By Nityanand Jayaraman
CUDDALORE, 6 MARCH, 2006
The Tamilnadu Pollution Control Board at 4.30 p.m. issued closure orders and disconnected the electricity to Tagros Chemicals, a manufacturer of synthetic pyrethroids, a class of highly toxic pesticides. The company, which is located in Pachaiyankuppam village, had expanded capacity illegally, and was manufacturing and exporting products that it was not authorised to produce. On November 27, 2005, the company was found dumping toxic effluents on a farmer’s land in Poondiyankuppam, a nearby village within the Semmankuppam Panchayat.
The president of the Panchayat had in December 2005 invoked a seldom used clause under the Environmental Protection Act, 1986, and written to the Tamilnadu Pollution Control Board and the Ministry of Environment & Forests —
“Since the Ministry of Environment & Forests and the Tamilnadu Pollution Control Board seem incapable or unwilling to take any action to implement the law, I intend to prosecute Tagros Chemicals and its contractor Mr. Senthil Velan under Section 15 of the Environmental Protection Act, 1986, and under Sections 6 and 16 of the Hazardous Waste (Management & Handling) Rules, 1989. I request the Tamilnadu Pollution Control Board to provide us with all the reports relating to Tagros in its possession to us. Please let us know who the occupier of the facility is, as he/she is liable under Section 16 of the Hazardous Waste (Management & Handling) Rules, 1989.”
Indian law allows citizens to write to the Tamilnadu Pollution Control Board requesting it to prosecute the offender within 60 days, failing which the citizen can step in the shoes of the regulator and conduct the prosecution.
Tagros Chemicals claims to be “India’s leading manufacturer exporters of various Synthetic Pyrethroids like Cypermethrin, Permethrin, Alpha cypermethrin, Deltamethrin and various other products like Imidachloprid, Hexaconazole, Propiconazole.” This was brought to the notice of the TNPCB in August 2004, less than a month before the company was to have a statutory public hearing to seek permission for expanding capacity and introducing new products.
According to SACEM, as early as in 2004, reports from workers and residents of SIPCOT indicated that not only had Tagros completed construction for the expanded capacity, but also engaged in production, including of new products. The matter was brought to the notice of the TNPCB and the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee on Hazardous Wastes in September 2004, and subsequently at the public hearing on September 7, 2004. No action was taken by the TNPCB, and the company continued to manufacture and export the unauthorised products in the illegally expanded factory. In February 2005, the SCMC recommended its closure to TNPCB. The company continued to operate illegally until it was shut-down today, a year later.
In the 17 month period that it operated illegally, and despite the knowledge of the Inspector of Factories, the District Collector of Cuddalore, and the TNPCB, 6 people were injured and one killed in four serious accidents in Tagros, according to SACEM records. During the same period, the company illegally dumped toxic wastes on open land on two separate occasions.
“Gas Trouble” – a September 2004 SACEM study on SIPCOT’s air quality – reports finding 14 chemicals in one air sample taken downwind of Tagros. Cancer-causing chemicals like Carbon Tetrachloride and ethylene dichloride were found at levels 11,538 and 22,973 times higher than levels considered safe by US EPA’s Region 6 screening levels.
Interestingly, the Union Ministry of Environment & Forests seems unconcerned about the illegal expansion, or the SCMC’s recommendations for closure. A senior bureaucrat from MoEF also serves as member secretary of the SCMC. Ignoring SCMC’s recommendations, Tagros had directly submitted its application for environmental clearance to the Union Ministry, by-passing the TNPCB. Rather than take action, the MoEF is actively considering the file. Conditionally cleared by the technical committee, the MoEF currently has the “file under process.”
Tagros is not the only offender in SIPCOT, Cuddalore. The SCMC had also recommended closure orders for TANFAC, and similar complaints of toxic waste dumping and effluent spills are pending for months against Pondicherry Alum, SPIC, Loyal Super Fabrics and CUSECS.
The TNPCB remains highly inconsistent and arbitrary in the manner in which it applies the law. Tuticorin-based Sterlite Industries is operating an entire illegally constructed factory complex consisting of a 300,000 tonnes/year copper smelter, a 1,25,000 tonnes/year refiner, a power plant, an oxygen plant, and a Continuous Cast Rod unit.
But Sterlite is too well-connected to suffer Tagros’ fate. Despite repeated emphasis by the SCMC that Sterlite has both illegally expanded and endangered the environment, the TNPCB and MoEF have regularised the violation.
Sterlite’s Tuticorin smelter complex has a disturbing track record of safety. Between 1996 and 2004, at least 139 people have reportedly been injured and 13 have lost their lives in 15 incidents.
1. Tagros Chemicals caught red handed dumping hazardous waste in SIPCOT area
2. Two more industrial accidents reported from Tagros Chemicals in SIPCOT