Pro-Chemplast police revoke permit for anti-PVC march

6 September, 2005
Just as 20 pollution-impacted villagers from Mettur and Cuddalore were to launch their 8-day march from Salem, Tamilnadu, on 5 September 2005, police landed up at the venue of the launch with a letter from the Deputy Commissioner of Police revoking the permission granted for launching their walk in Salem. (See also news story in Indian Express).
At 12 noon, the marchers were sent off from Mettur on public transport after a short and somber function inaugurated by Mr. Kolathur Mani of the Thanthai Periyar Dravida Kazhagam.
Organisers of the march were earlier denied permission to start the march on 3 September from Mettur or take it through Salem district at the eleventh hour by the Mettur police. However, the organisers managed to move the Madras High Court and secure their right to walk through areas such as Salem city where permission had already been obtained. In accordance with the Court order, the march was rescheduled to begin on 5 September. However, totally oblivious of the High Court order and in what appears to be a hasty decision to prevent the march from starting at any cost, the Salem city police has issued an order banning the march in direct violation of the High Court order.
Interestingly, the letter of the Salem police mentions that their revocation is based on a decision by the Madras High Court to ban the march considering its anti-labour nature. The Madras High Court has issued no such direction, indicating that the Salem police’s orders have been prompted by information and considerations that may not be entirely official.
The Salem police are in a quandary now that they have realised that they have unwittingly violated a court order in their enthusiasm to accommodate the company’s interests. Organisers intend to sue the Salem police in the Madras High Court and request the court to conduct an enquiry into possible complicity between the administration and the company.
The organisers are resolved to continue the walk through Cuddalore district, and are hopeful that the Cuddalore police will not succumb to Chemplast’s pressure tactics and revoke the permit already given. The rescheduled walk will begin on 10 September, 2005, from Vridhachalam and end in Cuddalore on 13 September, 2005, covering a distance of
“It is good that the Salem city police so crudely revoked our permission. It exposes their complicity with Chemplast, and shows how the police is here to protect industrialists and not people. We will not be cowed down by Chemplast or the police’s threats of violence and are resolved to carrying out a walk from Mettur to Cuddalore at a rescheduled date, besides marching from 10 September onwards from Vridhachalam to Cuddalore to warn SIPCOT residents about the dangerous antecedents of Chemplast,” the West Konur Farmers Welfare Association said.
Mettur is the site of Chemplast Sanmar Ltd’s highly polluting and dangerous PVC factory. Despite the widespread pollution and the losses (to health, livelihoods) suffered by Mettur residents as a result of Chemplast’s activities, the Tamilnadu Government secretly approved the company to set up a controversial 140,000 tonne/year PVC factory in SIPCOT industrial estate, Cuddalore. SIPCOT is an overpolluted industrial estate in coastal Tamilnadu. Numerous agencies, including the Tamilnadu State Human Rights Commission, have acknowledged the human rights violations by chemical industries in the region, and recommended against the setting up of new polluting facilities here.
The Chemplast PVC proposal was first rejected by the SIPCOT residents in 2002. Subsequently, the proposal was moved to Krishnapatnam, Andhra Pradesh. In 2003, Krishnapatnam villagers unanimously rejected the project. The twice rejected project has now been re-invited to its originally proposed site amidst much controversy and allegations of irregularities.
Decision on the proposal which has been pending environmental clearance from the Union Ministry of Environment has been twice postponed because of the massive public opposition and the numerous technical irregularities in the proposal.
Organisers of the anti-PVC march include: West Konur Farmers Welfare Association, Thanthai Periyar Dravida Kazhagam, SIPCOT Area Community Environmental Monitors, FEDCOT, SEED, DEPORT, Tamilnadu Environmental Council, Tamilnadu Green Movement, Corporate Accountability Desk.
INDIAN EXPRESS NEWS ARTICLE
Anti-PVC padayatra scuttled
Express News Service
Salem, Sept 5: The Mettur to Cuddalore anti-PVC padayatra planned by a farmer’s association and a few NGOs was abruptly called off on Monday after dramatic last minute developments.
Even as the organisations were preparing to begin the padayatra around 4:30 pm, they were informed by the Salem city police that the permission for yatra, which had already been cleared by Madras High Court, was being denied without assigning valid reasons.
Originally the organisations had planned the padayatra from Mettur to Cuddalore, but had been denied permission by the Mettur DSP. However, the Madras High Court on Friday last, partially quashed the DSP order and permitted the yatra from Salem city.
However, the High Court reportedly held on Monday said that the police order will be in force. The order was not sent to Salem City police but to District Police only. The City police thus had acted in violation of the court orders, the activists said.
The padayatra had been proposed by the groups to show solidarity with the people of SIPCOT area in Cuddalore where Chemplast Sanmar has planned to start its Rs. 500 crore PVC manufacturing facility despite severe opposition from the locals and environmental groups.
It was also to create awareness about the environmental risks arising out of the disposal of the hazardous waste from PVC units, and at the same time to urge the government to stop setting up new units and monitoring of existing units.
The West Konnur Farmers Association, one of the organisers of the padayatra, in particular, had first hand experience of such risk, thanks to the “indiscriminate disposal” waste from Chemplast’s Mettur plant.
According to Piyush Sethia, Director SEED, one of the NGOs participating in the campaign, “this is clear case of suppression of democratic rights to highlight an issue concerning public health and safety. The very same powers that had been exploiting the people and environment in Mettur for decades are at work again with the police and Administration support,” he said.
However, Salem SP R. Armugham said that the police had appraised the court that the proposed padayatra had been to target one particular industrial unit and that there was genuine apprehension of law and order problem.
The police, he said, also viewed the campaign anti-labour and anti-government. It was on this ground that the organisations were refused permission for the padayatra.
Meanwhile, the activists are planning to move the High Court on the matter again. “We have not abandoned the campaign. We have only given up the padayatra temporarily,” said another activist.
The move to set up the PVC unit in Cuddalore SIPCOT was stopped after a public hearing conducted in 2002.
An attempt by the company to relocate the project to Andhra Pradesh also fell through as the Pollution Control Board there refused permission.
However the company has obtained a NOC from Tamil Nadu government subsequently and is currently awaiting clearance from the Union Environment Ministry.
Besides Konnur Farmers Associations, the others involved in campaigning are SEED, FEDCOT, Corporate Accountability Desk Chennai, Tamil Nadu Green Movement, Community Environmental Monitoring Group, and Tamil Nadu Environmental Council and Thanthai Periyar Dravida Kazhagam.

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