Indian Express News Service
Salem, Sept 5: The Mettur to Cuddalore anti-PVC padayatra planned by a farmer’s association and a few NGOs was abruptly called off on Monday after dramatic last-minute developments.
Even as the organizations were preparing to begin the padayatra around 4:30 pm, they were informed by the Salem city police that the permission for yatra, which had already been cleared by Madras High Court, was being denied without assigning valid reasons.
Originally the organisations had planned the padayatra from Mettur to Cuddalore, but had been denied permission by the Mettur DSP. However, the Madras High Court on Friday last, partially quashed the DSP order and permitted the yatra from Salem city.
However, the High Court reportedly held on Monday said that the police order will be in force. The order was not sent to Salem City police but to District Police only. The City police thus had acted in violation of the court orders, the activists said.
The padayatra had been proposed by the groups to show solidarity with the people of SIPCOT area in Cuddalore where Chemplast Sanmar has planned to start its Rs. 500 crore PVC manufacturing facility despite severe opposition from the locals and environmental groups.
It was also to create awareness about the environmental risks arising out of the disposal of the hazardous waste from PVC units, and at the same time to urge the government to stop setting up new units and monitoring of existing units.
The West Konnur Farmers Association, one of the organisers of the padayatra, in particular, had first hand experience of such risk, thanks to the “indiscriminate disposal” waste from Chemplast’s Mettur plant.
According to Piyush Sethia, Director SEED, one of the NGOs participating in the campaign, “this is clear case of suppression of democratic rights to highlight an issue concerning public health and safety. The very same powers that had been exploiting the people and environment in Mettur for decades are at work again with the police and Administration support,” he said.
However, Salem SP R. Armugham said that the police had appraised the court that the proposed padayatra had been to target one particular industrial unit and that there was genuine apprehension of law and order problem.
The police, he said, also viewed the campaign anti-labour and anti-government. It was on this ground that the organisations were refused permission for the padayatra.
Meanwhile, the activists are planning to move the High Court on the matter again. “We have not abandoned the campaign. We have only given up the padayatra temporarily,” said another activist.
The move to set up the PVC unit in Cuddalore SIPCOT was stopped after a public hearing conducted in 2002.
An attempt by the company to relocate the project to Andhra Pradesh also fell through as the Pollution Control Board there refused permission.
However the company has obtained a NOC from Tamil Nadu government subsequently and is currently awaiting clearance from the Union Environment Ministry.
Besides Konnur Farmers Associations, the others involved in campaigning are SEED, FEDCOT, Corporate Accountability Desk Chennai, Tamil Nadu Green Movement, Community Environmental Monitoring Group, and Tamil Nadu Environmental Council and Thanthai Periyar Dravida Kazhagam.