05 Sep 2005
Chennai: About 500 villagers and activists in Tamil Nadu Monday began a 300 km walk rallying people in support of a call to prevent the setting up of a plastics factory that they say will cause pollution and ill health.
The activists of the eight-day walk from the Mettur region to Cuddalore, 400 km south of Chennai, are protesting a polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plant being set up by privately-owned Chemplast Sanmar at Cuddalore.
Protestors say, the 140,000-tonnes per annum capacity plant being set up in the State Industries Promotion Corporation Of Tamilnadu (SIPCOT) Industrial Estate will consume groundwater at the rate of 120,000 litres per hour and use a highly explosive raw material, Vinyl Chloride Monomer (VCM), which is also known to cause cancer.
As police denied the protestors permission to begin their march from Mettur, 500 km west of Chennai (where the Cauvery river has been dammed on the Tamil Nadu side), the protestors began their march from neighbouring Salem town.
The existing Chemplast factories in Mettur have laid waste more than 2,000 acres of agricultural land, polluted groundwater with toxic chemicals, and contributed to widespread ill-health among its workers and communities.
“We have been poisoned by Chemplast for the past 50 years and we do not want anybody else to experience a similar fate,” said a protestor.
“We emphathise with the people of Cuddalore who have also been at the receiving end of pollution.”
“Since the government doesn’t care and will not warn them, we’ve decided to take to Cuddalore the story of how Chemplast has treated us, our lands and water,” a representative of West Konur Farmers Welfare Organisation, the lead organiser said.
In early 2005, the Tamil Nadu government had cleared Chemplast’s proposal for a PVC factory in Cuddalore despite the fact that the plant had failed to get approval twice from Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh states in the last three years.
“The government’s clearance is highly irregular, especially given that they have chosen to clear a twice-rejected project based on 1999 submissions and without public consultation,” one among the protestors said Monday.
“The location of the proposed project is in close proximity to the Pandian Chemicals that manufactures rocket fuel, thus jeopardising the safety of the entire zone in the event of an accident,” he said.
An air sample taken above Chemplast’s Mettur factory effluent that pours into the Cauveri river revealed high levels of cancer-causing chemicals, including ethylene dichloride (a known carcinogen) at 32,000 times above safe levels, they said.
“The participants of the walk will reach out to other pollution impacted communities en route and highlight the inability of the government in protecting the lives and environment of the people,” said Shewta Narayan of SIPCOT Area Community Environmental Monitors.
Activists say the Chemplast proposal sounds the death knell for Cuddalore’s villages that are already reeling under the effects of pollution caused by the existing industries.
Among the organisations supporting the walk are, West Konnur Farmers Welfare Association, SIPCOT Area Community Environmental Monitors, Tamilnadu Green Movement, Tamilnadu Environment Council and the Corporate Accountability Desk.