 2010
A public hearing on the proposal to set up a distillery unit in Vadasery took a violent turn as rival groups clashed with each other on April 9.
Thousands of residents had gathered outside the Kings India Chemicals Corporation (allegedly owned by T R B Rajkumar, son of former Union minister T R Baalu) to voice their protest against the Baalu family setting up the unit nearby. The hearing, presided over by the district collector, was organised by the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board.
While the situation had been tense since morning following rumours that Baalu had brought several supporters to “infiltrate” the public hearing, things got out of hand when two villagers were attacked with knives and rods allegedly by the henchmen of the ex-minister.
The police resorted to lathicharge, leaving dozens of villagers injured. In turn, the public hurled stones.
And that was, as the saying goes, the last straw. They filed a writ of mandamus at the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court. They contended that the proposed distillery would affect over 5,000 acres of cultivable lands due to pollution of the water table. They argued that the public hearing was an eyewash. They were not allowed to register genuine grievances, they said.
Admitting the petition, the bench granted an interim stay. When the case was transferred to Chennai, a two-member bench of the Madras High Court directed the Ministry of Environment and Forests to take cognisance of the perceived environmental threat.
The issue has been sticking out like a sore thumb since September 2009, when the panchayat surreptitiously issued the NoC to the project. Agitations, including the one in front of the Orathanad taluk office, were organised to discourage the move.
This region of Thanjavur district is not fed by the Cauvery channels and the farmers are solely dependent on filter points. The water table has already dropped to less than 300 feet. If effluents too are let out from the factory, it would affect even the crop pattern, villagers pointed out.