12 February 2007
“They say they will bring jobs, but they bring new diseases”
CHENNAI: “It is the community, the people, who really know the impact of industrial pollution,” said G.K. Amirthalingam, a SIPCOT area community environmental monitor from Cuddalore. Accompanied by a group of 15 young people from Mettur and Chennai, he completed a coastal cycle tour highlighting Cuddalore’s woes, at the Elliots Beach on Sunday evening.
The factories in the SIPCOT industrial estate had polluted the groundwater, forcing residents to go a long distance for their drinking water, he claimed. Now, with the Government planning many new industrial activities, Mr. Amirthalingam said the community was up in arms. “They say they will bring new jobs, but all they bring is new diseases,” he said, pointing out that cholera, tuberculosis and asthma were now rampant in the region.
As the cyclists wound their way down the Beach road, pedalling slowly after the 150 km ride from Tindivanam, it wasn’t the bright yellow headbands and flags or the energetic thappattam dancers leading the rally that attracted attention. But the small group in wheelchairs who joined the procession at Besant Nagar simply saw themselves as part of the wider community. “We are here for the same reason everyone else is … we want them to stop the pollution,” said Lakshmiprabha, a Class XII open school student at Vidya Sagar.
The procession finally ended at the temple square of Urur Kuppam where the Gana Viji cultural troupe presented a street play depicting the effects of pollution in Cuddalore. As they portrayed the almost comical horror of Cuddalore fishermen faced with dead and deformed fish affected by industrial effluents, there was sympathetic laughter from the crowd gathered in the square. After all, Urur Kuppam is also a fishing community.
“This is not a story peculiar to Cuddalore. In every stop along our way, people immediately relate to it and tell us their own stories. Everywhere, the fisherfolk have lost control of the coast. Everyone else, from five star hotels to bottled water plants, seems to have taken over their rights,” said Nityanand Jayaraman, one of the organisers of the tour.