Papri Sri Raman, India News December 3, 2006
As one drives down the East Coast Road from Chennai, towards Kanyakumari, the air becomes rancid past the small town of Cuddalore, about 350 km south. Your nose tells you, something is wrong here.
The clean breeze you expect to breathe whizzing past the shimmering azure water changes to a rotten egg smell that you are familiar with in school chemistry labs. The noxious smell lingers from Achaiyankuppam village to Semmankuppam further south.
The writing on the long wall you go past identifies the area as the State Industries Promotion Corp of Tamil Nadu’s special economic zone, a government industrial site selected 35 years ago.
On Nov 22, a massive explosion rocked the SIPCOT estate around 12 noon. The blast took place at a newly set up oil boiler of the illegal Loyal Super Fabrics unit, and was followed by a ravaging fire.
According to the Sipcot Area Community Environment Monitoring (SACEM) monitors, the fire was difficult to control. It took eight firefighting vehicles more than two hours to douse the blaze.
Activists say the Tamil Nadu government, the inspectorate of factories and the environment ministry in New Delhi are all ignoring numerous reports of pollution from factories in SIPCOT.
‘There are a thousand Bhopals waiting to happen,’ says Kanimozhi, DMK president and Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi’s daughter, opening a photo exhibition in Chennai.
Her reference was to the Madhya Pradesh capital Bhopal where a deadly gas leak from a Union Carbide pesticide plant on Dec 3, 1984, exactly 22 years ago, killed thousands.
Supporting the ‘Don’t Let Another Bhopal Happen’ campaign are the Cuddalore District Consumer Protection Organisation, West Gonur Farmers Welfare Association, South India Fishermen Welfare Association and the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal’s Chennai chapter.
As part of the protest, youths took out a 300-km cycle rally Nov 28, flagged off by Cuddalore’s DMK MLA K. Ayappan and Kolathur Mani of the Thandai Periyar Dravida Kazhagam.
The protesters cycled through fertile delta land of Sonnanchavadi, Semmankuppam, Devanampattinam and Pondicherry coast, where the Cauvery and Uppanar rivers go to the sea.
Phase I of the SIPCOT complex, spread over 519 acres, accommodates 53 units on the west of Uppanar. Phase II covers 200 acres and Phase III another 300 acres, near Periapattu village on the Cuddalore-Chidambaram highway.
In the neighbourhood, EID Parry, Arkema Peroxide, Clariant and Bayer make pesticides, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, plastics, dyes and intermediates and textiles, discharging their deadly effluents in the sea at Rasapettai, where the water is deep red in colour.
‘It won’t be long before people will refuse to eat fish from the Cuddalore coast. Agriculture is no longer practised around the SIPCOT estate because toxic wastes have poisoned the land and groundwater’, SACEM monitor M. Nizamudeen said.
Despite recommendations to the contrary by various expert agencies, the Tamil Nadu government has allowed Chemplast to set up a PVC factory, a marine terminal and desalination plant in Semmankuppam and Chitrapettai village.
A mega textile park by South India Mills Association is coming up close to the picture postcard village of Perangipettai, put on the world map due to the 2004 tsunami.
When the Madras High Court threatened to close down 737 polluting textile units in Tiruppur, the government decided to shift new dyeing industries to Cuddalore.
The government now plans to pump textile effluents from Erode and Tiruppur to the sea in Cuddalore, between Samiarpettai and Perangipettai.
‘That means, the effluents will travel nearly 400 km to fall into the sea in Cuddalore,’ says Shweta Narayan of Corporate Accountability Desk.
Effluents from the Ambur-Vaniyambadi leather tanneries are also scheduled to travel 200 km to the Cuddalore sea.
The Nagarjuna group is setting up a 6-million tones per annum petrochemical refinery in Thyagavelli village. This ‘is the most frightening of the new proposals’, says Narayan.
The deadly chemical ammonium perchlorate is used as a fuel in spacecraft and missiles and ‘is a common and persistent groundwater toxin that can inhibit thyroid functioning’, she notes.
Within 100 metres of this unit are a town bus stand, a house, an electricity board office and the edge of Semmankuppam village.