Mettur, 1 February, 2010 — An illegal coal yard, set up without the statutory Consent to Establish by Chemplast Sanmar, is now the cause of coal dust pollution in the residential area surrounding the yard, according to Mettur Padhukaappu Iyakkam (Mettur Protection Organisation) Thangamapuripatnam branch. Thirty-two residents, including 22 women from Greenpark, a residential layout in Thangamapuripatnam today visited the Tamilnadu Pollution Control Board’s Salem office to meet the District Environmental Engineer. Residents left after handing over a petition upon learning that the DEE was on leave. The residents complained that the DEE has consistently avoided meeting them on the matter of coal dust pollution since mid-December when the illegal coal yard began operating. Further enquiries regarding the veracity of the DEE’s “leave” revealed that the DEE had no official leave on the day of the visit.
The Assistant Environmental Engineer Mr. Manimaran, however, visited the affected areas when he was on visit to investigate a gas leak from Chemplast on 30 January.
Chemplast has constructed a controversial and illegal coal fired thermal power plant without conducting an Environmental Impact Assessment or declaring to the authorities that the coal yard is an integral part of the power plant. Despite a Tamilnadu Government Order prohibiting the setting up of polluting facilities (including coal yards) on the banks of the River Kaveri, a passive and amenable Pollution Control Board has emboldened Chemplast to set up the coal yard without any permission from the regulatory body. Late last year, the coal yard was granted a Consent to Operate by the Board despite the fact that the plant itself does not have the mandatory consent to be constructed. A TNPCB official speaking on condition of anonymity confirmed that the Air and Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Acts do not have any provisions for granting operating licenses to facilities constructed illegally and without the Consent to Establish.
Greenpark residents, whose houses and community spaces, are less than 50 feet from Chemplast’s coal yard say their life has been hell since the coal yard began operating in December. “First it was mild. There was some coal dust. Now they have begun in full swing. The unloaded coal is transferred to tipper trucks using earth movers. The amount of noise and dust generated during these operations is incredible. Often, these operations happen at night disturbing our sleep,” said Ganesan, a local resident and a member of the local branch of the Mettur Padhukappu Iyakkam.
Residents are very concerned that the dust pollution will hurt them. “A Balwadi school where three to five year olds go is right near the coal yard and is being invaded by coal dust. We can’t walk without our feet being caked by coal dust. There is coal dust on every possible surface, on the water or food stored in containers. We can’t put out our washing because within minutes the clothes are black in colour,” Ganesan said.
Mettur Padhukappu Iyakkam has said that Chemplast’s coal yard is also affecting the business of vendors who set up shop at the weekly Sunday fair. The TNPCB has come in for intense criticism. “The Tamilnadu Pollution Control Board is a corrupt and spineless body. What protection can we expect from a Board that has ignored the illegal construction and given it a license to operate?” said one resident.