– As reported by Nityanand Jayaraman
The day started as usual, two cycles broke down and had to be loaded onto the car and sent to Semankuppam village for repairs. The trip to Semankuppam was excellent we were in time for pamphleteering, it was morning time and people were either at the bus stop leaving for work or having their morning tea.
Murali and Madesh from Mettur were on a pamphleteering spree and were risking their lives to make sure everyone in sight got one. Murali’s mother Dhanabagyam is an ex-worker of the Chemplast factory in Mettur and is suffering from uterine cancer and has had absolutely no help from the company. Madesh’s son Samivel was exposed to a deadly chlorine gas leak when he was just 20 days old, now he has to depend on a high dose of medication for the rest of his life.
After breakfast at Pudiyankuppam we passed by the Chemplast site where construction was on at full swing. We had to take a bathroom break on the site to honor all the people who had made Chemplast a reality in Cuddalore. We were 3 kms from SPIC Pharma and we could already smell its characteristic shit odour so we decided to travel to the source of the smell which brought us to Eachangadu where SPIC is situated. The odour in the village was intense but the monitors suggested that we go behind the SPIC factory and we were in for a really nasty surprise. The smell here was so intense that all of us began gasping for air. The SIPCOT monitors have a system of rating these odours on a scale of 1 to 10 based on their intensity. We gave the odour an 8 but the monitors said that it was a mere 5 on the stink scale, an 8 would be much worse than this.
Meeting with the MLA
At 12:15 we headed for the town to meet with the local MLA Iyyappan at 12:45pm. The wind was gusty and against us but we had to cycle like crazy to make it in time for the meeting. The meeting with the MLA was really explosive. Madesh from Mettur spoke about Chemplast and its impact on Mettur’s agriculture, water and economy all of which are now destroyed. After a patient hearing the MLA began with his spiel and said “the company claims that all these allegations are motivated and untrue, there are so many engineers working in this company and going on offensive against just one company is not the right way to go about things, the government will never do anything wrong for its people. You people should be engaged in more constructive environmental protection activities like planting trees”.
We were not to give up that easy if this is what Mr. MLA had to say so we began shooting questions and in a tizzy Mr. MLA had to go but not before offering water and biscuits to the cyclists. We decided to make a point and began walking out after dropping the biscuits back into the box and leaving our water bottles behind on the table. Mr. MLA ran out of his room on seeing this and stopped us. He requested us to stop behaving in this fashion and said that he was pro people and pro poor and that he would do the right thing for the people of Cuddalore. He also assured that he would raise the issue in the assembly and also with the appropriate people at the appropriate time.
Mahatma Gandhi Hospital and Medical College
From Cuddalore town we headed to the next destination, Pondicherry. En route we halted at Kirumbakkam which was also an industrial area but residents here narrated a unique story. They were sharing their neighborhood with the Mahatma Gandhi Hospital & Medical College and the Arupadai Veedu Hospital & Medical College both of these were a blight on the landscape. These hospitals were extremely water intensive and were severely burdening the ground water table. In addition to this they were also releasing their effluents onto the land, the Arupadai Veedu Hospital injected them into the ground.
Here we met the local lake committee who offered their support and solidarity to the residents of SIPCOT. Nityanand spoke about medical waste and the problems arising during their disposal.
First milestone – Pondicherry
We had a public meeting at Pondicherry hosted by the Pondicherry Science Forum, CITU, DYFI and local organizations. They all spoke against mindless industialisation especially chemical industialisation and demanded more labour intensive industries. Mani from Mettur and Parasuraman from Cuddalore spoke about toxic industries and their impact on the environment. A special mention was made about the youth who formed the major part of the cycle tour participants. A lot of them had bunked college to participate in the tour. The day ended at 9 pm after a screening at Mettupalayam.
We will spend the night at the Communist Party’s office. Tomorrow is going to be more relaxed as we have to cover only 40kms so a bunch of us are heading out to the beach early morning.