28 January, 2005
On 31 January, 2005, the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee (SCMC) is slotted to visit Cuddalore. In September, the SCMC directed the Tamilnadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) to bring air toxics emissions from the Cuddalore industries under USEPA levels by December 31, 2004, or close all errant industries. The SCMC’s direction was based on the findings of the report “Gas Trouble” released by the SIPCOT Area Community Environmental Monitors. The TNPCB constituted a Technical Committee to operationalise the SCMC directions. Subsequently, it requested an extension until June 30, 2005.
Till date, there have been two meetings with the SIPCOT industries — one in September, and the other on January 28, 2005.
KEY POINTS OF DISCUSSION OF INDUSTRY MEETING
The following people were present at the meeting:
M. Nizamudeen, FEDCOT
Mr. Thirunavukarasu, FEDCOT
Mr. Nityanand Jayaraman, Researcher
Mr. S. Pugazhenthi, SACEM, Sangolikuppam
Mr. S. Ramanathan, SACEM, Semmankuppam
Mr. G.K. Amrithalingam, SACEM, Eachangadu
Mr. T. Arulselvam, SACEM, Cuddalore
Mr. Parasuraman, SACEM, Semmankuppam
Mr. S. Sivashankar, SACEM, Semmankuppam
and industry representatives from TANFAC, SIPCOT Industries Association, Tagros Chemicals, Shasun Drugs and Chemicals, Asian Paints, JK Pharma, SPIC Pharma.
The industry representatives made the following observations:
- The industry has been making continual improvements to their environmental performance. The situation today is far better than the situation five to 10 years ago.
- The industry is interested in moving towards clean production, and is keen to solicit the cooperation of the SACEM.
- The industry is keen to work together with FEDCOT, SACEM and other environmental groups engaged in efforts to clean-up SIPCOT.
- The industry is interested in making SIPCOT Cuddalore a model SIPCOT in terms of environmental performance.
- The industry is interested in knowing how to improve its environmental performance.
- The industry said it is not possible to always report workplace injuries and accidents to the authorities, because the victims often demand immediate compensation. However, the industry said it will report all future accidents and work towards legal resolution of workplace incidents involving injury or death of workers.
- The industry feels that India is as yet under-industrialised and remains an agrarian economy. This, according to the industry, needs to be changed in the interests of moving India towards developed-country status.
- Given the growing competition in the globalised scenario, the industry is under pressure to retain margins and implement environmental improvements. Nonetheless, it is committed to doing this.
- The industry will strive towards greater transparency and a cooperative approach in dealing with environmental issues.
SACEM members and supporters made the following clarifications:
- Industrialisation is not the only engine of growth and progress. Strategic focus on the agrarian, fisheries and other natural-resource based sectors could also result in appropriate gains in improving the quality of life for the people of India.
- Growth and progress cannot come at the cost of environment.
- No individual or community can be asked to sacrifice their quality of life or health for the sake of industrialisation or the nation’s progress.
- The industry’s claims of making continual improvements cannot be taken at face value in the absence of any time-trend data demonstrating qualitative and quantitative improvements in environmental performance over the last decade. However, establishing a baseline in 2005 would help in monitoring the progress of industries over the coming years.
- SACEM and its supporters are not interested in a witch-hunt of the industries, or in shutting down existing industries. SACEM extends its support to the workers in the industry, and realises that closure of industries will not affect the lifestyles of factory owners, but will devastate the lives of workers. Therefore, SACEM will work towards ensuring that existing industries in SIPCOT provide a safe work environment for workers, and a healthy living environment for neighboring communities.
- SACEM indicated that it will remain opposed to the expansion of polluting industries or the setting up of new polluting industries, and will work to thwart such plans.
- SACEM and its supporters feel that it is too early to talk of working together with the industry given the mutual distrust, and the lack of transparency. However, this meeting should be treated as a first meeting to understand each other’s positions and concerns, and lay out the guidelines for mutual trust-building.
- SACEM pointed out that it will continue to monitor and report violations to the industry and the regulators, and would like to resolve issues legally rather than through negotiations between SACEM, regulators and industries.
- SACEM pointed out that the industries should report all occupational injuries despite the challenges they may face in terms of resistance by the victims. It also pointed out that compensation for industrial accident victims should be as per legally laid out procedures, and not via negotiated settlements. It was pointed out that Pandian Chemicals — a new plant currently under construction — runs a highly unsafe workplace. Already two construction workers have been injured during construction. SACEM requested the SIPCOT Industries’ intervention in ensuring that the workplace accidents at Pandian Chemicals are reported to the authorities.
- SACEM requested CUSECS to share effluent analyses information periodically with the community and other members as a step in underscoring the industry’s commitment to greater transparency. The industry has offered to comply.
- SACEM pointed to the need for deploying clean production interventions in the industry, particularly in the areas of solvent recovery, solvent substitution, and time-bound programs of toxicity and toxic waste reduction.