CHENNAI, 16 December, 2006 — SIPCOT Cuddalore is another Bhopal in the making because the conditions that led to the 1984 Bhopal disaster are very visible even in SIPCOT, said Satinath Sarangi, a prominent member of the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal, and managing trustee of Sambhavna Clinic which provides free medical treatment to gas victim. Mr. Sarangi was keynote speaker at a meeting organized by Community Environmental Monitoring at Madras Institute of Development Studies titled “Ongoing Human Rights Violations in Cuddalore.” Outlining the conditions, Mr. Sarangi said the Bhopal disaster happened because a hazardous unit was located in a residential area populated by working class people who were politically and socially disadvantaged. Another symptom that indicates a high likelihood of dangerous pollution is where the Government or regulators ignore community and worker complaints, and pay little heed to pollution incidents.
Prof. S. Ramachandran, Vice-chancellor Madras University, presided over the meeting, and accepted the first copy of a report titled “Why Cuddalore is Another Bhopal: An Analysis of Environmental, Safety and Regulatory Infrastructure in SIPCOT Chemical Complex.” The report documents a total of 72 environmental and legal violations in a 26 month period between October 2004 and November 2006, involving 12 injured workers and 5 persons who lost their lives. The report confirms that there is a major hazardous incident or legal violation every two weeks in SIPCOT, Cuddalore. If serious incidents of bad chemical odour are taken into account, the average increases to 75 hazardous incidents every month.
The report finds the response of regulatory authorities – notably, the Tamilnadu Pollution Control Board and the Inspector of Factories – to be dismal. “Out of 72 incidents, complains were sent on 70 occasions, whereas action has been taken only in 14 instances. Of these 14, in three instances, the action was so delayed as to make it irrelevant.” Community members who lodged the complaint were contacted by the regulatory agency only in 7 cases of 70.
“Beware! Governments will assure you that all precautions will be taken. Companies will promise jobs and zero discharge. In the long-term, you’ll only have disease — no clean water, no hospitals, no jobs, no justice — just like the Bhopalis”, he said. “Don’t allow polluting industries such as the PVC factory or the oil refinery unless you’re prepared to struggle like we have been forced to for 20 or 30 years.”
Chemplast Sanmar’s PVC plastic factory that will handle thousands of tons of highly explosive vinyl chloride monomer is being located right next to a factory manufacturing rocket fuel for India’s space research facility. The factories are barely 200 metres from residential areas. Till date no information has been released on the extent of potential damage in the event of a disaster. Representatives from West Gonur Farmers Welfare Association said that several thousand acres of fertile farmland and several hundred wells were laid waste by pollution from Chemplast’s PVC and chemicals factories in Mettur. A representative of Manali Youth Exnora spoke about how the petrochemical refinery and thermal power plant in Ennore-Manali has deprived people of their livelihoods, and impoverished local communities rather than improve the economy. Mr. Sundaram, a farmer from Sirumugai, condemned the move to locate textile dyeing units in Cuddalore’s farmlands, and recounted the experience of Bhavani basin farmers who saw their lands degrade as a result of surface and groundwater pollution by textile units.
Fisherfolk representatives from South Indian Fisher Welfare Association, Tamilnadu Fisherfolk Development Organisation and Fishermen Liberation Movement pledged their support to Cuddalore fisherfolk who recently issued a resolution against the PVC factory and other polluting industries in Cuddalore.
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