Cuddalore, 17 September 2006: About 800 villagers, mostly women from SIPCOT villages, organized a salai marial (road blockade) of the National Highway passing through the industrial estate, less than a day after learning that the Tamilnadu Pollution Control Board had issued “Consent for Establish” to Chemplast Sanmar to set up a 140,000 tons per annum PVC factory in SIPCOT. Residents of Sangolikuppam, Semmankuppam, Vairamkuppam, Sonanchavadi, Chitrapettai and Nochikadu blocked the national highway demanding that the proposal to set up the PVC plant be abandoned immediately. They alleged that the TNPCB had caved in to political pressure and granted consent without giving villagers an opportunity to present their concerns. They said the TNPCB had granted the consent even before its own conditions had been fulfilled.
“The turnout of villagers was substantial despite intense mobilisation the previous night by Chemplast’s agents who went around to each household asking, threatening and discouraging people from joining the action,” said Vijay Kumar, a retired military man from Sangolikuppam who was one of the organisers of the blockade.
Around 30 police personnel including women cops and the village Tahsildar arrived on the scene to get the situation under control. Villagers who addressed the crowd during the action said they would not allow Chemplast to come up, and warned co-villagers against believing company’s promises for jobs. “Jobs are only for engineers. How many engineers do you have in your village? In return for your health and environment, you’ll be lucky if you get a coolie’s job,” said one speaker.
The villagers dispersed peacefully only after the Inspector of Police for Cuddalore OT police station assured them that no construction would be permitted until villagers met the District Collector on 19th September.
Since 2001, when the project was first mooted, SIPCOT residents have opposed the setting up of a PVC factory in Semmankuppam. In July 2003, the Indian People’s Tribunal headed by Justice (Retd) J. Kanakaraj of the Madras High Court recommended against the setting up of any new polluting industries in SIPCOT. The panel specifically warned against setting up the PVC factory considering that PVC is a poison plastic whose production, usage and disposal are associated with the release of deadly environmental poisons.
Rejected by Cuddalore residents, Chemplast shifted its proposal to Krishnapatnam in coastal Andhra Pradesh. However, villagers and fisherfolk in Krishnapatnam gathered in massive numbers and opposed the proposal at a public hearing organised by the district authorities. Owing to public pressure, the Andhra Pradesh Pollution Control Board did not grant consent. In 2005, the company modified the proposal and added new components including a desalination plant and re-submitted the proposal to the Tamilnadu Pollution Control Board.
Villagers complain that the company manages to secure appointments with TNPCB and even Ministers with ease to get its job done. They say that numerous petitions by villagers to the District Collector and the TNPCB regarding the existing pollution and requesting that no further pollution be added have been ignored by the officials.
Villagers have said that they will continue their peaceful agitation against the company until the proposal is dropped, and will also take up this issue in the upcoming local body elections.