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Villagers oppose dumpsite near city reservoir

Friday March 18 2005 08:30 IST

CHENNAI: The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB)s move to set up a hazardous waste dumpsite at Gummidipoondi, 15 kms from Poondi, Red Hills and Sholavaram reservoirs, has run into stiff opposition from residents of villages nearby. They fear the dumpsite would jeopardise their land and water resources.

The site, they fear, would also destroy the abundant groundwater potential of the area and its agricultural wealth.

The Rs 40-crore plus landfill-cum-incinerator is being set up on a 60-acre site inside the SIPCOT Industrial Complex at the Export Promotion Industrial Park by Tamil Nadu Waste Management Ltd, a consortium floated by a Hyderabad-based firm, Ramky Enviro Engineers. It will cater to the waste disposal needs of nearly 63 industrial units in Chennai, Kanchipuram and Thiruvallur districts, including MNCs like Ford and Hyundai.

A total of 35,618 tonnes of waste, including 3364 tonnes of solvents, pesticides and organic wastes, will be dumped here every year. It has a capacity of 12,000 tonnes per year.

The TNPCB has drawn flak from environmentalists for rushing through the mandatory public hearing to be held on Thursday without a proper Environmental Impact Assessment, save for a preliminary one made by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) which, while acknowledging the abundant groundwater potential of the area also observes that the proposed facility “may not be located” there.

On Wednesday, the Madras High Court, while hearing a petition filed by Y Krishnamaraju, secretary of the Farmers Association of S R Kandigai village, situated on the periphery of the SIPCOT complex, put a freeze on any orders that may be passed at Friday’s public hearing and also allowed for a second public hearing, if necessary.

The site was first proposed to be set up at Siruseri on Old Mahabalipuram Road and was then shifted to Melakottaiyur near Vandalur where again it fell foul of the villagers. In October last year, the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee on Hazardous Waste asked the TNPCB to scrap the Vandalur site and look at locating the landfills within industrial areas.

Says Y Suresh, president of S R Kandigai panchayat: “Our village with 5,000 people is located within 300 metres of the proposed site. The groundwater here is so abundant that last season, 350 trucks of water were delivered to Chennai every day for six months from here. Now, if a toxic landfill comes up here, leachate from the site will seep into the groundwater. We are prepared to fight till the end to pre-empt that.” The villagers are mostly farmers who grow paddy, ragi and groundnuts.

Environmentalists say even the most secure landfill sites are vulnerable to toxic juice leaches, especially when moisture in the waste or rainwater begins ‘mobilising’ the toxins in the waste. Studies around the world have shown that children born to parents living near landfill sites have low birth-weight and higher rate of birth defects, speech or hearing abnormalities.

Also, since Gummidipoondi is an alternative source of drinking water for Chennai, it is like dumping poison into our drinking water,” says Nithyanand Jayaraman of The Other Media which works on environmental awareness in the SIPCOT area.

“To take waste from industries to the site, 35,000 tonnes of toxic waste will have to be trucked through crowded Chennai roads in Anna Nagar and Villivakkam. An accidental spillage could be disastrous,” he notes.

“Landfills are only one component of a hazardous waste management plan which should also include waste avoidance and pollution prevention. Going in for a landfill straightaway is like taking the last step first and will only aid waste generation by industries. Rather, industries should be mandated to reduce waste,” says Rajesh Rangarajan of Toxics Link, an NGO.

TNPCB officials say the Gummidipoondi site had been identified only because there is no site for industrial waste dumping anywhere in the State. “We have already done a groundwater study and will ensure utmost safety standards, we are also educating nearby villagers,” a senior TNPCB official said.

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