Report From Nity: DAY 1, 11:00 pm
The big day today, the tour was flagged off at 11.00 am, though on schedule it was not before we faced our first cycle crisis within 20 meters into the start. We got cycle fixed at Old Town, Cuddalore and carried on. Earlier before the flag off ceremony, at a meeting organized by SIPCOT residents at the town hall various community representatives spoke extensively about the situation in Cuddalore. But S. Ramanathan of SACEM kept it short but ended with a memorable statement “they say that if the country wants to develop the youth need to dream, in SIPCOT youth beg for a good night’s sleep in order to dream”.
Kolathur Mani introduced the people of Mettur at the launch he said that people living next to Chemplast’s PVC factory find life very difficult and that they have come in solidarity to the people of Cuddalore. They have forfeited their daily wages to be with the residents of Cuddalore and join them in the struggle. The representatives from Mettur included Madeshwaran, father of M. Samivel who was exposed to a deadly Chlorine gas leak when he was just 20 days old. The representatives from the West Gonur Farmers Association spoke about the condition of agriculture in Mettur. All wells are polluted in the vicinity of Chemplast and nearly 5000 acres of land has been destroyed. The company does not even have an ambulance for emergencies like their frequent Chlorine gas leaks due to which many residents have been seriously injured and hospitalized. The farmers also said that they have been living with Chemplast for the past 50 years and that it is extremely dishonest in their dealings with the local people.
En route, participants met and spoke to passers by and people at local stalls about the purpose of their journey. They also stopped at all roadside tea stalls and zealously spoke about the problems of SIPCOT Cuddalore and about its relevance to Bhopal.
We passed the SIPCOT chemical complex but since the wind was blowing south to south east we could not experience the characteristic smells of the SIPCOT industries on the East Coast High Road. Despite this there were occasional strong whiffs from Shasun and Tantech, two of the most notorious facilities in the complex. Two smells were the most noticeable, Shasun’s strong detergent like smell and SPIC Pharma’s characteristic shit like smell that shocked people.
Just before lunch-time at Sangolikuppam, Gaana Vijay sang a Tamil Song ‘Narude Narude’ that literally means ‘it stinks it stinks’ for the people waiting for their food, an appropriate parody for the kinds of smells that lingered in the air.
After lunch we set off for the Thyagavalli Panchayat where the local elected representatives who had issued a resolution against Chemplast’s proposal in Cuddalore greeted us. We were also offered refreshments which were local drinks filled into Coke and Sprite bottles, a neat home grown way of defeating the multinationals. We also drank tender coconut water in Thyagavalli and it tasted absolutely fantastic in complete contrast to the tender coconut in SIPCOT. The reason for this according to the locals is the absence of industries in Thyagavalli. Similar experiences have also been felt in Mettur where the groundwater has been heavily contaminated.
From Thyagavalli we headed for Ambedkar Nagar for a brief stop. The ride to Ambedkar Nagar overall was extremely pleasant and breezy except the sun that was pretty harsh during some parts of the day and some of the participants suffered burns.
The next stop was Chitrapettai. The local people here were not informed about the program so we did a door-to-door invitation. Kosu Mani of Tamilnadu Meenavar Munnetra Kazhagam, A. Mani from the West Gonur Farmers Association and Kolathur Mani spoke about the situation in SIPCOT Cuddalore and its proposed future that the government plans to impose on the residents. The scheduled film screening had to be abandoned due to a technical shortcoming, a missing plug. During departure the police at Chitrapettai escorted us to the main road and cautioned us to mind speeding vehicles and asked us to maintain a single file as long as we were on the road.
By now it was dark and 3 cycles had broken down. We somehow dragged them to Puduchatram, our halt for the night. Here the again the local people were not intimated so there were no arrangements for dinner. We all set off in different directions to forage and found joints serving the last few Dosais of the day. We are just back from dinner and it was a long and tiring day but everyone is still up and chatting. We are on the veranda of a large building in Puduchatram where we will spend the night. There is only one toilet for 25 of us and we need to be on the road by 7am tomorrow in order to stick to the schedule.