25 July, 2005. CHENNAI — “Chemplast Sanmar and MALCO have caused irreparable damage to humans and the environment” in Mettur according to the Indian Peoples Tribunal (IPT) Report on the Environmental and Human Rights Violations by Chemplast Sanmar and MALCO Industries at Mettur, Tamilnadu. The IPT panel, headed by Justice (Retd) Akbar B. Kadri of the Madras High Court writes that it “was convinced that there is a serious problem with the way that Chemplast and MALCO are handling highly hazardous processes and their by-products.”
A study submitted by Chennai-based Community Environmental Monitoring on air quality above Chemplasts PVC effluent outfall into Kaveri found 17 toxic chemicals, including ethylene dichloride, vinyl chloride monomer, hydrogen sulphide, carbon tetra chloride and chloroform. Some of these chemicals were upto 32000 times higher than safe levels. Another study by Dr. M. Arunachalam and Dr. M. Muralidharan found that tissue of fish found downstream of Chemplasts effluent discharge point in Kaveri suffered damage characteristic of heavy metal poisoning, particularly mercury.
The IPT, which toured the pollution-impacted villages of Mettur between 29 April and 1 May, 2005, received oral and written testimonies from more than 600 people. During its tour to personally verify allegations of pollution, the panel says it confronted several sobering facts, including:
- The discharge by Chemplast Sanmar of overpoweringly smelly effluents “legally” through a pipeline into the Kaveri.
- The dumping of highly toxic mercury wastes by Chemplast in pits located uphill of several water sources, including the Kaveri.
- MALCOs indiscriminate disposal of toxic Red Mud on the banks of the Stanley Reservoir, and the Governments apathy towards that.
- Several people who had been severely and visibly injured due to occupational incidents or routine occupational exposure to toxins, had received none of the compensation or medical care that is lawfully due to them.
- Neither MALCO nor Chemplast seem to have been penalised for their lapses.
- Chemplast, MALCO and several relevant Government departments, including key regulators, did not attend the Tribunal or clarify our requests.
MALCOs “Red Mud” dump on the banks of the Stanley is a disaster waiting to happen. “It is a pity that we, in Tamilnadu, fight annually for Kaveris water, but welcome it with toxic wastes and red mud upon its entry into our state,” said Justice Kadri. A heavy downpour could wash the entire mountain of toxic red mud into the reservoir, rendering the structure unusable, and contaminating water supplies for hundreds of kilometres.
Most immediately, the company has recommended the provision of clean water to communities by the State at the cost of the Polluter. It has also urged the state to get the polluters to compensate for contaminated lands and groundwater, and to remediate the environment by removing the Chemplast toxic dumps and MALCOs Red Mud.
Responding to numerous complaints of collusion of the police, district authorities and the Tamilnadu Pollution Control Board with the industries, the IPT recommended that the authorities should end their hostility towards villagers, and that police and district officials should receive human rights training.
The Indian Peoples Tribunal on Environment & Human Rights is a peoples court set up to conduct fair and credible investigations into allegations of environmental injustice and human rights violations. Besides Justice Kadri, the Mettur panel consisted of social activist Prof. Fatima Babu from Tuticorin, Mumbai-based occupational health expert Vijay Kanhere and Coimbatore-based Dr. P.A. Azeez.